Must-Go: Bay Area Museums that Deliver Epic Fun (& Learning)

best kid's museums in SF Bay Area Discovery Museum
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We are so happy that museums are now open and ready to greet families back into their exhibits all over the Bay Area to explore and discover more about the world around us as well as learn more about themselves. As one of our favorite ways to spend the day with our kids—you really can’t beat the educational programming, play areas, creativity workshops and events galore. And, really, they’re just plain fun to boot. To really maximize the day, we’ve pulled together our ideal itineraries including, must-eat neighborhood restaurants and cafes to visit before the museums open, as well as a must-go playground to take the kids post-museum exploration to get any lingering wiggles out before bedtime.

photo: Children’s Creativity Museum

Children’s Creativity Museum
221 Fourth St.
San Francisco

Where to Eat near The Children’s Creativity Museum: Mel’s Diner is open as early as 7 a.m. (a godsend for early risers), but it’s a great spot to grab some breakfast before the museum opens. Our picks? The Weiss Watermelon juice from Erik’s Juice and Smoothie Bar—kids big and small will love the combination of watermelon, apple, mint and lime. And to eat? Kids will love the biscuits and gravy, diced ham and eggs, or the traditional short stack of pancakes.

What to See & Do at The Children’s Creativity Museum: Located in SOMA, this must-go museum is ideal for kids ages 2-12. With a mission to nurture creativity and collaboration, the highly interactive exhibits encourage kids to make music, animate, innovate, build and learn in order to develop creative confidence. Of course the LeRoy King Carousel is a must stop for everyone in the family.

Don’t Miss: XOXO: An Exhibit About Love & Community—an exhibit where everyone works together through a series of activations like seesaws to create balance, building blocks that showcase facial expressions and discover hidden messages.

Hours: Thurs.-Sun. 10:00 a.m-4:00 p.m
Cost: $20 for everyone ages 1 and up. Free admission is available for EBT and MediCal cardholders through the Museums for All program. Purchasing tickets ahead of time is encouraged although walk-ups are welcome. 

Our Favorite Playground near The Children’s Creativity Museum: If your kids still have energy after all that exploring and building, head over to the Yerba Buena Children’s Garden. It’s just a short, 2-minute walk from the museum and with a 25 ft. long tube slide, sand area, climbing wall, and jungle gym, it’s surely enough to tire little ones before heading home. If you have extra time, or stroller nap in the making, we recommend strolling through the gardens to watch the butterflies and hang out on the esplanade.

 

photo: Children’s Discover Museum of San Jose

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
180 Woz Way
San Jose

Where to Eat near The Children’s Discovery Museum: The FoodShed, located inside the museum is usually a great choice for healthy food and convenience, but it’s temporarily closed. Luckily, iJava, located just a 4-minute walk away, is a great cafe offering a ton of breakfast options including crepes, breakfast sandwiches, smoothies and that much-needed coffee as early as 8 a.m. Looking for a lunch spot to visit after your museum visit? An easy, 5-minute walk gets you to Eataly, the famous and new to our area Italian restaurant and market with amazing pizza and gelato. Grab lunch, then stroll through the market for fresh pasta and authentic olive oil.

What to See & Do at The Children’s Discovery Museum: Designed to inspire creativity, curiosity and lifelong learning, the Children’s Discovery Museum (a.k.a the Purple Museum) is always a fun place to take the kids. Indoor and outdoor activities include a 2-story air maze, a bubble creation station, a Discovery Duck scavenger hunt and a really great water play station that is especially fun for toddlers. The play kitchen and farmers market is a hit as well, with the

Don’t Miss: The exhibit “Potter the Otter” is all about heathy eating and being active—all of which help Potter achieve his goals of joining the water polo team. Don’t miss Bill’s Backyard—it was recently renovated and is a great spot to connect play with nature. 

Hours: Open Wed.-Sun. in two play sessions: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Reservations for non-members are required.
Cost: Admission is $15 for ages 1-59, $14 for seniors, and free for infants under 1.

Our Favorite Playground near The Children’s Discovery Museum: A 7-minute drive will get you to Rotary Play Garden, an inclusive play space for kids of all abilities, with a focus on children with special needs with adaptive swings and wheelchair-accessible merry-go-rounds. There are plenty of slides, swings and climbing structures for all kids to play on in this beautiful space. The park is open Thur.-Sun. until 6:30 p.m., and (good to know) an ice cream truck is usually parked outside on your way out.

