Did you know you can visit most of the Bay Area's major museums and cultural attractions for free every month? Just about all museums have one day a month set aside as a free day. They all aren't on the same day, too, so if you plan it right you can take in several museum outings without having to pay a thing.
Note that most museums charge for admission to special exhibitions, although the general admission fee is usually deducted from the total; see details with each museum listing below.
Also, groups are generally not admitted on free days; check with each museum for their free day group policy.
Bring your budding astronauts to learn about space exploration in a hands-on environment at the Space Station, Novato's free, kid-friendly space museum. Located in a storefront in the newly renovated Pacheco Plaza shopping center, the Space Station is a small but rich little museum that offers families and school groups a chance to explore the history of spaceflight and exploration. The museum also organizes the annual Novato Space Festival, a free family event that offers hands-on activities, interactive displays, and the chance to meet legendary NASA astronauts.
At the Space Station Museum, kids can see, handle, and even try on actual space artifacts, many of which have actually flown in space. You can try on a pair of Russian cosmonaut's space suit gloves, don a prototype space helmet designed for the Apollo missions, and even sit in a seat from a Soyuz spacecraft.
Objects on view are part of the collection of the W Foundation, a non-profit founded by Ken Winans and his wife Debbie Wreyford-Winans, and include American, Russian, and Soviet-era space equipment, clothing, photographs, a meteorite, and more. The W Foundation, which possesses one of the largest private collections of space exploration artifacts in the world, also works with organizations and events like Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center, the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, and San Francisco Fleet Week to present educational exhibits on the history of space exploration.
Kids can get hands-on with 21st-century technology and the arts at San Francisco's Children's Creativity Museum in the city's Yerba Buena neighborhood. Formerly known as Zeum, this fun and educational resource on the roof of Moscone Center is the perfect place for families with kids of all ages. You can literally spend all day here working on projects and having a blast.
The Children's Creativity Museum offers numerous opportunities for imaginative play and learning, and features a stop-motion animation studio, a music studio, a design studio, an innovation lab, art galleries, and more. The museum also boasts a fantastic 1906 Looff carousel, which is currently undergoing an extensive renovation. It and its hand-carved menagrie of 65 animals is due to re-open on Saturday, April 26, 2014, so you won't have long to wait to ride it again!
Marin Mommies presents a guest article from Marin mom Michelle Carpenter, who recently had a chance to get a sneak peek at the soon-to-open Children's Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa.
I came away giddy from a “sneak peek” at Children's Museum of Sonoma County, which is in the final stages of construction on Phase I and on schedule to be open March 29 on weekends only through end of May. In June, it will open six days a week.
I couldn’t believe that this Marin parent of five, who works in the science industry, and who is on a constant quest for learning opportunities as well as birthday sites had heard nothing about this fabulous endeavor. We are all in for a treat!
One of our favorite Bay Area destinations for hand-on science fun Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science. Located in the hills high above the UC Berkeley campus, this science center has entertained and educated generations of kids, and continues to offer fun science exhibits and activities. We visited this week to check out their awesome new exhibitXtreme Bugs and had a great time.
Xtreme Bugs, on view at the Lawrence Hall of Science through September 1, 2014, allows visitors to get an up-close view of the fascinating world of bugs through giant insect and arthropod models that move and buzz. You'll find over 100 of these enormous animatronic bugs situated throughout the museum and even outside, and you'll encounter such critters as an orchid mantis, a monarch butterfly, a tarantula, honeybees, and a 15-foot-long Japanese hornet.
Not only can you examine these big bugs up close, but you can listen to the sounds they make, watch them move and learn how they play a critical role in our environment. My kids loved the extreme size and realistic look of these amazing bugs. It's truly fascinating and engaging for kids and grownups of all ages. Some of the bugs were accompanied by an interactive iPad component, too. This part of the exhibit is located in one of the rooms in the back of the building on the first floor. You can visit some of the giant robotic bugs' real-life counterparts in the Backyard Zoo, which features a tarantula, a scorpion, a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach, and an Argentine ant colony.
This summer, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito offers a variety of exciting summer Discovery Camps for children ages 3 to 8. Weekly camps start June 2 and run through August 22. Kids can sign up for a different camp each week and enjoy guided exploration and open-ended creative play. The museum's experienced educators and camp counselors will be on hand to help provide direction and guidance for the campers. General registration starts Tuesday, February 18, 2014.
New offerings for 2014 include a Junior Counselor program for kids ages 9–12 and a new camp theme, Inventing with Art. There's also an additional extended care hours for morning sessions, as well as the an option to order lunch for your child from the museum's Bean Sprouts Cafe & Cooking School.
The museum's 2014 camps include an expanded Big Discovery Camp for three-year-olds, an afternoon Summer Camp Sampler featuring some of the most popular camp themes, and a multiple week discount—get an extra $25 off when you sign up for four weeks, $50 off or five weeks, $75 off for six weeks, and $100 off for seven or more weeks.
Gung hay fat choy! Sausalito's Bay Area Discovery Museum opens on a Monday (something that happens rarely) for its annual Chinese New Year Festival. The festivities take place today, February 17 (Presidents' Day) from 9 am to 5 pm. At the this celebration of the Year of the Horse, the whole family can find something to do. Try your hand at traditional Chinese calligraphy, construct a kite, see a vibrant performance by the Chinese Performing Arts of America Youth Group, dine on delicious Chinese food, or make your own sweet wonton (they’ll even cook them for you).
You can also learn about the Chinese zodiac and enjoy an exciting performance by the Dragon Horse Lion Dance Team (10 am) and the lion dancers of the Marin Chinese Cultural Group (2 pm). Lion dance performances take place in the museum's Festival Plaza (performances will be in the Discovery Theater if it's raining).
Boo! Come get a jump on Halloween at the 27th annual Goblin Jamboree at the Bay Area Discovery Museum! Bring your little goblins to this year’s spooky fundraiser on Saturday and Sunday, October 19 and 20 from 10 am–4 pm. Come in costume and explore the Bay Area Discovery Museum transformed into a haunted Halloween wonderland complete with games, attractions and live entertainment.
Ride a spooky train or real ponies, make potions in the witches' and wizards' school, and enjoy a full brew of games, activities and live entertainment. This fundraiser supports museum education programs, exhibitions, and community access initiatives. Tickets available at the door. Museum members $13, general $15, infants six months and under free. All activities and entertainment are included with admission.
Sausalito's Bay Area Discovery Museum, everybody's favorite hands-on place for kids to learn and explore, will be closed for its annual maintenance the next two weeks: Monday, September 9 through Monday, September 23, 2013. The museum will re-open on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. For more info call (415) 339-3900 or visit www.badm.org.