Places to Take Young Children




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Bay Area


San Francisco Bay Area Overview

  These are places that are both fun and educational. More are listed on my "Places to Take School Age Kids" Page.
  • South Bay
    • Children's Discovery Museum, San Jose: The Bay Area is fortunate to have two world-class children's museums. One of them is the Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose. Built with millions of dollars in private and public funds, its large distinctive modern purple building is one of the highlights of downtown San Jose's renaissance. It's the pre-school counterpart to the nearby Tech Museum of Innovation. Here children can exercise their imagination as they pretend they're driving a fire engine, living on a valley farm, working in a doctor's office, programming a traffic signal, running a switchboard, and sorting mail in a post office. They can explore exhibits on giant bubbles, electricity, springs, ham radio, running a bank, tending a garden, running a pizza kitchen, and learn about water. There's a new 3,000 square-foot area for toddlers and preschoolers called the "Wonder Cabinet." Here for young children is the Woodland Puppet Forest, Giant Dragon, Sand Science Laboratory, Crawl-Through Tunnel, Child-Sized Kaleidoscope, and more.
    • Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, San Jose: This park is located in the heart of San Jose at the corner of Story and Senter Roads. It is part of Kelley Park on Coyote Creek. The park has rides, storyland play facilities, and a small children's zoo.
    • Youth Science Institute: This organization has 3 science discovery centers in San Jose's Alum Rock Park, Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos, and Sanborn County Park in Saratoga. They offer school and after-school programs, summer camps, and family classes. They have hands-on science and nature exhibits.
    • Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch, San Jose: This is in Santa Teresa County Park in South San Jose. It is a restored ranch and historic area whose history dates back to the first Spanish settlers of the Bay Area. The ranch offers special interpretive programs for schools and groups during the week. It is open for visitors on Saturday afternoons. The ranch house is restored to look like it was at the turn-of-the century. The barn has a timeline showing the area's history and has audio-visual presentations. Outside are antique farm equipment. At Santa Teresa Spring is an ever-flowing spring flowing out of a hillside stone font feeding a pond that was the first swimming pool in the Santa Clara County.
    • New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum: This is next to  4000-acre Almaden Quicksilver County Park in the tiny Gold Rush-era village of New Almaden, south of San Jose. For 135 years, the mines in these hills produced mercury, which among other uses, was essential to extracting gold from the mines in the motherlode. It was the oldest and most productive mercury mine in the United States. The mining museum is housed in a building built in 1954, which served as the office and residence of the superintendents of the nearby mercury mines. It has exhibits on mercury mining and the life of the miners and settlers in the area.
    • Emma Prush Farm Park, San Jose: What was once part of a dairy farm in the heart of San Jose is now a 47-acre park dedicated to the city's farming past. It has farm animals, farm equipment, gardens, and orchards. It has educational programs for kids.
    • Chitactac Adams Heritage County Park, Gilroy: This park is only 4.3 acres, which is tiny for a County Park, but it is full of history and scenery. It located on the banks of Uvas Creek on a former school site. It is full of huge sandstone rocks and boulders which are covered with Indian petroglyphs and grinding mortars. There is an intepretive center there that has exhibits on the area's Indians and more recent past. Its small size and wheelchair-accessible walkways make it an easy place to take small children to enjoy nature and history.
    • Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo: This museum has changing exhibits for young children to play and learn. It has a nicely-landscaped zoo with over 50 animals, many of which are used for classroom demonstrations. It has a large aquarium that represents a cross-section of San Francisquito Creek. It has a new shark exhibit in a 500-gallon aquarium tank. For more information about the Palo Alto Junior Museum call (650) 329-2111. 
  • Peninsula, Santa Cruz Mountains
  • North Bay
    • Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito: This is the other great children's museum in the Bay Area. This is much like San Francisco's Exploratorium in that it is housed in old public buildings that have been transformed into a great museum by the efforts of volunteers. It's in a spectacular location--near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge at East Fort Baker. It has several permanent exhibits. One of the most unique is a crawl-through simulated underwater tunnel, complete with live fish. There's also a realistic fishing boat where kids can pretend they're salmon fisherman, and a fisherman's wharf where kids can pretend they're selling fish. In another area, kids can build their own bridges and walk on a model of the Golden Gate Bridge. There is also a science lab, art room, and ceramics studio.