Bay Area Discovery Museum
557 McReynolds Rd.
Sausalito

Where to Eat near the Bay Area Discovery Museum: Bean Sprouts Cafe is an on-site restaurant and opens at 9 a.m. and hang out until the museum opens at 10 a.m. (members can enter as early as 9 a.m.). We especially like the Pancake Puffadoodles with Dippers. If hanging out in the cafe until the museum opens is too tempting for your kids, check out Bayside Cafe which serves breakfast all day. Our picks? The Tooty-Frutti Platter with fruit-stuffed pancakes or the breakfast tortilla.

What to See & Do at The Bay Area Discovery Museum: Located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge and set on 7.5 acres of National Park land in Sausalito, this space is dedicated to imagination and where kids are encouraged to run wild. Perfect for kids 6 months-8 years old, it’s a kid paradise with so many things to discover and interact with. Check out the “tot spot” designed especially for little ones, as well as the free STEM and art programs offered free to visitors (we especially like the soft foam tiles Imagination Playground that is finally back!).

Don’t Miss: Los Trompos is currently on display, featuring life-sized spinning tops with colorful textiles, a must-see. 

Hours: Wed.-Sun.: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Cost: $18 for ages 1-64, $16 for seniors, and $15 for babies aged 6 months to 1 year. $1 admission is available for EBT cardholders through the Museums for All program. Purchasing tickets ahead of time is encouraged although walk-ups are welcome.

Our Favorite Playground near The Bay Area Discovery Museum: While you can spend nearly all day at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, sometimes a change of venue is in order after a couple of hours. Our pick is Southview Park. This newly renovated playground sits on a hill with incredible views of Sausalito and SF Bay. It’s a bit of a climb, but a hidden gem definitely worth checking out.

 

Children’s Fairyland
699 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland

Where to Eat near Children’s Fairyland: A Bay Area favorite, Arizmendi Bakery in Oakland is the spot to grab a scone, muffin, croissant, or any of their other freshly baked goodies. Their pizza is spectacular and changes daily, so it might be worth getting a slice on your way home from the museum. They open at 8 a.m, just in time to get that coffee going before enjoying a day of fun. Note that the bakery is closed on Wednesdays, so make sure to plan ahead!

What to See & Do at Children’s Fairyland: With close to 60 storybook sets, friendly animals, and 10 acres of gardens, this park is designed to delight visitors of all ages. Kids can slide down Jack and Jill’s Hill with cardboard squares, walk through the Queen of Hearts Maze from Alice in Wonderland, and the famous Magic Key which unlocks stories and interesting facts around the park.

Don’t Miss: There is always awesome programming and events happening every day at this magical park but we especially love the puppet shows and toddler story time.

Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (weather permitting).
Cost: $15 for visitors aged 1 and up, free under a year. Purchasing tickets ahead of time is encouraged although walk-ups are welcome.

Our Favorite Playground near Children’s Fairyland: Right across the street from Lake Merritt and just a 7-minute walk from the museum is Snow Park.With a designated enclosed tot lot, it has enough play structures to tire little ones out, while older kids can explore and play on structures made just for their age.

California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco

Where to Eat near the California Academy of Sciences: There are so many places to eat near The California Academy of Sciences, it’s all about what you’re in the mood for! For ultimate convenience, the Academy Cafe is the museum’s on-site cafe and has a variety of grab-and-go favorites like turkey and cheese sandwiches and pizza, as well as a plant-based taqueria. If looking for something outside of the museum, we love Crepevine for its extensive menu, early morning hours (opens at 8 a.m.), and kids menu. At only a 4-minute drive, and is an easy, no-fuss way to start the day.

What to See & Do at The California Academy of Sciences: The mission of the California Academy of Sciences is to regenerate the natural world through science, learning and collaboration. Families with kids of all ages can explore a real-life, man-made rainforest, aquarium, and planetarium.

Don’t Miss: If your kids love bugs, they’ll adore the Bugs Exhibit, open now through Jan. 2023.

Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: Tickets range from $35-$45 for all visitors over age 2 depending on the day and time of visit as well as group size. Admission for visitors under 2 is free. Purchasing tickets ahead of time is recommended. 

Our Favorite Playground near California Academy of Sciences: An easy 5-minute walk from the museum is the SF Botanical Garden, one of the most beautiful and most visited places in San Francisco. After a day of exploring, learning and stimulating those brain muscles, this is a great spot to take a moment to stop and smell the roses. For parents, it’s a beautiful way to take in nature, revel in some quiet time and let the kids run around before heading home.

