Cable Car Museum - Places For Kids

Cable Car Museum

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1201 Mason St
San Francisco, CA 94108

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10 am - 6 pm (Apr 1 – Sept 30)
10 am - 5 pm (Oct 1 – Mar 31)

Closed: New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.



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...

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1. Closing days: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year.

2. Wheelchair Access: On Washington Street exit, look for the ramp and elevator entrance.

3. Location: 1201 Mason Street, across from the Ferry Building.

4. Hours: 10 am – 5 pm (October – March), 10 am – 6 pm (April – October).

5. Free of Charge: No admission fee, but donations and purchases at the store are encouraged.

6. Transport: A 20-minute steep walk from Fisherman's Wharf, or take a cable car line to the front door (Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason). To work in a 3-block walk, take the California line, stop at the Fairmont Hotel, and head north. Don't drive here, because parking is very hard to find.


REVIEWS FOR Cable Car Museum

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San Francisco Fire Department Museum

655 Presidio Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94115

Like many San Francisco attractions, the San Francisco Fire Department Museum has opened up new exhibits in the last year or two, so that even if you have visited in the past, it may be worth revisiting. The biggest share of the Fire Department Museum is dedicated to the destruction of the city of San Francisco in the huge fires of 1906. Parents can take their kids here as a good (and free) educational opportunity to show why fire safety is so important, and to bond with firefighters. The old photographs and equipment are eye-catching, but the outside of the building is not as impressive, so you may have to really pay attention while walking or driving to find the location. The volunteers have gotten good reviews as friendly and helpful, and you can either just look at the exhibits or hear a voice-over. Also, there is a working fire station that may be worth looking into if you have the time – the normal tour takes about 30 minutes. Just remember that all of the Museum displays and artifacts are in one room, which can get cramped fast. That's a big reason why guided tours of over eight people require a payment, though small groups and individuals can always come for free. The kids should be fascinated by the restored steam engines and horse-drawn fire trucks (though they'll have to use their imaginations for the horses). An old pump for drawing water, and the 1849 mandate on household emergency buckets of water, might be good lessons in water conservation. The glass fire extinguishers, helmets, and other artifacts are just plain good historical pointers that show some key differences in technology between then and now. Some reviewers have said that kids were allowed to ring the 100-year-old bell and take pictures with the staff, so the kids might get lucky if they ask nicely.

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Hiller Aviation Museum

601 Skyway Rd.
San Carlos, CA 94070

Planes, trains, and automobiles are some of the most fascinating things that kids can see, and Hiller Aviation provides plenty to see and do. While most of the exhibits center around planes, their history, and their photos, there are also special exhibits on model railroads and a weekly Gourmet Food Truck visit. Since the Museum is located at the San Carlos airport, the kids can see modern planes zooming in and out, while they investigate the cockpits and controls of the vintage models and prototypes. With forty exhibits and interactive displays, this is a great way to get your kids interested in the power of featherless flight. Don't forget the Atrium with the airplane models, which are kid-sized and fascinating for a whole host of reasons. You can point out the history of the Kitty Hawk flight with the Wright Brothers' older model, the San Francisco all-metal Argonaut of 1928, the Grumman Albatross that flew around the world, and the collapsible XROE Rotorcycle. There's also a restoration shop where planes are constantly being tinkered with. If you're able to drop by on the weekends before 2 pm, wait in line for the popular Flight Simulator and get the feel of swooping in and out of the clouds. If you can find it, there's even a small theatre with 35 seats. Some of the special events are especially kid-friendly, like the Easter Bunny that shows up in a helicopter. While the kids are waiting for Bunny's arrival or the coming of the New Year, there are bouncy houses to explore and face painting to be done, and occasional magic shows. If you sign up for membership, there are discounts on the planetarium Sky Show that explains constellations used for navigation, live bird shows, or various Merit Badge days. This is a perfect place to bring home-schooled kids or Civil Air Patrol cadets on discounted group rates. The museum is small, so the space is packed with exhibits. Even the parking lot has half of a 747 jet on display, which can be played with until the Simulator is ready. Just be prepared when you enter the gift shop, because the kids will be clamoring for Playmobil sets, model airplanes, and kites – or even the teddy bears with aviator glasses.

