Museums for Kids

Xtreme Bugs at Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science

February 20, 2014

Xtreme Bugs at the Lawrence Hall of ScienceOne 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 exhibit Xtreme 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.

Summer Science at the Cal Academy in Golden Gate Park

July 31, 2013

California Academy of SciencesOne of the Bay Area's favorite family summer outings is a visit to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The Cal Academy re-opened in 2008 in a state-of-the-art sustainable building that features amazing attractions like a natural history museum, aquarium, planetarium, two-acre living roof, a four-story rain forest, and even a 3D theater. It's definitely a must-visit family destination!

Currently on view this summer is Built for Speed. This special exhibit, on view through September 29, showcases the sea's fastest denizens, from mako sharks and humboldt squid to a sailboat designed by America's Cup defender Oracle Team USA.

Also on the don't-miss list is the incredible new movie The Last Reef 3D: Cities Beneath the Sea. Put on your 3D glasses and find yourself underwater in some of the earth's most spectacular underwater settings. You'll not only be amazed, but learn how these environments are as vital to the earth as the rainforests. We all kept finding ourselves reaching out towards the screen to touch fish and other sea creatures—it was that real! The Last Reef 3D plays every hour from 11 am to 4 pm, and is included in your Cal Academy admission.

Win Tickets to the June 15 Penguins+Pajamas Sleepover at the Cal Academy

June 7, 2013

Penguins + Pajamas at the California Academy of SciencesWe can't think of a better way to spend Father's Day weekend than at the California Academy of Sciences' Penguins + Pajamas sleepover—it's a fantastic family experience that's both fun and educational. The next Penguins+Pajamas sleepover is scheduled for Saturday, June 15, and we're giving away a pair of tickets to a lucky Marin Mommies reader!

Experience your own "night at the museum" as you explore the exhibits after-hours, stargaze at a planetarium show, enjoy a special live animal presentation, explore the fastest fish and swiftest sailboats in the Academy's Built for Speed special exhibit, and dance and sing along to your favorite tunes from the Radio Disney AM 1310 Road Crew. Before bedtime, settle in for story time with cookies and milk to learn about Pierre—the Academy’s famous wetsuit-wearing penguin.

When the lights go out, unroll your sleeping bag in African Hall, next to the swaying kelp of the aquarium's California Coast tank, or even at the Swamp window, face-to-face with Claude, the albino alligator. In the morning, rise and shine, then head over to the Academy Café for a continental breakfast.

Hands-on History at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park

June 4, 2013

Sutter's FortLike many other fourth graders in Marin, my son has been immersed in California history this year. One of the books that he read in class was Patty Reed's Doll, which tells the story of the ill-fated Donner Party from the point of view of one of its youngest members and her beloved doll "Dolly." When we learned that Dolly herself is on view at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento, we decided we had to make the trip to go see it.

Sutter's Fort was built between 1841 and 1843 by Swiss-born pioneer John Augustus Sutter, who made it the centerpiece of his settlement which he dubbed "New Helvetia." Sutter's Fort was a welcome sight for many early California immigrants who often endured arduous conditions crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sutter was renowned for his hospitality and assistance to immigrants, but his lands were overrun by gold-seekers after 1848, destroying much of the empire that he built.

While the two-story adobe Main Building is original, the rest of the fort, including the 15-foot-high adobe walls, has been reconstructed. Step through the fort's gates, though, and you're back in the 1840s, especially if one of their special interpretive "Hands-on History" programs is taking place.

Butterflies and Blooms Abound at San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers

May 26, 2013

Butterflies and Blooms at the Conservatory of FlowersOne of our favorite destinations in San Francisco is the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, especially when they're presenting a special exhibit. This spring and summer, visitors to the Conservatory can get eye to eye with a butterfly in Butterflies & Blooms, in the special exhibits gallery through October 20, 2013.

Butterflies & Blooms transforms the Conservatory's special exhibits gallery into an intimate cottage garden that plays host to hundreds of butterflies! You'll see over 20 species of North American butterflies, including monarchs, western swallowtails, red admirals, and more, as well as several giant moths like the colorful cecropia moth.

