If You Only Have an Hour...

Ana Picazo - San Francisco Bay Area
April 30, 2018

When it comes to kid-friendly museums, the San Francisco Bay Area is unrivaled in quantity, quality, and scope. Popular museums—such as the California Academy of Sciences, Chabot Space Center, Tech Museum of Innovation, and Children's Discovery Museum—offer so many things to see and do, it would take several days' worth of visits to fully explore. Families usually plan to spend at least three hours at museums like these, leaving folks with less time, scrambling for other solutions.  

Fortunately, the Bay Area is full of smaller museums that pack a lot of fun and learning into a small amount of time. If you and your little one only have an hour or less to spare, check out these places:

The Cartoon Art Museum

Enter the pages of your favorite comic book at the Cartoon Art Museum. This San Francisco gem is home to over 6000 pieces of original cartoon and animation art. They also host professional cartoonists on a regular basis, so visitors can see them at work on their latest projects and ask questions about anything and everything related to cartooning. Any child who loves Looney Tunes cartoons (and that's every child!) will love the museum's latest exhibition, featuring the art of Chuck Jones, director of numerous Bugs Bunny cartoons and creator of Looney Tunes characters such as Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Pepe Le Pew, and Marvin the Martian.

Habitot Museum

Oakland's Habitot Museum may be a small museum for small children, but it packs a big punch. The museum has won multiple awards over the years, and as soon as you step into the museum, you'll know why. What infant, toddler or young child doesn't enjoy wheeling a cart around the Little Town Grocery and Cafe, choosing plastic food from bins, paying at the cash register, then sitting down with mommy for a pretend tea?  How can they resist splashing in the Waterworks play area, with all its waterwheels, pumps and buckets?  There's even a fenced-in infant/toddler garden with wooden carrots to plant or harvest.

Pacific Pinball Museum

Show your child what arcade games used to be like before the advent of joysticks and touchscreens. Alameda's Pacific Pinball Museum has 90 pinball machines, from vintage contraptions to modern marvels with six levels and more ramps and holes than your little one can count. Three pinball machines show their internal gizmos and gadgets, so visitors can see how a pinball machine works. Even bathroom breaks are opportunities for learning: restrooms have informative posters on the science and physics behind pinball machines. Best of all, the opportunities for hands-on learning are all around: every pinball machine in the main museum area is set to unlimited free play!

The Pez Museum

Everyone will have a sweet time at the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia. It showcases every single Pez candy dispenser ever made—over 900 of them!—as well as the World's Largest Pez Dispensing Machine. The Pez Museum also hosts two additional museums. You can give your child a lesson in toy safety and cultural sensitivity at the Banned Toy Museum. It features a collection of toys that were pulled off the market because they were deemed a safety hazard, such as the Atomic Energy Laboratory (which included real uranium ore!), or offensive, such as Bullfighter Barbie. End your visit on a more upbeat note at the Classic Toy Museum, which features favorite toys from the 20th century. 

Museum of American History

Tucked away in a quiet residential Palo Alto neighborhood, most people don't even realize the Museum of American History (MOAH) exists. Housed in a century-old home and garden, the museum is dedicated to technology and innovation in America. The museum has several small permanent exhibits, including a beautifully landscaped garden (great for running around) and replicas of a 1920s kitchen, general store, and print shop, where visitors will see numerous gadgets and inventions that have helped shape the country. They host special exhibits several times a year, including the popular Living LEGO-cy, their annual holiday LEGO train display that never fails to pack the house.


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