Asian Art Museum - Places For Kids

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Bay Area Discovery Museum

557 McReynolds Rd
Sausalito, CA 94965

This Museum is more of a hands-on center for imagination and creative development, with a lot of Bay Area props, than a more classic outlay like the Asian Art Museum. It's like a huge playground for kids, but it would be hard to find a free playground with this mixture of inside amenities (puppets, full train station) and creative outside features (gravel pit with tow trucks, Golden Gate Bridge replica, toddler water zone with plastic fish). Children are offered objects outside to play with, from the natural elements of sand and water to larger versions of toys that already fascinates them (foam versions of Tinkertoys). The idea is that parents can ask their kids open-ended questions to get the kids involved in play, so that the kids are dreaming and creating things from their imagination rather than coming to a place to be entertained with digested information and ideas from multimedia. Inside at the Art Table, the kids are offered the ability to get more messy with paint and sand than at home – bring extra clothes or a smock. The simulated Bay Hall and Wave Workshop has representations of what they'd see at Fisherman's Wharf and in Oakland, along with trains and tunnels, so that they can start thinking about what they're seeing and how the ocean works. If kids get inspired and want to go outside again, no problem – take them to Lookout Cove where they can get on the Bonnie boat and pretend to be pirates on the sea. The shipwreck hull, the trail, and the sea cave can spark all sorts of survival questions, especially if you start reading Robinson Crusoe to them at night. Other reviewers have commented just as often on the stunning views of the actual Golden Gate Bridge, the number of activities and classes available, and the garden. Since the Discovery Museum is both indoors and outdoors, toddlers may love the streams of water, or they may want to go in and out of the reed maze, giant tree trunk, and climb all over the giant spider web. Themes and activities are geared toward the younger set, so you might not want to push the age limit of 8 years old.

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The Walt Disney Family Museum

104 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94104

This is definitely an eye-opening experience for children who love and constantly quote the Disney films. Many people enjoy all of the exhibits and 'behind the scenes' stories about Walt as a creator and as a business manager, from all of the creations that didn't get made into films (or ideas that were stolen), to the women involved in Disney creativity, to Walt's unionization battles with his workers. There are early sketches and displays of technological dinosaurs (Walt's camera equipment), which should fascinate kids who want to take up photography and don't know what creative life would be like without an iPad and a digital camera. This could be classed as a history lesson on the Disney empire, and requires a lot of reading ability. If the younger children get restless after seeing the short films and large Disneyland model, be sure to have a backup plan, like a picnic basket and blankets for the grassy field overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. If you forgot the picnic basket, or couldn't manage it and the kids on public transport, there is a good on-site cafe. You can even go inside the shop and the cafe without having to pay the entrance fee, so it might be a good rendevous point just for a lunch outing, but there is a wonderful view of the Bridge from inside the museum. The theatre is used for special events like the Film of the Month, which shows every day but Tuesday, and special exhibitions. The calendar gets filled with all sorts of filmmaking events, from screenwriters' workshops, to mosaic-making, to personal talks on what it was like to work with Walt. Many visitors have found that the greatest part of the museum centers around the months-long exhibits, which show the art and color of animation geniuses within and without the Disney corporation. You could see Heinrich Klay's Fantasia work, or Mary Blair's influence on Alice in Wonderland. Try Groupon or other sites for occasional one-time discounts.

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Children's Creativity Museum

221 4th St., San Francisco, CA 94560

The Children's Creativity Museum is like a multimedia studio left open for the directors' kids to explore. From the Animation studio with clay critters, to the Music studio with a green screen, children and young adults can put their energy and talents to good use here. What you'll really have to worry about is that the children will get spoiled for any other museum. Since they're not only allowed, but encouraged, to touch all of the art....well, use your imagination. In fact, the Imagination Lab, the Movie Studio and the Do It Yourself studio are all very popular. The Mystery Box challenge changes frequently, and requires the kids to think their way around design problems. For a minor fee, you can even take a DVD home with you instead of worrying about capturing a video via iPhone, since the kids' activities, songs, and storytelling can be recorded. Also, the children are no longer restricted to an older age group (6-12). Since the facility got renovated, the younger children (3-5) can play on the train table and busy themselves with crafts, from painting to playing dress-up. (Warning - bring ear plugs for the music room because the drums are popular.) A few parents have said that the toddler toys are rather generic and a little grubby. However, the Early Birdies program is popular, especially with the members who get to go free. (It's $15 for non-members.) If the kids have any energy left, there's a great and free playground outside the museum with grass, a labyrinth, and a sandpit.

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Play Haven

254 Laguna Honda Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94116

With over 4,000 square feet of space Play Haven was designed by an early childhood education specialist to encourage children to explore their world through sensory stimulation and play activities. The facility includes a large, open play area filled with an art studio, sensory activities, imagination games, reading area, dramatic play areas and a rock climbing wall. The owners wanted to provide a center that would promote early childhood learning, creativity, social and emotional development and give children a chance to increase fine motor skills all in a drop-in setting. Cozy couches and seating arrangements are perfect for relaxing while your children play or to sit and read with your children. Instead of messing up your home with arts and crafts activities, visit Play Haven where clean-up is a snap. Parents can utilize the space to participate in fun activities with their little ones or enroll them in one of the center’s enrichment classes and head off to the parent’s lounge for some quite time for work or leisure. By the way, the parent lounge comes equipped with work stations and free Wi-Fi. A handy kitchen is stocked with all the things you need to enjoy this time away from home with your children including: bottle warmers, microwave, refrigerator and single service coffee and tea maker. Additionally there is a relaxing nursing room and peaceful outdoor patio. Play Haven opened its doors in early October. On October 9 it offered the first of what it anticipates will be many enrichment classes to follow. The first class was JAMaROO Kids, a parent and tot music and movement class for ages 3 and under. The place is clean and everything is new. Nearby neighborhood parking is free (see Tips for Visiting below).

