Hands-on Museums for Kids and Families in Marin and the Bay Area

November 19, 2017

Museum visitors are often told not to touch anything, but not at the museums listed here! These 11 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.

California Academy of Sciences

In beatiful Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is a destination like no other. The Cal Academy offers an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum—all under one living roof. From the splashing penguins in African Hall to the wildflowers on the roof, the building is bursting with life. A four-story living rainforest and awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem showcase Earth’s biodiversity, while immersive planetarium shows offer a new perspective on the planet we call home. Location: 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco. Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9:30 am–5 pm, Sunday, 11 am–5 pm. More info: www.calacademy.org or (415) 379-8000.

Chabot Space and Science Center 

Chabot Space and Science Center is a hands-on center featuring interactive exhibits, a digital planetarium, a large screen theater, hands-on activities and three powerful telescopes. Fun for kids of all ages. Location: 10000 Skyline Blvd, Oakland. Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm, closed Monday & Tuesday. More info: www.chabotspace.org or call (510) 336-7300

Children's Creativity Museum

Visitors to this SOMA museum, formerly known as Zeum, can create their own stop-motion movies, create designs on a computer with Adobe Photoship, make a music video, invent something in the Innovation Lab, and build with Imagination Playground in the Community Lab. Located in Yerba Buena Gardens near Moscone Center, the Children's Creativity Museum gets bonus points for having an awesome 1906 LeRoy King Carousel right outside its front door! Location: 221 Fourth Street (corner of Fourth and Howard Streets), San Francisco 94103. Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 10 am–4 pm; carousel open daily 10 am–5 pm. More info: www.creativity.org or (415) 820-3320.

Children's Museum of Sonoma County

Recently opened in its new home adjacent to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, the Children's Museum of Sonoma County offers hands-on art-, nature-, and science-focused exhibits and experiences for children 10 and younger. "Shop" at the Farmers' Market, play in Mary's Garden, and get creative in Ella's Art Studio. Additional exhibitions are under construction and due to open at the museum this spring. Location: 1835 West Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 95403. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 9 am–4 pm; Sunday, noon–4 pm. More info: www.cmosc.org or (707) 546-4069.

CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point

Since the 1950s, this hands-on science and wildlife museum on San Francisco Bay in San Mateo has been delighting Bay Area families. Exhibits include Backyard Science, Forces, Flying Magnets, Wind Tubes, and more. You can also visit CuriOdyssey's resident animals, including river otters, bobcats, burrowing owls, a great blue heron, and other birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Take time to explore the 13 acres of gardens, which feature California native plants as well as butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Daily animal shows are free after museum admission. Location: 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo 94401. Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm. More info: www.curiodyssey.org (650) 342-7755

Exploratorium

San Francisco's venerable hands-on science museum the Exploratorium has been fascinating and educating Bay Area families for over 40 years. They recently moved to a spectacular new space along the Embarcardero overlooking the Bay where you can spend the whole day here visiting old favorite exhibits that you might remember from when you were a kid as well as exciting new ones. It's a must-visit destination for families of all ages—grown-ups will have just as much fun here as kids. Admission is on the expensive side, but they do have discounted rates for San Francisco Bay Area residents, as well as free days throughout the year. Location: Pier 15 (Embarcadero at Green Street), San Francisco, 94111. Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm. More info: www.exploratorium.edu or (415) 528-4360.

Habitot Children's Museum

Berkeley's Habitot offers an array of hands-on educational and creative fun for little ones. Exhibits and play areas are geared toward babies, toddlers, and preschooers, and include the Medical Center, where kids can pretend to be EMTs and veterinarians; the Waterworks; Infant-Toddler Garden, the Multicultural Reading Tent, the Wind Tunnel, train tables, face-painting tables, and more. There's also an Art Studio with different activities offer every day. Location: 2065 Kittredge Street, Berkeley 94704. Hours: Monday–Thursday, 9:30 am–12:30 pm; Friday–Sunday, 9:30 am–4:30 pm; closed for private parties on Sundays April–September. More info: www.habitot.org or (510) 647-1111.

Lawrence Hall of Science

Perched high on a hill above the Cal campus, UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science is a fantastic Bay Area resource for hand-on science exploration. The Hall is truly a place for all ages: younger kids can play and learn in the KidsLab or the Nano Zone and even climb on a lifesize model of a fin whale (named Pheena) or massive DNA sculpture. Older kids can explore science by doing science and experiment with engineering, learn about earth and space, enjoy puzzles and brain teasers from around the world, and more. There are even animals—both live and fossilized—to visit. The current exhibition, Science Fiction: Science Future, brings to life innovations and inventions once thought only possible in film and literature. Location: 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley 94720. Hours: Monday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm. More info: www.lawrencehallofscience.org or (510) 642-5132.

Playland-Not-At-The-Beach

This museum of fun in the East Bay town of El Cerrito offers historical exhibits about the long-gone Playland amusement park at San Francisco's Ocean Beach. The big attraction here, though, are four rooms of pinball machines and a variety of old penny arcade machines, all set to free play! You can hang out here and play all day. They offer birthday parties, too. Location: 10979 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito 94530. Hours: 10 am–5 pm weekends and holiday; daily during summer vacation. More info: www.playland-not-at-the-beach.org or (510) 592-3002.

Randall Museum

Located in Corona Heights Park near the Castro District in San Francisco, this gem of a natural history museum offers plenty of hands-on educational fun for eveyone. Create in the open ceramics studio on Saturdays, see if your LEGO structures can survive an earthquake, explore a caboose and guide model trains around landmark San Francisco buildings, and visit with the Randall Museum's menagerie of animals. As of July 1, the Randall will temporarily relocated to Mission Art Center (745 Treat Avenue) during constuction. Admission is always free! Location: 199 Museum Way, San Francisco 94114. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 am–5 pm. More info: www.randallmuseum.org or (415) 554-9600.