12 Museums in California That’ll Spark Curiosity, Creativity & Learning

Gone are the days when going to the museum with your kids meant hearing them complain about being bored for, what felt like, hours’ on end. Now, an afternoon trip or play date equates to watching (and joining!) your little learners as they happily explore fun exhibits and unique hands-on activities.

The San Francisco Bay Area fortunately has no shortage of science centers and children’s museums that can inspire your kids, no matter their age or interest.

“The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the highest concentrations of museums and science centers in the world,” says Carol Tang, Executive Director of the Children’s Creativity Museum. “As a parent, I’ve appreciated exploring different museums because the entire family can find something new to do, discover new interests and learn new things about the world around us.”

In addition to reaping the benefits of visiting a museum–like increased creativity, literacy, critical thinking, and curiosity–kiddos can even receive higher achievement scores in reading, math, and science, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Keep reading to discover 12 museums that cater to a wide range of interests, from STEM learning and reading to nature and more!

1. Children’s Creativity Museum

With a mission to foster creativity and collaboration, the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco provides two floors of hands-on, multimedia arts and technology experiences. Children ages two to 12 can enjoy the museums’s programs and exhibits, which are specifically designed to spark their imagination and creative confidence, from a music creation station and an animation studio to a storybook park and innovation lab. Don’t leave without taking a spin on the 100-year-old LeRoy King Carousel and discover its fascinating history.

San Francisco, creativity.org

2. The Lawrence Hall of Science

Calling all budding scientists and researchers, The Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) is just for them! As UC Berkeley’s public science center, LHS features an interactive planetarium, a biology discovery lab, a computer lab, various hands-on exhibits and an inside look at Berkeley’s cutting-edge research. Be sure to check out LHS’ new outdoor exhibit, “Forces that Shape the Bay,” where kids can enjoy the beauty of the Bay while also discovering the climatic, geologic, marine and human forces that shaped it.

Berkeley, lawrencehallofscience.org

3. The Tech Interactive

Winner of the 2015 National Medal for Museum and Library service, The Tech Interactive is a wonderful science and technology center for families in the San Jose and surrounding areas. Offering educational hands-on activities, experimental labs, design challenges and immersive STEAM education resources, the museum empowers children of all ages to innovate with creativity, curiosity and compassion.

San Jose, thetech.org

4. Chabot Space and Science Center

An official visitor center for NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Chabot Space and Science Center brings some of space on Earth with its full dome planetarium, space artifacts and the largest research-level observatory complex. For sights out of this world, take a peek through one of three large-scale telescopes, which is regularly available to the public for live viewing.

Oakland, chabotspace.org

5. Exploratorium

Exploration is the name of the game at this museum that takes hands-on learning to a whole new level. With six indoor and outdoor galleries (that feature over 600 interactive exhibits your kids can tinker with, might we add!), your family can easily spend an entire day getting lost in the realm of science, art and human perception. Toddlers will love making mega bubbles, looking at their reflection in a giant mirror and exploring a colorless world in a special monochromatic room, while teens can create lifesize, rainbow-colored images and stroll across a fog installation bridge. Exploratorium truly has something for everyone—parents, included!

San Francisco, exploratorium.edu

6. California Academy of Sciences

Your little ones can get back to nature at the California Academy of Sciences whose mission is to regenerate the Earth’s damaged ecosystems and climate through collaboration, learning and science. Museum goers can get lost in the wonders of the aquarium, planetarium and man-made rainforest. Snap a picture with the natural history museum’s jaw-dropping 87-foot-long blue whale skeleton and towering T. rex.

San Francisco, calacademy.org

7. Bay Area Discovery Museum

Mud pies are on the menu at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where children can cook up their best concoction with baking sheets, pots, pans, and an old school stove. Located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning across 7.5 acres, the museum also features woodshopping, an art studio, three large outdoor treehouses, a life-sized fishing boat, and even a mini beach for additional outside fun.

Sausalito, bayareadiscoverymuseum.org

8. Children’s Discovery Museum

Playtime, creativity, curiosity and lifelong learning is the name of the game at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Students of every age can enjoy indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits, including a two-story air maze, bubble-creation station, pretend farmer’s market and replica fossil digging, to name a few. For an engaging activity the entire family can participate in, test your discovery skills with the museum’s Discover Duck Scavenger Hunt. Families can win a special prize upon finding 20 wooden duck cut-outs hidden throughout the museum–bonus points for locating five extra ducks!

San Jose, cdm.org

9. CuriOdyssey

CuriOdyssey is a trifecta of every child’s favorite activities, combining a science museum, a zoo and a playground conveniently under one roof. At the zoo, budding zoologists will love seeing the nearly 100 animals that are native to the state, from otters and bobcats to owls, eagles and bearded dragons. Inside the science museum, curious learners can explore all of their senses through its innovative exhibits. Let your tots burn off some energy at the 4,000-square-foot outdoor playground where they can spin, swing and slide for hours’ worth of fun.

San Mateo, curiodyssey.org

10. Children’s Fairyland

Your children’s favorite nursery rhymes and books come to life at this museum, with close to 60 whimsical storybook-themed sets designed for outdoor exploration, like the Jack and Jilll hill, Alice in Wonderland tunnel and The Jolly Roger pirate ship. Touting 10 acres of gardens, kiddos up to eight years old can stroll the grounds and get up close and personal with friendly animals on site.

Oakland, fairyland.org

11. Palo Alto Jr. Museum and Zoo

Kids get the best of both worlds at the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo where they can come nose-to-nose with animals outside at the zoo one moment, then engage with scientific activities inside the museum the next. Children can fuel their curiosity by building circuits, playing instruments, creating dioramas and experimenting with the exciting phenomena of gravity, inertia, electricty and energy. The museum also touts an extensive natural history collection for even more playful exploration.

Palo Alto, paloaltozoo.org

12. Computer History Museum

Completely wow your tiny techie with a look at old computers and equipment that humans did indeed use at one point in time at this unique museum. With mind-blowing exhibits that highlight the history of emojis and the revolution of technology and software, both you and your children will be amazed and inspired. Your future graphic designer can learn Photoshop from the pros, while your tech-savvy teen can try their hand at coding. Plus: experience the sights and sounds of classic computing for the nostalgia you didn’t know you needed.

Mountain View, computerhistory.org


While walk-ups are welcomed at each museum, purchasing tickets in advance is strongly encouraged! Be sure to check out their website for more information.