We paid a visit to Butterflies & Blooms last week. When you first walk into the room, you realize you're walking into the butterflies' habitat. The gallery is draped in a giant white net that contains the fluttering inhabitants. The hundreds of butterflies are free to fly around the room and land on the butterfly-friendly plants and flowers like daisies, sunflowers, and zinnias, and the effect is magical. Some will even land on you—we were told it's good luck!

Win Tickets to the May 10 Penguins+Pajamas Sleepover at the Cal Academy

May 1, 2013

Penguins + Pajamas at the California Academy of SciencesWe had a blast when we attended the California Academy of Sciences' Penguins + Pajamas sleepover—it's a fantastic family experience that's both fun and educational. The next Penguins+Pajamas sleepover is scheduled for Friday, May 10, 2013, and we're giving away a pair of tickets to a lucky Marin Mommies reader!

Experience your own "night at the museum" as you explore the exhibits after-hours, stargaze at a planetarium show, and enjoy a special live animal presentation. Before bedtime, settle in for story time with cookies and milk to learn about Pierre—the Academy’s famous wetsuit-wearing penguin.

When the lights go out, unroll your sleeping bag in African Hall, next to the swaying kelp of the aquarium's California Coast tank, or even at the Swamp window, face-to-face with Claude, the albino alligator. In the morning, rise and shine, then head over to the Academy Café for a continental breakfast.

Family Day Trip to Sacramento's California State Railroad Museum

April 10, 2013

Gov. Stanford at California State Railroad MuseumLooking for a fun and educational day trip? Why not explore California's railroading past at Sacramento's California State Railroad Museum? Located in the historic Old Sacramento neighborhood, it's an easy day trip from the Bay Area or a convenient stop on the way home from Tahoe. Either way, it's perfect for a family outing at any time of the year.

If you like trains—and really, who doesn't?—the California State Railroad Museum is the place to go. Chronicling the history of California's railroads from the first transcontinental railroad in the 1860s to the modern day, there's really something here for the whole family. Not only can you view two centuries worth of historic locomotives and rolling stock, but you can actually go on board four different railroad cars, one of which is equipped to simulate movement at night.

Also on view in the museum are a huge array of toy trains and model railroad equipment. It's also one of the most family-friendly museums you can visit, full of big machines and fun things for kids to see and do.

Pay a Visit to the Girl with a Pearl Earring at the de Young Museum

January 26, 2013

Girl with a Pearl EarringYou've read the book and seen the movie, now go see the painting that inspired them! Johannes Vermeer's renowned, enigmatic, and alluring painting Girl with a Pearl Earring is now on view at San Francisco's de Young Museum, along with over 30 additional Dutch Golden Age paintings from the prestigious collections of the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, in the exhibition Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis.

This special exhibition is a fantastic art experience for the whole family. Kids will love works ranging from Fabritius's tiny The Goldfinch to the large and raucous As the Old Sing, so Twitter the Young by Jan Steen. There's even an audio tour ($7/$6 museum members) designed especially for families.

The works on view represent some of the finest examples of 17th-century Dutch painting, but the focus is on the Girl, who gets a whole gallery to herself. Incidentally, the Girl with a Pearl Earring isn't a portrait per se, but a "tronie," an idealized depiction of a person probably intended to be a historical or biblical character.

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Bay Area Discovery Museum Today

January 21, 2013

MLK Day at the BADMCome honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy at a special holiday celebration at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. Create art inspired by the work of African American artists and learn more about Dr. King's life and work in the special family reading area.

Quotes from Dr. King's writing and speeches will be displayed throughout the museum to help your family think about how to celebrate this important holiday.

The Bay Area Discovery Museum is normally closed Mondays, but is open today, January 21, from 9 am to 4 pm for this special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration. General admission is $11; infants under 6 months and members are admitted free.

You can also honor Dr. King's memory through the music of SoVoSó, an amazing a capella ensemble that performs a unique uplifting mix of jazz, gospel, world, and R&B. Performances by SoVoSó take place at 11 am and 12:30 pm. Tickets to either performance are $7 for Bay Area Discovery Museum members and $17 general. Ticket prices to the SoVoSó performances include museum admission.

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