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Jelly Belly Factory

1 Jelly Belly Ln.
Fairfield, CA 94533

Did you know that there is a magical land that gives out free sugar to children? Did you know that former California governor Ronald Reagan started a Jelly Belly habit to overcome his fondness for smoking pipes? Did you also know that the patriotic blueberry bean was developed for President Reagan's inauguration in 1981? All three of these facts are true. These are the sorts of fun trivia dished out along with free Jelly Belly beans at the free factory tour in Fairfield. At the Jelly Belly factory, they take their tours as serious fun. You can either get added on to one of the free 40-minute tours that start every 15 minutes or so (depending on the lines), or you can gather together a private tour and go through University-level beanology. The free tours are so popular, especially because the scents of created and polished beans are always wafting through the factory. It would be cruel to let the kids smell but not touch, so of course there are free samples – and 50% off bags of the factory rejects or Belly Flops. If you forget the camera, pay a small fee for souvenir photos – and maybe get a few Jordan almonds in the store. Of course, the popularity and free nature of the tours also means that there may be wait times around the holidays. If you try to get in on Martin Luther King Day, Easter or Spring Break, just make sure that the kids know you might be in line for an hour. (That's hardly more than they'd get at Disneyland anyway, even after paid admission.) Watch out for the every flavor beans like 'pencil shavings' and 'vomit', especially in bags of random Belly Flops. You can't miss the great Jelly Belly art in the lobby, and if you have a penny, try the penny press machine.

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Mrs. Grossman's

3810 Cypress Drive
Petaluma, CA 94954

This one-hour weekday tour comes at a low price, but the quality is good. If you and the kids enjoy indoor activities like scrapbooking, this may be your favorite tour. If you're more the science and machines type, watching the stickers get created, pressed, and perforated just may be your thing. If you're a history buff but didn't know any sticker history before you came, you will once the tour is over. If you and the kids love to collect antiques or anything that's no longer available, the tour shows rows of stickers on retirement. First, the kids get the multimedia experience with a five-minute video. Next, get to see the factory workers in action on the machines, from printing to die-cutting to perforation. Some reviewers have said that their favorite part comes when you get to wander around the production floor, because there are so many machines (dye machines, rollers, laser cutters) and elements to making a sticker (quality check points, pigments, storage). Each one of the six stations has a reason, especially the recycling area and the one-of-a-kind Laserweb. Since so many companies outsource their printing to other countries, it's fascinating to see the full process, start to finish, in a company begun in the United States that employs local residents. Whether or not this is explained on the tour, it's exciting from a business perspective that a graphic designer was able to launch a company in 1975 that now has 90 employees, and this is the only sticker company that offers tours – world-wide. Nor is this just a 'look but don't touch' tour. Not only are there sticker samples to take home, but you also get to put a sticker collage on a postcard at the end of the tour, in the same room where the video is shown. If you find that the samples aren't enough, there are more stickers on sale, some in a random Grab Bag box on discount for a few dollars. Also, paying for the tour pays off in the end, because you get a coupon to spend on – more stickers!

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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

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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1 reviews

Asian Art Museum

200 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

Unlike some museums, Asian Art incorporates both visual and interactive experiences. Not only will the kids be fascinated by the intricate Buddha statues, they can also take photographs without anyone pointing to printed-out rules of policy. Even the cafe is an interactive experience, and has more choices than just egg rolls and chicken salad. There's miso soup, there's Tokyo Ramen with tree ear mushrooms, there's Korean spicy beef....and Sake Sliders. Two of the only items you could get anywhere else would be the hot dog and french fries option, but it pays to have something that everyone recognizes. Of course, there are teas, and the kids may want to try them just for the names: Three Flower Celebration, Dragon Eyes, Plum Blossom. If you forget your water bottles, there are free cups and water abounding. Really, the cafe choices could describe the rest of the museum experiences, which range from pottery and painted postures to pork belly food samples. There are some standard calligraphy and painting exhibits, scrolls and sculptures, and Ming vases. However, since Asian territory covers many countries, you can view the similarities and differences between displays on Korea, China, Japan, and India – to name a few. Also, the yoga and Mandala cosmic center exhibits also have interactive classes for a reasonable fee. You and the kids can go through the gallery at a leisurely pace, learn postures and stretching, hear storytelling, and make some take-home modern art. Between the three floors, it would be almost impossible to be bored in this place of cultural learning. Most people recommend starting at the top third floor, with many of the standard exhibits, and then going down to the interactive first floor. This is especially important when taking a family tour, because the kids will probably be even more keen on doing their own art after seeing so many great examples.

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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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