If you grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, you probably spent some time as a kid at the Exploratorium. This innovative and influential hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception has been educating and entertaining families for over 40 years. The Exploratorium is a perfect place for an outing for families with children of all ages, from toddlers to teens. Parents, grandparents, and most other grownups will find it a lot of fun, too. I used to love coming here as a kid, and now my children love to visit, too.
For most of its life, the Exploratorium was located at the iconic Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco's Marina District, but in 2013 it moved into an all-new, much larger facility at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. The new Exploratorium is bigger and better, and features all your old favorite exhibits along with 150 new ones, as well as a Bay Observatory that allows visitors to explore the environment of adjacent San Francisco Bay.
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 and usually only the special exhibition fee is charged on free days; 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.
Bank of America Museums on Us—May 2 & 3
Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card holders get free general admission on the first full weekend of every month. Present your card and a photo ID for admission (one free general admission per cardholder). Get full details here. Participating museums include:
Museum visitors are often told not to touch anything, but not at the museums listed here! These seven local Marin County and San Francisco Bay Area museums offer lots of fun hands-on activities for kids and families. They're perfect for rainy-day outings or any time, really.
Bay Area Discovery Museum
Families with kids up to age 8 love Sausalito's Bay Area Discovery Museum for its combination of hands-on fun, exciting programs and performances, rotating special exhibitions (currently it's Storyland), and a great play area overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. It's a fantastic place to play away the day and take in the amazing views. Location: Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito, 94965. Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 9 am–5 pm. More info: www.baykidsmuseum.org or (415) 339-3900.
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 16 (Presidents' Day) from 9 am to 5 pm. At the this celebration of the Year of the Sheep, the whole family can find something to do. Try your hand at traditional Chinese calligraphy, construct a paper lantern, 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 lion dancers of the Marin Chinese Cultural Group at 10 am and 2 pm. Lion dance performances take place in the museum's Festival Plaza.
This summer, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito offers a variety of exciting summer Discovery Camps for children ages 3 to 8. They'll also be offering an all-new camp venue in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. Weekly camps start June 1 and run through August 21. 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 17, 2015.
New offerings for 2015 include an expanded age range (9 to 14) for the Junior Counselor program and a new all-outdoor camp. There's also an additional extended care hours for morning sessions.
The museum's 2015 camps include a 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.
Preschool camps are for children ages 3-year-olds who are currently enrolled in a preschool program. Pre-kindergarten camps are for children ages 4 and 5 who have not yet attended kindergarten. School-aged camps are for children entering first, second, or third grade in the fall.
San Francisco's Presidio is a great destination for family fun and a gem right in our own back yard. The Walt Disney Family Museum, located in an historic building at the Presidio's Main Post, is a fantastic and fascinating place for you and your family to visit when you're there.
The Walt Disney Family Museum chronicles the life and work of Walt Disney himself, and is a must-visit for any Disney fan. Learn about Walt's life and legacy through artwork, historic artifacts, movies, music, animation, and interactive activities. It's a fascinating look at how Disney became a pop culture powerhouse in 20th-century America, and it offers behind-the-scenes insights into the creativity and imagination of its creator.
This winter break, take in some holiday cheer and meet some real live reindeer at San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Through Sunday, January 4, you can take in not only classic Cal Academy sights like the giant T-Rex skeleton, aquarium, planetarium, rain forest, and African hall, but special winter-themed programming and attractions as well as part of its "'Tis the Season for Science" lineup.
Visit with Willow and Yukon, a pair of live, six-year-old reindeer, in the east garden and learn about how they live in their cold northern homeland. Then, step inside the Snowman Theater to see Roaming with Reindeer, a family-friendly show that explores what life on the tundra is like for these amazing creatures.
While you're there, you'll also enjoy indoor snow flurries, caroling special holiday performances, and more. You can even meet "Santa Claude", the Academy's albino alligator mascot, and watch "Scuba Santa" at work in the Steinhart Aquarium.
Bundle up and come on down to the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito this Friday-Sunday to play in the snow! The museums first-ever Snow Days Family Fundraiser takes place on Friday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. In addition to playing in the snow, museum visitors can learn about the science of snow, participate in winter-themed acitivities, and have a frozen good time!
The real snow at Snow Days is provided by event sponser Northstar California ski resort near Lake Tahoe. Play in the snow, then find out how a snow storm is formed and learn how Northstar makes its own snow using state-of-the-art technology. Snow Days fun also includes train rides through the museum grounds, snowmen building, storytimes, ice exploration, an ice sculpture demo, and more.
Admission to Snow Days is $10 for museum members and $15 general. Buy advance tickets online here. Proceeds from the Snow Days Family Fundraiser go to supporting the Bay Area Discovery Museum's mission to ignite and advance creative thinking for all children.
The Presidio Officers' Club re-opened to the public back in October, and if you haven't had a chance to check it out yet you definitely should put it on your list of things to do with the family! This "new" destination is actually one of California's most historic buildings, with portions dating back over 200 years to when it was created as part of the Spanish colonial El Presidioin 1776.
Once a gathering spot for military officers and their families, the Presidio Officers' Club underwent a $30-million-dollar renovation and now serves as a public space offering fascinating exhibits, fun family activities and public programs, unique works of art, and more. Admission is free, too! We had a chance to visit last weekend, and it's a fantastic destination for families in the Bay Area.