Chabot Space and Science Center
10000 Skyline Blvd.
Oakland

Where to Eat near Chabot Space and Science Center: We recommend having breakfast at the local cafe, L’acajou Bakery and Cafe. And if you’re running late, you can order ahead and pick up—one of the most convenient ways to grab some food before getting to the museum.

What to See & Do at Chabot Space and Science Center: Chabot features a full dome planetarium, interactive and hands-on exhibits, space artifacts, and a giant screen theater. It also is the proud owner of the largest research-level observatory complex, featuring three large-scale telescopes, regularly available to the public, so you can bring the whole family to look up at the stars. Chabot is also an official visitor center for NASA’s Ames Research Center, so little ones can bring all their questions about space, science and stars to the right place.

Don’t Miss: Touch the Sun exhibit where you’ll experience “a near-real-time interactive full color extreme ultraviolet animation of our dynamic and stunning star, Sol.” Yes, please! Also, if you’re kids stay up late, First Fridays are back and include after-hour access to exhibits and planetarium shows.

Hours: Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $19 for children aged 2-12 and seniors aged 65+, and $24 for adults aged 12+. Purchasing tickets ahead of time is encouraged and walk-ups are welcome.

Our Favorite Playground near Chabot Space and Science Center: Located just a half-mile away, the Roberts Regional Recreation Area is a large area that charges $5 for parking (but free if you decide to walk from the museum!) that has beautiful redwood trees, picnic areas, a pool (although closed for the remainder of 2022), and a playground with swings, climbing structures and slides.

 

The Lawrence Hall of Science
1 Centennial Dr.
Berkeley

Where to Eat near Lawrence Hall of Science: The museum is super close (just a 5-minute drive) to the beautiful UC Berkely, and as such, plenty of restaurants to check out on the way to the museum. If you’re in the mood for breakfast, Northside Cafe will give you all the college feels with delicious breakfast bowls, plates and sandwiches. If looking for a superb lunch spot, we love Angeline’s Kitchen which serves up Louisiana comfort food like Creole BBQ shrimp and authentic beignets.

What to See & Do at The Lawrence Hall of Science: As UC Berkeley’s public science center, The Lawrence provides a window into cutting-edge research at the university and beyond. Featuring a breathtaking panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay, families with little scientists can learn and explore with hands-on, brain-on programs.

Don’t Miss: Check out the latest addition to the museum—the outdoor nature lab, where kids can explore the outdoors just like a scientist would! 

Hours: Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Cost: $20 for visitors aged 3+, and free for visitors under 2. Free admission is available for EBT cardholders through the Museums for All program. Purchasing tickets ahead of time is encouraged and walk-ups are welcome.

Our Favorite Playground near Lawrence Hall of Science: If you’d like to extend your trip with a fantastic park with things to do until sundown, head over to Tilden Regional Park.Just a 4-minute drive away, this large park has a botanical garden, nature area, steam train and even a merry-go-round.

 

The Tech Interactive
201 S Market St.
San Jose

Where to Eat near The Tech Interactive: Whispers Cafe and Creperie is our pick for a stop before heading over to the museum. Not only is the menu extensive with breakfast staples and offers a good kids menu, but it opens at 8 a.m, giving you plenty of time to sit down and eat before the fun begins.

What to See & Do at The Tech Interactive: This family-friendly science and technology center, in the heart of downtown San Jose, has loads of hands-on activities, experimental labs and design challenge experiences to empower kids of all ages to innovate with creativity, curiosity and compassion. With interactive exhibits like Body Worlds, Space Exploration and the newest one, Solve The Earth, which focuses on how to live sustainably, it’s bound to encourage conversation and learning.

Don’t Miss: For those looking to tinker, make sure to visit the STEM-designed Tech Studio and BioTinkering Lab where kids can work with their hands and build. And of course don’t miss viewing a show on the largest IMAX in the West!

Hours: Tue.– Fri., 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $27 for adults 18+ and $22 for children under 17, students, and seniors (admission to attractions is not included). Tickets can be purchased ahead of time.

Our Favorite Playground near The Tech Interactive: The Rotary Play Garden is a short drive from the museum, and with tons of slides, swings, climbing structures and things that spin, your little ones are bound to release all that lingering energy. If looking for something you can walk to, John P. Mcenery Park is a quick 7-minute walk and has playgrounds designated for ages 2-5 as well as one for ages 5-12 plus cool water features.

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