As the Bay Area emerges from more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns, many museums have welcomed back patrons, and others are in the process of doing so. Families eager to return to engaging learning experiences with their kids will notice some differences, often including timed reservations and required masks, but will be pleased to revisit old favorites and check out new exhibits.
A top Bay Area family destination, the Exploratorium, is poised to reopen July 1 to the public after a 15-month closure, allowing visitors to return to the exploration of art, science and human perception that the museum has brought to life since 1969.
“We’ve reconfigured the space to allow for social distancing, and there’s a lot more space for people to spread out inside,” says Avi Martin, public relations manager. An enhanced outdoor gathering area also has been added.
Museum capacity will be limited to 50 percent initially, and timed tickets will be required, though some walk-up tickets will be available in addition to advance reservations. Masks will be required, and hand-washing and sanitizing stations have been added.
Exhibits that could encourage mask removal – such as those involving water fountains, microphones and eye or ear pieces – have been removed but “there will still be all the crowd favorites related to light and colors, bubbles, mirrors and observing patterns in nature,” Martin says. The popular Tactile Dome and Tinkering Studio will remain closed for now.
The museum’s retail store and two restaurants were slated to re-open June 24. Eating and drinking will be limited to designated areas.
Among new exhibits is “Aperture Lucida,” a Black Box gallery installation involving a virtual ball of light, which opened shortly before the museum shut down. The Exploratorium has also added “spaces for guests to reflect on the social impact of the pandemic … and how the community has experienced this very extraordinary time,” Martin says.
The museum’s adults-only After Dark events will take place on Thursday evenings starting July 1.
“We’re super excited to just reopen and have people be able to enjoy the space again,” she adds.
Below are more museums popular with families. While many have reopened, others had not yet announced their plans at press time. Make sure to check websites for information on whether venues are open, require reservations and other COVID-related changes.
Bay Area Discovery Museum – Geared for kids ages 6 months to 10, this museum offers art studios, a “Mud Kitchen,” a kid-friendly simulation of Bay Area ports and a fantastic 2.5-acre outdoor play area. New permanent exhibits, the “Try It Studio” and “How Things Work,” opened in May, as did a new Tot Spot for infants and toddlers. Gumnut Grove, with three treehouses nestled in Fort Baker’s tree canopy, was scheduled to open in July for 5- to 10-year-olds. $15 ages 6-11 months, $18 ages 1 and up. Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. 415-339-3900.
Children’s Creativity Museum – This museum promotes creativity, innovation and critical thinking through its animation studio, music studio, innovation lab, robot coding exhibit and more. It’s geared for kids ages 2-12. 221 Fourth St. 415-820-3320.
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose – Visit a pretend farmers’ market, unearth mammoth fossils, make art, play with bubbles and water, and more at this museum for kids. In the outdoor exhibit “Bill’s Backyard,” children can scurry through a tunnel, scoop gravel, dig in the dirt and scale the Tree Climber. $15, under 1 free. 180 Woz Way. 408-298-5437.
Habitot – This Berkeley museum caters to little ones with pretend-play exhibits including a rocket ship, fire engine, animal hospital and grocery store, plus a Wiggle Wall, wind, water, train and face-paint tables and more. $12, under 1 free. 1569 Solano Ave., #326, Berkeley. 510-647-1111.
Oakland Museum of California – This East Bay institution reopened June 18, following a 15-month closure, with a renovated campus and gardens. The museum combines art, California history and natural sciences galleries, plus outdoor areas and a popular Friday night community event. $16 adults, $7 ages 13-17, 12 and under free. 1000 Oak St., Oakland. 510-318-8400.
Museum of Children’s Art – This interactive space introduces children to art through hands-on projects. It also hosts camps. 1221 Broadway, LL-49, Oakland. 510-465-8770.
Asian Art Museum – The museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Asian Art, from antiquities to contemporary exhibitions. $15 adults, $10 ages 13-17, 12 and under and First Sundays free. 200 Larkin St. 415-581-3500.
Contemporary Jewish Museum – The CJM strives to make the diversity of the Jewish experience relevant to a 21st century audience through exhibitions and programs. Current exhibits include one on Levi Strauss, ending in August, and the video installation “GOLEM: A Call to Action.” $16, ages 18 and under free. 736 Mission St. 415-655-7800.
de Young Museum – Exhibits this summer at this fine art museum include a Judy Chicago retrospective and “Hung Liu: Golden Gate.” Its de Youngsters Studio offers activities for visitors ages 3-8, and Discovery Guides are available for families to use as they explore the galleries. $15 adults, ages 17 and under free. Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. 415-750-3600.