    • Howarth Park, Santa Rosa: Located next to the larger Spring Lake Regional Park in Santa Rosa, this 150-acre city park has an amusement park with a carousel, pony rides, petting zoo, and miniature train rides (see the Trains section). There is a small lake there, which has fishing and boating. 
    • Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa: Charles Schulz, probably the most famous cartoonist in the world, lived in Santa Rosa and played hockey regularly at his Redwood Ice Arena. Nearby was Snoopy's Gallery and Gift Shop, which had exhibits on the cartoonist's art and gifts for sale. After Schulz' death, a shiny, impressive new museum opened next door. The museum has permanent and changing exhibits on cartoon art. Outdoors are fanciful sculptures featuring the Peanuts characters.
  • San Francisco
  • East Bay
    • Habitot Children's Museum, Berkeley. This is a new hands-on children's museum for infants through school-age kids. It has interactive exhibits, play areas, an art studio, stage, and classroom.
    • The Little Farm, Tilden Park, Berkeley: Tilden Park is the East Bay's answer to Golden Gate Park. It has a huge variety of facilities and attractions. For young children, is has a carousel, pony rides, train rides (see the Trains section), swimming lake, and playgrounds. There are shady picnic areas and miles of trails. The Little Farm and Environmental Education Center are in the Tilden Nature Study Area, which have exhibits and nature programs.
    • Oakland Zoo: Located high up in the Oakland Hills in 525-acre Knowland Park, the Oakland Zoo has a sunnier and warmer environment than its coastside counterpart in San Francisco. It has over 440 species of animals in naturalistic habitats. It also has a children's zoo, zoo train, play area, sky ride, and amusement park rides.
    • Children's Fairyland and Rotary Nature Center, Lakeside Park, Oakland: These are located on Lake Merritt in Oakland. Fairyland is a colorful 10-acre park, started in 1950. It has been undergoing renovation. It has exhibits, play structures, shows, and rides based on storyland themes. The Rotary Nature Center was constructed in 1953 and has exhibits and programs about the wildlife in the area. The Wildlife Refuge in Lake Merritt was established in 1870 and is the oldest wildlife refuge in the United States.
    • Museum of Children's Art, Oakland: This instititution was founded in 1988 to encourage hands-on learning in the arts for children of all ages. It offers exhibits, classes, workshops, camps, field trips, and drop-in studios where children can learn about and create art.
    • Ardenwood Historic Farm, Fremont: This is a 205-acre restored 19th century farm and mansion. It has exhibits and educational programs on turn-of-the-century farming and farm life. Visitors can participate in farm activities and ride a horse-drawn railroad. This is a working farm with organically-grown crops that are sold on the site.
    • Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Walnut Creek. This is a large wildlife rehabilitation center that treats about 6,000 injured or orphaned animals yearly. They have over 50 native animals on display that cannot be released into the wild. They also have a theater and hands-on exhibits on animals.
  • Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay
    • Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Laboratory, Santa Cruz: This educational center on the coast is run by UC Santa Cruz as part of the Long Marine Laboratory, run by the Institute of Marine Sciences. The center has exhibit halls, aquariums, touch tanks, and educational programs.
    • Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey: On Cannery Row in Monterey is one of the largest and most famous aquariums in the world. It has innovative exhibits and enormous aquarium tanks allowing visitors to experience life in the oceans. It has exhibits and programs for all ages. Young children will enjoy the touch tanks where they can touch tidepool plants and animals, including bat rays.
  • Central Valley
    • Fairytale Town, Sacramento Zoo, William Land Park, Sacramento: Located in the heart of Sacramento, 166-acre William Land Park has a number of facilities. It includes Fairytale Town, which is a 2.5 acre park with fairytale-themed play structures. Nearby, the 14.3-acre Sacramento Zoo has over 350 rare and exotic animals from around the world.
    • Folsom Zoo: In the small city of Folsom, east of Sacramento is the Folsom Zoo. It has native animals that were injured or abandoned, including bears, wolves, foxes, coyotes, and mountain lions. Next to the zoo is a miniature train ride. (See the Trains section.)
    • Micke Grove Park and Zoo, Lodi: Micke Grove Regional Park is a large 258-acre tree-shaded park in the Central Valley city of Lodi. It has a wide variety of attractions, including the Micke Park Zoo and the Funderwoods Amusement Park.
    • Pixie Woods, Stockton: South of Lodi is the larger city of Stockton, which has Pixie Woods, a fairyland amusement park. The city also has the Children's Museum of Stockton, which has educational play-based exhibits.

Created by Ronald Horii 10/97
Updated 7/20/07, 5/31/12

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