Essig Museum of Entomology – With more than five million insects, it’s one of the largest university-based collections of insects in North America. The museum is only open for special events, so check the website. UC Berkeley.
Pacific Pinball Museum – This museum is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of one of America’s great pastimes – pinball. It has 90 playable machines and on display are earlier machines from the 1930s-1940s. Open 11 a.m. Tue.-Sun. $10-20. 1510 Webster St., Alameda. 510-769-1349.
Playland-Not-at-the-Beach – It has pinball machines, arcade games, video games, carnival games, penny arcades full of antique amusement devices, live magic shows, a hand-carved miniature circus, historic exhibits with artifacts from the Sutro Baths and Whitney’s Playland in San Francisco and much more. Open Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $15 general admission, $10 youths and seniors. 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito. 510-592-3002.
Rancho Obi-Wan – It houses the world’s largest private Star Wars collection. Tours, which usually last between two and four hours, must be booked in advance. Tours with owner Steve Sansweet are $100 each and tours with a docent are $75 each. Children ages 6 to 12 are $25. [email protected].
Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia – This features new, vintage and imported PEZ dispensers with more than 1,000 items. It also has the world’s largest PEZ dispenser, a Banned Toy Museum with toys that were pulled off shelves and a Classic Toy Museum with favorite toys from the 1950s and 1960s. Open Tue.-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. $3 adults, $2 children and seniors, under 4 FREE. 214 California Drive, Burlingame. 650-347-2301.
Musée Mécanique – This is one of the largest privately-owned collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. FREE (you only pay to play). Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street at Fisherman’s Wharf. 415-346-2000.
Octagon House – Yes, it is actually shaped like an octagon. Built in 1861 by William C. McElroy, it is a San Francisco historical landmark and features period furniture, silver, portraits and a beautiful garden. Open the second Sun. and second and fourth Thu. every month except Jan. FREE. 2645 Gough St. 415-441-7512.
Beethoven Center – The center, located at San Jose State University, has the largest collection of Beethoven materials outside of Europe – including a lock of his hair. The collection also includes manuscripts, historical keyboards, scores and prints. Open Mon., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sat., 1-5 p.m. FREE. Located in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library on the San Jose State campus, 150 E. San Fernando St. 408-808-2058.
Bigfoot Discovery Museum – Many of us grew up hearing about the legend of the big hairy man roaming around the woods. At this museum, there is what some believe is evidence that Bigfoot does exist. It also includes information about sightings, local history and popular culture as it relates to Bigfoot. Open Wed.-Mon. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. FREE. 5497 Highway 9, Felton. 831-335-4478.
Winchester Mystery House – It doesn’t get much weirder than this place. This is the home of the late Sarah Winchester who believed she was surrounded by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester firearms. The mansion has architectural oddities like twisting hallways, strange staircases and a séance room. Tours are held daily. $25-44. 525 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose. 408-247-2101.
Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent and mother of two.
The Bay Area’s Most Unusual Museums for Kids