Museum of Craft and Design – This museum showcases designers, makers and artists through exhibitions and programs. Its Make Art Family Days on the first Saturday of every month feature tactile materials introduction for toddlers, guided activities for kids, gallery tours, refreshments and more. $10, 12 and under free. 2569 Third St. 415-773-0303.
Cantor Arts Center and Anderson Collection at Stanford University – The Cantor features works from Rodin to Diebenkorn, as well as collections from Africa and Asia, while the Anderson’s modern and contemporary American art includes pieces by Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko and more. Second Sundays (currently virtual) offer free, family-focused art talks and hands-on art making. The Cantor is open by reservation and the Anderson will reopen in the fall. Free. 328 and 314 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford. 650-723-4177.
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum – Kids interested in ancient Egypt will love this collection, which includes sculptures, jewelry and mummies and a planetarium. $9 ages 10-55, $7 ages 55 and over, $5 ages 5-9, under 4 free. 1660 Park Ave., San Jose. firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Jose Museum of Art – This museum showcases contemporary and modern art, and has participatory activity stations in the galleries, as well as family-friendly community events. $10 adults, ages 17 and under free. 110 S. Market St. 408-271-6840.
Chabot Space & Science Center – This space museum will reopen in November with new exhibits, events and programs in partnership with NASA Ames Research Center, including “an immersive, dynamic STEAM environment” called “The NASA Experience.” Previously, it has served as the largest public observatory in the country, with telescope viewing, a planetarium and more. 1000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. 510-336-7373.
Lawrence Hall of Science – The Hall, located in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus, was not expected to reopen before June. It has exhibits on Earth and space, opportunities to learn about and see live animals including legless lizards, a DNA sculpture playground and more. A new Outdoor Nature Lab, as well as new exhibits and activities, were in the works during the extended closure. Ticketed outdoor events were scheduled Friday-Sunday from late May through Aug. 15, and in-person summer camps were also being offered. $16 adults, $12 children 3-17. 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. 510-642-5132.
San Francisco and North Bay
Bay Model Visitor Center – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers runs this center, which includes a working hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta System. FREE. 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito. 415-289-3007.
California Academy of Sciences – One of the largest natural history science museums in the world, this gem includes an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest dome and a living roof. New exhibits include one on venomous animals and another on nature and wildlife photography. A third, “Sharks,” which opened in late May and will run through late January, is a large immersive exhibit with more than a dozen full-scale shark models, extremely rare fossils and floor-to-ceiling projections of high-definition underwater footage. Dynamic pricing from $29.50 adults, $23 ages 3-17, 2 and under free. Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Drive. 415-379-8000.
Exploratorium – Reopening July 1, this museum’s mission is to help create a world where people think for themselves, confidently ask questions and question answers. A member preview is scheduled June 24-27. $29.95 adults, $24.95 youth 13-17, $19.95 children 4-12, under 4 free. Pier 15, Embarcadero and Green Street. 415-528-4444.
Marine Mammal Center – This nonprofit rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals and offers educational programs for the public. Free. 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito. 415-289-7325.
CuriOdyssey – This science and wildlife center focuses on California native animals including bobcats, river otters, raccoons and skunks. $15.95 adults, $12.95 ages 18 months-17 years, under 18 months free, plus $6 parking fee. The museum has added outdoor and “COVID-safe foot-powered” exhibits. 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo. 650-342-7755.
Hiller Aviation Museum – This center is dedicated to the adventures and innovations of aviation pioneers. The museum covers more than 100 years of aviation history and offers hints of what may come in the future. There is also a flight simulation area, a drone plex, an invention zone, an imagination playground and more. $18 adults, $11 kids 5-17, 4 and under free. (Discounted tickets were being offered at press time.) 601 Skyway Road, San Carlos. 650-654-0200.
Computer History Museum – Discover why computing history really dates back 2,000 years, check out artifacts from the earliest computers in the 1940s and 1950s, learn about self-driving cars and try some coding. The museum was expected to reopen this summer. $17.50 general, $13.50 students, $6 ages 8-10. 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. 650-810-1010. computerhistory.org.
The Tech Interactive – The Tech reopened May 29 on weekends and select holidays with new exhibits including “Solve for Earth,” exploring the connections between technology and the environment, and the “Global Soundscapes” multimedia experience. The Imax Dome Theater also has reopened. The museum offers a look into the inventiveness of Silicon Valley with exhibits on biodesign, body metrics, cyber detectives, social robots and more. $25 adults, $20 students and children. 201 S. Market St., San Jose. 408-294-8324.