Pyramid Hill is beautiful at any time of year. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

3 tried-and-true anytime adventures close to Dayton

These family-friendly outings are available year-round

Sometimes we’re so busy running to the special events and programs in our area that we overlook the tried-and-true treasures that are always available.

Here’s a look at three family-friendly adventures worth considering year-round.

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What’s special about a planetarium is that it adds an element of magic to learning about science, says the Boonshoft museum’s director of astronomy Jason Heaton. The Planetarium may be people’s first exposure to learning about space. It’s such an immersive environment. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

1. The Caryl D. Philips Space Theater at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

We’re fortunate to have a wonderful planetarium with programming geared both to children and adults. The Museum’s Astronomy Department regularly explores the universe through exhibit education, public programming, evening observing and Space Theater Shows in what’s affectionately known as “The Dome.”

“What’s special about a planetarium is that it adds an element of magic to learning about science,” says the museum’s director of astronomy, Jason Heaton. “The Planetarium may be people’s first exposure to learning about space. It’s such an immersive environment.”

Kids, he says, often get hooked after just one show. “It creates a sense of wonder, especially in children and even in adults,” Heaton says, adding that toddlers love singing with — and talking to — Big Bird. A 30-minute program titled “The Sky Tonight” is designed for all ages. The live interactive show answers the question “If I were to go out tonight and if it were clear, what would I see?” You’ll encounter visible planets, the moon — its position and phase — bright stars and major constellations as well as current astronomical events.

“We host all kinds of special events and we can customize a show for birthdays, anniversaries, preschoolers,” explains Heaton. “There’s a trend for people to get married in unusual places so once every month or two we have a wedding in the Planetarium.”

On the third Friday of the month, the Planetarium hosts a free program and four times a year shows special movies.

“Everyone remembers a visit to a planetarium,” Heaton says.

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This Draco Lizard is from the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery’s planetarium show, “Flying Monsters.” CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer


Here’s a run-down of the Planetarium’s full-dome programming. 

Most shows run about a half-hour to 45 minutes. Unless noted, they and are geared to ages 6 and up.

For toddlers:

  • In One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure, Big Bird and Elmo explore the night sky with Hu Hu Zhu, a Muppet from China. Together, they take an imaginary trip from Sesame Street to the Moon.

For ALL ages:

  • SpacePark360 — Experience the Solar System at new heights with simulated roller coasters and more.
  • Did an Asteroid Really Kill the Dinosaurs? — Visitors will join a class as they visit a museum to see dinosaurs. Topics cover meteorites, asteroids and comets and how they have affected Earth.
  • Flying Monsters — This show takes you back 220 million years to a group of reptiles that controlled the skies. These lizards, pterosaurs — some the size of giraffes with wingspans of 40 feet — were the first flying vertebrates.
  • Secret Lives of Stars — Every star has a unique tale told over millions of years.
  • Wildest Weather in the Solar System — Fly through the thick atmosphere of Venus, magnetic storms on the Sun, liquid methane showers on Titan, and anticyclones whirling at hundreds of miles per hour on Jupiter. From a storm the size of a 100-megaton hydrogen bomb to a 400-year-old hurricane and a dust tempest that could engulf entire planets, you’ll be glad you live on Earth!

For specific schedules, check:

Pyramid Hill is open 365 days a year and features an outdoor sculpture park and an indoor museum with ancient sculptures. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

2. Pyramid Hill

If you’ve never been to Pyramid Hill, you’ve been missing out on one of our region’s often-overlooked treasures. The best part? It’s open 365 days a year and is an ideal place for kids to run around and learn something at the same time. Dogs are welcome, too, if they’re on a leash.

Located just south of Hamilton’s city limits on Route 128 between Hamilton and Ross —also known as Hamilton-Cleves Road — are 335 acres of lovely woodlands, meadows, lakes and gardens. Nestled into that special landscape is a collection of art that we guarantee you’ll find quite surprising.

“Our mission is bringing people to art in nature,” explains Pyramid Hill’s director, Shaun Higgins. “We’re very hands-on. You can drive or walk or take an Art Cart around the park and see the outdoor museum and also visit the indoor museum of ancient sculpture.”

Pyramid Hill can be traced back to visionary Harry T. Wilks, who passed away on his 89th birthday. I was fortunate enough to visit with Mr. Wilks before his death. He introduced himself as a small-town Hamilton lawyer who was “lucky and picked the right investments,” enabling him to purchase 40 acres of land in the country in 1987 to build a home. (His home, featured in “Architectural Digest” as one of the country’s most amazing underground homes, is being converted into a special events venue.)

Wilks admitted he didn’t know a thing about sculpture when his fascinating journey began. But he said he was determined to find a way to save his precious land for the future. “I thought when I died, my kids would have to sell the land,” he explained. “So I decided to create a public foundation so that the land would never be subdivided and so the public could enjoy it for many years to come.”

