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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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1 reviews

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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Mount Hermon Adventures

17 Conference Dr, Felton, CA 95018

Mount Hermon Adventures offers three different tours to suit the liking of every family looking for a great day of fun! The Redwood Canopy Tours is a zipline eco-adventure through the redwood forest canopy. It is a two hour guided eco-adventure includes six zip lines and two sky bridges at heights of up to 150 feet. Each tour of up to 8 people is led by 2 certified guides who share ecological knowledge and bring the forest to life. As the first zip line tour in the redwoods, the Redwood Canopy Tour has inspired and delighted over 100,000 guests since 2008. Come see the redwoods from the unique perspective only a zip line tour can offer! Sequoia Aerial Adventure is an aerial adventure course set high above the forest floor.Have an exhilarating adventure while exploring the redwood forest! Select your level of challenge on three aerial trails and over 30 elements, including swinging logs, cargo nets, and cables set 30 to 80 feet in the air! Multiple self-guided options combine solo and partner balance elements, focusing on challenge, fun, and group interaction. Mount Hermon's highly trained staff offer instruction and monitor your progress through the course. Each two hour session gives you access to the entire aerial adventure course of 30 elements plus two zip lines and the quick jump. Discovery Grove is a scaled down challenge course designed for young adventurers. This lower, scaled down challenge course is designed with the young adventurer in mind. Perfect for birthday parties, school field trips, and family activities. The course features seven different activities, at heights of 25 feet above the forest floor, with a short zip line descent back to the ground. Mount Hermon's highly trained staff offer instruction and monitor your progress through the course. The Discovery Grove package is a two hour experience for up to 20 guests and also includes the use of our outdoor picnic area. Aside from the tours, there's a lot of other things to do at Mount Hermon. Eating, drinking, nature and play options abound! Check out their great list of options available at their adventure center for when you're done with your tour.

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1 reviews

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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2932 views

10 reviews

Randall Museum

199 Museum Way
San Francisco, CA 94114

* The Randall Museum is under renovation and has temporarily reopened the Live Animal exhibit at Mission Art Center at 745 Treat Avenue, as well as the Art, Ceramics and Science studios. Read more on their official website. The Randall Museum is the jack-of-all trades of entertainment and education for younger kids and pre-teens. It's something between a zoo, a science fair, a theatre, and an all-around field trip extravaganza – and it's free! The rescued animals and pets, such as the monkey-faced eel and the legless lizard, are odd but not lethal – and the petting area is always a favorite. (There are also birds and bees, which can provide much educational opportunity.) The Middle School Science Fair in February is quite famous, and allows entries by public, private, and homeschooled kids alike. The models and replicas, from 'Riding the Rails' to the earthquake shack, can be really fascinating. The new Windswept exhibit shows arrows pointing which way the wind blows, ideal for kids working their way through Earth Science programs. Any kids who have gotten intrigued by the Cable Car Museum must go on a Saturday to see the Golden Gate Model Railroad, which was upgraded to digital controls and realistic sounds on a working track. If you're not too tired from the uphill walk to get to the museum, there's a nearby trail with good views overlooking the city and Bay area. The theatre has really broad-based appeal. It opens in the evening, and shows anything from “A Clockwork Orange” to “Lawrence of Arabia”, though the Museum doesn't require any admission fees or age restrictions, parents are told to use their best judgment. That also goes for the free astronomy lecture at 8 pm on every third Wednesday, and other one-off events such as explanations of animal mating strategies. Classical concerts and choirs free and open to all ages (though donations are appreciated), and the low-cost ($8) Buddy Club outings on Sundays for magic shows or ventriloquism.

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San Francisco Zoo

2945 Sloat Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94132

Sometimes, kids just want to go see animals doing what they do (maybe so that they can pick up behavior tips for later). At the San Francisco Zoo, there's sea lions and penguins for kids who love water, grizzlies and gorillas and giraffes for the ones who are impressed with size, anacondas and koalas for those who like the tropics. Though Storyland in the Children's Zoo might only appeal to the toddlers, the insect exhibit and petting zoo can keep the older ones occupied for a while. Active youngsters might be able to get out some energy on the Nature Trail or the playground (which has slides and a climbing area), and the hands-on kids might want to see the volunteers showing birds and reptiles between May and September. Little girls might really like the butterfly garden across from the meerkat and prarie dog exhibit, or the rose garden with poppies that look like fried eggs. This Zoo hasn't always gotten the spectacular ratings of some zoos (Oakland) before the recent renovation, but it does have better exhibits and location than others (Santa Barbara), and the otters and hippos can really be entertaining. Combining the San Francisco Zoo with other activities can be a great way to spend a day. After a stroll through Fisherman's Wharf (Pier 43 ½), you can take a free 30-minute shuttle to the Zoo at 10 am or noon, or grab the 1:45 shuttle after lunch at the Rainforest Cafe near the Wharf's Wax Museum. Just remember that the return shuttles arrive at the Rainforest Cafe at 1 pm and 3 pm, so if you got to the Zoo around 2 pm, make sure you know when to catch Muni bus lines 18 and 23, or the L Taraval line. Check the 511 Trip Planner if you're not sure.

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Seymour Marine Discovery Center

100 Shaffer Rd.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

From the whale skeleton outside to the live dolphins inside, there's certainly a lot to discovery at Seymore Marine. The views can be worthwhile even if you don't make it around to all of the marine displays, and it's always a fun idea to be able to touch a shark. The touch pools expand that option to hermit crabs, sea stars, urchins, and many other small critters that would probably be out of reach in a typical tide pool. The giant lobster can be seen, but not petted, which is good – the claws are fearsome. Also, unlike the whale skeleton, the sea lion statues are sturdy enough for climbing, so that somewhat qualifies as a playground feature. The whole Discovery Center is so popular on weekends – especially in the busy summer months – head straight to the tour sign-up sheet at the admissions desk as soon as you arrive. Some parents have been stuck waiting for a tour and missing the dolphins until early afternoon, but knowing that sign-ups start an hour before the tour begins can help alleviate that issue. Of course, you can spend an hour just wandering around the exhibits themselves, or staring at the lovely views of the cliffs and fields overlooking the ocean waves. Parents interested in topics like environmental impact will be fascinated by the displays on marine life impact on local areas, and conservation proposals. While this Center is not as extensive or as graphically impressive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it is definitely more suited for slower and smaller groups to wander their way through at leisure, and the volunteers have gotten many good ratings for their enthusiasm and passion for education. The Center's main appeal is as a safety zone that allows kids to touch ocean animals without fear. The secondary reason to visit comes from the Behind-The-Scene Tours, which are free after admission. The weekend 30-minute Santa Cruz Wharf Tours (1 pm or 3 pm) provide great insight into this half-mile marine lab, and great views of the otters and sea lions. Budding scientists will want to go on a 90-minute Marine Mammal Tour to hear about scientists' discoveries about the larger animals like dolphins and whales. Nature walkers won't want to miss the Younger Lagoon Reserve Tours. Bring sturdy shoes and jackets, and watch the calendar for Thursday and Sunday tour times, and call ahead to make reservations.

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1 reviews