Fun, educational, and hands-on family activities are worth their weight in gold for parents traveling with kids—and San Jose is the perfect place to start a family learning adventure in California. The Traveling Child's Monet Hambrick recently explored this part of the state with her two young daughters and shared the details with California Now Podcast host Soterios Johnson. Here’s a quick rundown of her five favorite stops.
This innovative science center earned the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2015—the country's top honor for a museum, science center, or cultural institution.
“The Tech,” as it is known, offers a wide range of STEM-based, hands-on experiences for all ages, including the chance to design and build your own robot using real sensors and actuators. Families can also “Reboot Reality”—that is, they can play around in the Tech's digital experience lab, where art meets technology. You can enter a virtual underwater world populated with creatures you create, or work with the Animaker robot to create your own land-faring animals. Youngsters can also create digital masterpieces using virtual paint. Older kids ages 12 and up can become Cyber Detectives, where they can learn about internet safety and protecting their digital presence.
Children's Discovery Museum, San Jose
Just around the corner from The Tech, this interactive museum is a great place to take the family to learn and explore, particularly for younger children. Offering a delightful variety of hands-on, play-based exhibits, the little ones can interact to their hearts' content. The museum's fire truck and international food market encourage creative play while toddlers can touch and feel different textures in the Wonder Cabinet. Babies can also enjoy the Crawl Space, which features a play area and regularly scheduled interactive activities.
Seventy-two miles south of San Jose, you’ll find one of the world’s best family attractions. The Monterey Bay Aquarium boasts more than 35,000 sea creatures and 200 exhibits and truly provides a “window to the wonders of the ocean.”
Founded with the support of the Packard Foundation, the aquarium has grown to include the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and has launched multiple marine wildlife conservation programs. Families will want to seek out the Splash Zone, a series of attractions on the aquarium's 2nd floor that includes an inside look at a kelp forest, a coral reef kingdom, and the famously adorable penguins of Penguin Cam fame.
In the heart of San Francisco's waterfront lies a veritable gold mine of worthy attractions. One of the most-visited spots in the city, the views alone make great memories: you can see both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
Families will want to visit the Aquarium of the Bay to learn about aquatic life native to the Bay and get up-close views of moon jellies, rays, sea lions, and even a sevengill shark. You can also take behind-the-scenes tours and experience animal feedings. When it’s your kids’ turn to eat, choose from an array of family-friendly restaurants known for fresh seafood like Swiss Louis Italian and Seafood Restaurant or Pier Market. While you're at the Pier, ride the carousel and get in a little shopping at the specialty shops and boutiques.
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
This renowned science center in the middle of Golden Gate Park is an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, research center, and natural history museum all rolled into one.
Families can go under the sea at the Steinhart Aquarium (don't miss the mysterious Twilight Zone exhibit); glimpse galaxies far, far away at the Morrison Planetarium; frolic with butterflies in the Osher Rainforest biodome; and learn about some of Earth's most fascinating lifeforms at the Kimball Natural History Museum. Be sure to visit the Color of Life exhibit at the latter, a favorite that explores the relationship between color and animals. The Academy also has a dedicated focus on sustainability through green building operations, exotic animal breeding programs, and in-house environmental research.