8 Museums in California That’ll Spark Curiosity, Creativity & Learning

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Gone are the days when a trip to the museum meant hearing hours’ worth of complaints of boredom. Instead, today’s modern museums offer a variety of exciting, hands-on activities and exhibits that’ll have your little learner begging for more educational experiences.

Fortunately for families across the San Francisco Bay region, there are plenty of museums that cater to a wide range of interests, from reading and science to nature and more.

“The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the highest concentrations of museums and science centers in the world,” says Carol Tang, Executive Director of the Children’s Creativity Museum. “As a parent, I’ve appreciated exploring different museums because the entire family can find something new to do, discover new interests and learn new things about the world around us.”

In addition to reaping the benefits of visiting a museum–like increased creativity, literacy, critical thinking, and curiosity–kiddos can even receive higher achievement scores in reading, math, and science, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

While summer might be flying by, there is still time to explore museums in the local Bay Area. We’ve selected eight of our favorites that the entire family is sure to love.

1. Bay Area Discovery Museum

Inspire a passion for discovery in your child at Bay Area Discovery Museum's 7.5 acres of joyful play at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Their outdoor and indoor exhibits include a beautiful "Tot Spot" dedicated to toddlers, a wood shop for littles, copper treehouses overlooking the bridge, a life-size fishing boat, a mini-beach and even a house with everything cut in half guaranteed to get your child (and your) wheels turning.

Sausalito, open Wednesday – Sunday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., $18 admission fee for visitors 1 – 64, $16 for seniors and $15 for babies aged 6 months to 1 year

2. California Academy of Sciences

Your whole family can explore the wonders of the natural world at the California Academy of Sciences, the world-class aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum. Spot a towering T. rex, watch playful penguins swim, and explore nature through hands-on activities at Wander Woods, the new outdoor playspace for kiddos. Plus, every visit to the museum supports the Academy's mission to regenerate the natural world.

San Francisco, open Monday - Saturday from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., admission fee varies and is always less expensive when you book in advance. On average, tickets are $32 for youth 3 – 17 and $42 for adults, free for babies under 2

3. Chabot Space and Science Center

An official visitor center for NASA's Ames Research Center, the Chabot Space and Science Center brings a bit of space to Earth with its full dome planetarium, space artifacts and the largest research-level observatory complex. For sights out of this world, take a peek through one of three large-scale telescopes, which are regularly available to the public for live viewing.

Oakland, open Wednesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., $19 admission for visitors 2 – 12 and seniors 65 and up, $24 admission for visitors 12 and up

4. Children's Creativity Museum

With a mission to foster creativity and collaboration, the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco provides two floors of hands-on, multimedia arts and technology experiences. Children ages 2 to 12 can enjoy the museum’s programs and exhibits, which are specifically designed to spark their imagination and creative confidence, from a music creation station and an animation studio to a storybook park and innovation lab. Don’t leave without taking a spin on the 100-year-old LeRoy King Carousel and discover its fascinating history.

San Francisco, the museum is open Thursday – Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., $20 admission fee for visitors 1 and older; the carousel is open Friday – Sunday from 11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., $5 per person per ride.

5. Children’s Discovery Museum

Playtime, creativity, curiosity and lifelong learning are the name of the game at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Students of every age can enjoy indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits, including a two-story air maze, bubble-creation station, pretend farmer’s market and replica fossil digging, to name a few. For an engaging activity the entire family can participate in, test your discovery skills with the museum’s Discover Duck Scavenger Hunt. Families can win a special prize upon finding 20 wooden duck cut-outs hidden throughout the museum–bonus points for locating five extra ducks!

San Jose, open Wednesday – Sunday from 9:30 a.m.– 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., $15 admission fee for visitors 1 – 59 and $14 for seniors, free for infants under 1

6. Children’s Fairyland

Your children’s favorite nursery rhymes and books come to life at this theme park, with close to 60 whimsical storybook-themed sets designed for outdoor exploration, like the Jack and Jilll hill, Alice in Wonderland tunnel and The Jolly Roger pirate ship. Touting 10 acres of gardens, kiddos up to eight years old can stroll the grounds and get up close and personal with friendly animals on site.

Oakland, open Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (weather permitting), $15 admission fee for visitors 1 and up, free for infants under 1

7. The Lawrence Hall of Science

Calling all budding scientists and researchers, The Lawrence Hall of Science is just for you! As UC Berkeley's public science center, The Lawrence has delighted Bay Area families with hands-on, feet-on, and brain-on exhibits for more than 50 years. Be sure to check out their new Outdoor Nature Lab, where kids can explore nature like a scientist.

Berkeley, open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., $20 admission visitors 3 and up, free for visitors under 2

8. The Tech Interactive

Winner of the 2015 National Medal for Museum and Library service, The Tech interactive is a wonderful science and technology center for families in the San Jose and surrounding areas. Offering educational hands-on activities, experimental labs, design challenges and immersive STEAM education resources, the museum empowers children of all ages to innovate with creativity, curiosity and compassion.

San Jose, open Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., $27 admission for visitors 18 and older, $22 for children under 17, students and seniors

While walk-ups are welcomed at each museum, purchasing tickets in advance is strongly encouraged! Be sure to check out their website for more information.

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