He didn’t want to turn the land into soccer fields, and on his travels had seen monumental outdoor sculptures, primarily in big cities. He eventually decided that type of art would enhance his land and that he would turn it into a non-profit public sculpture park. “I looked for quality, first-class work that had been done since World War II,” explained Wilks, who officially opened the park in the spring of 1996. “What I picked was just instinct and a lot of luck.”

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Pyramid Hill’s indoor museum is filled with Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Syrian and Egyptian sculpture. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

The ancient pieces in the indoor museum came from his love for Naples, Florence and Pompeii. Eventually, he decided to connect the two worlds at Pyramid Hill.

“We’re very hands-on. You’re allowed to touch — but not climb on — the outdoor sculptures,” Higgins says. “It’s a tactile experience because the materials range from metal to stone.”

Popular favorites include “Cincinnati Story” by George Sugarman, a colorful structure that once stood in front of the Chiquita Building in the Queen City, the “Age of Stone,” a huge work by Jon Isherwood that’s composed of nine pieces of massive granite ranging from 12- to 18-feet-tall and has been compared to Stonehenge, and the park’s dramatic signature piece, “Abracadabra” by Alexander Liberman, who also constructed the welded steel “Laocoon” and Torre II.

There are also remnants of pioneer habitation on the site and the Butler County Master Gardeners have created three public gardens. Other areas showcase native plants and habitats and there are picnic tables throughout the park.

Pyramid Hill’s indoor museum is filled with ancient sculptures. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

When he’s taking children to see the outdoor art, Higgins says encourages them to use their imaginations. “What do you see when you look at them?” he asks. “Everyone is allowed to have an opinion.” There’s a mobile app that can be downloaded via Otocast that provides a map and description of each sculpture.

The indoor museum is filled with Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Syrian and Egyptian sculpture. A 75-minute DVD at the indoor museum plays continually and relates the story of the antiquities. Docents are on hand to help with more information.

Pyramid Hill is beautiful any time of year. “Even during the day it changes as the sun moves across the sky,” Higgins says. “When the seasons change, the environment changes. It’s beautiful to see in the fall and spring; in winter it has a different feel when a blanket of snow changes the framing of the sculpture.”

Pyramid Hill hosts various special activities throughout the year ranging from an annual Art Fair in September to a summer series for kids. There are frequent changing indoor exhibits and often new outdoor sculptures on loan. Higgins always has this advice for visitors: “Just relax, take your time, soak in where you are,” he said. “Let yourself become one with this environment.” Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum is located at 1763 Hamilton Cleves Rd., Hamilton. Outdoor areas are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Ancient Sculpture Museum hours are noon to 5 p.m. daily. Check out

The Dayton Art Institute’s Peter Doebler demonstrates “What is a Masterpiece?” Visitors can learn more about specific works of art through their mobile devices. MEREDITH MOSS/STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

3. “What is a masterpiece?” At the Dayton Art Institute

The idea behind the Dayton Art Institute’s “What is a Masterpiece? ” is to use mobile technology to highlight key pieces in the museum’s impressive collection. It’s a great way to learn all kinds of interesting things about specific works. You can access it in your PJs from the comfort of your own home or while walking through the museum.

“It’s a chance to engage with art in a deeper way,” says Peter Doebler, the museum’s Kettering post-doctoral curatorial assistant in Asian art who has helped to develop the project. “The options include everything from video and audio clips to interactive quizzes. You may see how the art changed as a result of restoration, learn more about the materials used or discover how the artwork reflects a particular culture. We have about 10 categories and use four or five of them for each object.”

With Doebler and his iPad, I visited the museum’s popular “Shimmering Madness” by Sandy Skoglund in the Experiencenter. The fluttering butterflies are always fun and with “What is a Masterpiece?” you’ll learn how it was created. Kids can guess how many jelly beans were used in the piece. We also visited the museum’s famous Peter Paul Rubens painting, “Study of Heads of an Old Man.” You’ll learn that when the museum first acquired this painting, only the right head was visible, but through x-rays learned that a second head had been painted over.

Monet’s ” Waterlilies” is one of the featured paintings in the Dayton Art Institute’s “What is a Masterpiece?” CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

The goal is to end up with 100 masterpieces; we’re now at 87. Additional works are each year, thanks to private funding from Beavercreek residents Steve and Kate Hone. The works highlighted in “What Is a Masterpiece?” will take you throughout the museum. Each features a gallery label with a QR (Quick Response) code on it. You can scan the code, bring an iPad, or rent one from the DAI.

Because “What Is a Masterpiece?” is web-based, it may also be accessed through a standard web browser on any desktop or laptop computer. It’s suggested you begin the tour by watching the introductory video, then begin to browse. For more information:

Doebler says he thinks of this project like a buffet where you can sample the art at your own pace according to your interests and come back for seconds whenever you want. “If you explore these pieces of art you’ll be able to discover what makes a work of art meaningful, important and satisfying,” he says.

Find your own!

These are just three of the year-round treasures that abound in our area. Discovering new ones can be a joy in itself! Tell us your favorites for future coverage: email us at

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