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.
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 Curious George: Let's Get Curious), 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.
It's a safe bet that few if any of us remember Playland at the Beach, that bygone San Francisco beachside amusement park that closed back in the early 1970s. This popular attraction, once located across from Ocean Beach near Sutro Heights and the Cliff House offered up fun like the Big Dipper roller coaster, Fun House, Diving Bell, Ferris wheel, the infamous Laffing Sal automaton, restaurants, and more. It was even the birthplace of the Bay Area's favorite ice cream treat, the It's-It ice cream sandwich! Not much remains of Playland (its site is not home to a condo development), but if you want to get a taste of what it was had to offer, head across the Bay to El Cerrito and pay a visit to Playland-Not-At-The-Beach.
It's hard to resist the romantic notion of riding the rails in a car pulled by an old-fashioned steam locomotive. It's something that captivates most kids—and many adults, too. Fortunately for railroad-obsessed kids and their parents, we have plenty of opportunities to take a real train ride in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California, even if it is on a working scale-model! Many of these train rides are a short distance away, and some are great excuses for a day trip or weekend getaway. All of them are a lot of fun! Whether it's a miniature scale railroad or the full-size real deal, the sights and sounds of a train ride are unforgettable.
Keep in mind that many of these railroads keep to seasonal schedules, and rides are often weather permitting. Some offer train rides on weekends only. Make sure you check their websites or give them a call before you plan your visit.
Gung hay fat choy! Sausalito's Bay Area Discovery Museum opens on a Monday (something that happens rarely) today for its annual Chinese New Year Festival. The festivities take place today (February 15, Presidents' Day) from 9 am to 5 pm. At the this celebration of the Year of the Monkey, 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, hear performances of Chinese music, watch martial arts demonstrations, play traditional Chinese games, and dine on delicious Chinese food.
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.
Fans of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and all the other characters from the Peanuts comic strip know that Santa Rosa was home to the late cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. You've probably spent some time skating at Snoopy's Home Ice at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which was founded by Schulz in 1969, but the Charles M. Schulz Museum, located right across the street on Hardies Lane, is a must-visit destination for families, too!
I suspect most parents have more fond memories of Peanuts than their children; we all grew up with the ubiquitous Peanuts comic strips, TV specials, books, toys, and more. For myself, a highlight of just about every holiday was watching the appropriate Peanuts special—whether A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, or even It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown on TV. Of course the recently released Peanuts Movie may change all that, so it's a great time to take the kids to check things out! It's not an especially large place, but there's plenty for both kids and parents to see and do, so plan on spending a few hours there.
Come get a jump on Halloween at the 29th annual Goblin Jamboree fundraiser at the Bay Area Discovery Museum! Bring your little goblins to this year’s spooky family event on Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18 from 10 am to 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. New features this year include a kid-sized hay maze, end of day costume parades, and a chance to make colorful potions and dissect jack-o-lanterns! Make sure you also stop in the Bay Hall to experience the glowing trains, too!
Tiburon, that "nearly perfect" Marin town on the end of its namesake peninsula, is a fantastic place for families to visit. Tiburon has long been a favorite of locals and tourists, and boasts amazing views of San Francisco, plenty of boutiques, shops, and restaurants, and lots for everyone to see and do. So pack up the kiddos this summer and head out to Tiburon for a day of fun!
You'll probably want to head straight for downtown Tiburon. We love to walk along the path in Shoreline park and watch the sailboats as they glide by on San Francisco Bay. Along the way, you'll find a fun and interesting museum that's perfect for kids, as well as grassy areas that are ideal for a picnic or just relaxing.
If you're looking for a fun and unique overnight experience for the family, try camping out at a local San Francisco Bay Area museum, zoo, or wildlife center! Popular family destinations like the California Academy of Sciences, the Marine Mammal Center, the San Francisco Zoo, the USS Hornet Museum, and Children’s Fairyland all offer exciting programs where families can spend the night. It'll be kind of like the movie Night at the Museum, except that the dinosaurs and dioramas won't come alive after hours (we hope)!
Needless to say, all of these events require advance reservations and have limited space, so register for your overnight adventure soon! Many of these venues also offer overnight programs for scouts, schools, and other youth groups. All information is correct at time of posting; check each location’s website for complete information, pricing updates, and a schedule of events.