Day Trips | Educational | Indoor activities

Top 5 Exhibits at the Science Mill

April 16, 2021

The boys and I recently took a trip to Johnson City, TX, to explore some exciting exhibits at the Science Mill. The community landmark which includes original structures from a converted mill built in the 1880s was about a 55-minute drive through the Texas Hill Country from our home in Austin.

The Science Mill is packed with family-friendly STEM activities for all ages. We had a hard time narrowing it down, but here are our Top 5 Exhibits at the Science Mill in Johnson City.

5. Sailboats

Racing sailboats at the Science Mill in Johnson City, TX.

The boys enjoyed racing their sailboats against each other. They learned how to increase or decrease the speed of the sailboats by changing the direction of the wind and adjusting their sails.

4. Incredible Ball Machine

The Incredible Ball Machine outside exhibit sites beneath the old silo mills at the Science Mill in Johnson City, TX.

This giant ball maze caught our attention with all of the musical sounds it produced as soon as we stepped out to the Science Mill’s backyard. We enjoyed watching the balls travel throughout the chutes and make their final departure off the loop de loop, crashing into a cymbal.

3. Paludarium

The Paludarium on display in the main lobby of the Science Mill in Johnson City, TX.

To be honest, I didn’t know what a Paludarium was before seeing this at the Science Mill. However, our oldest son was familiar with the concept and fascinated by it all. So much in fact, that he wanted to just sit and admire it for a while. A paludarium is an enclosed structure that offers an ecosystem consisting of both terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) elements. It’s a beautiful welcoming display positioned in the Science Mill’s main lobby. We recognized that some of the fish in the aquarium were the same species that our son has in his at home. The Science Mill’s paludarium exhibit inspired him to swap out his plastic plants for living plants the day after our visit. You can learn more about the Science Mill’s Paludarium and see additional pictures on their website.

2. Masters of Disguise

Masters of Disguise exhibit at the Science Mill in Johnson City, TX.

The Masters of Disguise is one of the Science Mill’s newest exhibits. It features reptiles, bugs and other small animals whose camouflage is vital to their survival in their natural habitats. A beautiful, blue dart frog, a color-changing chameleon and bumpy-looking mossy frog are among the tenants of this nature inspired display. Visit this page for a full list of animals that call the Masters of Disguise exhibit as the Science Mill home.

1. Aquaponics Greenhouse

We enjoyed the Aquaponics Greenhouse at the Science Mill so much that we stopped by twice during our visit. This spacious, very well designed aquaponics greenhouse is home to multiple species of fish and lush with what seems to be hundreds of plant types. The consistent, calming sound of running water is a reminder of the process which makes this type of growing possible. Basically, the plants are watered using the fish tank water. The plants in-turn filter the water of the fish waste, which provides food to the plants and returns the water to the tank.

Aquaponics has become a popular growing method in recent years. The Science Mill has done a great job of teaching and showcasing this process in their greenhouse. I personally have not seen an aquaponics setup so well designed using natural elements as opposed to having a laboratory type vibe. Great job, Science Mill! You’ve inspired us to further explore aquaponics as a backyard garden project this spring. Read more about the Science Mill’s Aquaponics garden here.

You can learn more about hydroponics and aquaponics, including a downloadable Learning Lab Activity, on this episode of Explorer Zone Science Mill’s website.

And there you have it. Our Top 5 Exhibits at the Science Mill in Johnson City, TX. As I mentioned before there were SO many great things to see and do here. The boys stayed engaged and curious the entire visit which lasted about 3 hours for us. They both enjoyed a well-earned nap on the way home and I got to enjoy a quiet ride back to the city through the hill country without having to hear “when will we be there” every 5 minutes.

Lessons Learned

One thing that I would have done differently and recommend you consider on your next visit to the Science Mill in Johnson City, would be to explore the outside attractions during the cooler part of the day. We arrived about 11 am, an hour after they opened, and started to immediately investigate the inside exhibits.

An hour and a half later we were ready for lunch. We grabbed a quick bite from the on-site Lady Bird Cafe and headed outside. By this time the sun was in full force. A grove of huge pecan and oak trees run along either side of the creek. I would imagine they provide adequate shade when filled with leaves. Unfortunately for us, they weren’t at this time of the year, and I didn’t pack sunscreen for the boys or my bald head. It was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit but next time I think we’ll start outside and then move in when we’re ready to cool off. 

Want to learn more about the Science Mill’s exhibits, upcoming events, and admission? Visit their website, which is easy to navigate, and always up-to-date, at