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California Academy of Sciences

55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118

While kids may never get excited about the periodic table of the elements or fulcrum formulas, they will get excited about science at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. At a certain age, kids need to explore important questions about life on Earth. The Academy of Sciences is a hands-on place for parents and kids to figure out how things work – and why. Spread out over 400,000 square feet, the Academy's three major attractions (aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum) show great examples of the planet's natural resources, from the water reclamation system to the solar-powered 'Living Roof' with 2 acres of plant species. Animal-loving kids can see the past and the future, from the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, to the tropical rain forest with a bat cave and an overhead freshwater fish tank (the Flooded Forest). Technology-loving kids may be glued to the digital planetarium and galaxy exploration tour. Penguin-loving kids should see the colony of waddling African penguins in the 25,000-gallon exhibit, complete with a rocky shore and naturalistic temperatures. Don't miss the feeding times and FAQ sessions (twice daily at 10:30 am and 3 pm), if your kids are the questioning type. Former visitors will hardly recognize the new facility; open between 9:30 am and 5:00 pm. Pirahnas at the Steinhart Aquarium are close (not too close), while fish and sharks weave through the Philippine Coral Reef. Small and great sea creatures at the California Coast Gallery range from the tiny tidepool anemone to the giant octopus. Each membership allows you to feed penguins, and gain access to the RSVP-only Holiday Nights show with live reindeer. There's as much all-ages activity at the Academy as in the on-site cafe. (Adults enjoy Thursday Nightlife shows, with earthquakes and alligators - and alcohol.) One Academy sleepover (Penguins + Pajamas) is the best mix of a safe outdoor family vacation. After planetarium shows and animal demos, park the family sleeping bags next to the aquarium (or swamp), wake up to a continental breakfast, and keep on exploring.

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Cable Car Museum

1201 Mason St.
San Francisco, CA 94108

If you have an hour before dinner with the family near the Embarcadero, or you want to work in a science and engineering field trip for an hour after wandering through Chinatown or Fisherman's Wharf, go to the Cable Car Museum. If you're a San Francisco resident, you might have taken any number of Muni rides without really understanding the history of how cable cars and mass transit came to be, or the effect of the 1906 earthquake. Though it may not have the attractive sea power of the Aquarium of the Bay or the hands-on fascination of the nearby Pier 1 Exploratorium, you can't beat the price of the Cable Car Museum or its bathrooms: free. (Also, if you need more than an hour to occupy the kids on a Saturday, the outside exhibits at the Exploratorium are also free.) The upper level shows the cable wheels and working models, along with a video, and the lower levels let you see how the cables work close up. Engineers and small future engineers will be fascinated by the turbines and generators and drive wheels that all work together to move crowds of people from one area to the next. Future photographers will be fascinated by the black-and-white and tintype images that show San Francisco and the cable cars in their former glory. If you happen to be in the area in July, don't miss the annual Bell-Ringing Contest, dating back to 1949. Seven finalists are picked out of a group of bell-ringers who meet in the car barn (which shows the entry and exit of the cables underneath the street), and then they and non-profit organizers move to Union Square for a battle of the bells. Sometimes, just to change things up a little, bell-ringing happens in October too – so watch the website for further developments.

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City Clues Adventures

1111 Gough St.
San Francisco, CA 94164

If you need a reason to go wandering through San Francisco's historic districts on a treasure hunt, City Clues Adventures would be it. Maybe you'll want to bring the kids on a Family Adventure, maybe not. Some groups have decided to explore the city as bachelorettes, which may mean pub crawls and coctails. Others have used City Clues Adventures as a means of company team-building, without having to do a lot of prep work. The customizable group tours can add in other locations, like Union Square and the Financial District, which also has some amazing places to eat. Schools often book tours as a field trip, since skits and poetry can be worked in along with the treasure hunt problem-solving skills. It really just depends on what you want to do. There's a healthy mix of educational, historical, and competition-driven places to visit. If you want to find out about the Chinese Temple, tea shops, and also see the sights at Fisherman's Wharf, this tour can't be beat. If you'd like to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory but are afraid that you won't be able to find it in the maze of Chinatown alleys, this is one of the first stops along the tour. Also, the tour guides are very knowledgeable about restroom locations, which is a definite plus. If you have any energy left as the tour ends, check out some of the freebie areas of Pier 39. There are the walkable Musical Stairs, the street performers, and views of the Marina. You can even make notes for future trips, to the Aquarium of the Bay or the Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze (these are fascinating but not free). If you just can't stand any more walking, there's always the options of plopping into comfortable Bay Theatre seats for $5 each, though you can save some money by buying tickets online.

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