Did you know you can visit most of the Bay Area's major museums and cultural attractions for free every month? Just about all museums have one day a month set aside as a free day. They all aren't on the same day, too, so if you plan it right you can take in several museum outings without having to pay a thing.
Note that most museums charge for admission to special exhibitions, although the general admission fee is usually deducted from the total; see details with each museum listing below.
Also, groups are generally not admitted on free days; check with each museum for their free day group policy.
Bank of America Museums on Us—March 1 & 2
Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card holders get free general admission on the first full weekend of every month. Present your card and a photo ID for admission (one free general admission per cardholder). Get full details here. Participating museums include:
One of our favorite Bay Area destinations for hand-on science fun Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science. Located in the hills high above the UC Berkeley campus, this science center has entertained and educated generations of kids, and continues to offer fun science exhibits and activities. We visited this week to check out their awesome new exhibitXtreme Bugs and had a great time.
Xtreme Bugs, on view at the Lawrence Hall of Science through September 1, 2014, allows visitors to get an up-close view of the fascinating world of bugs through giant insect and arthropod models that move and buzz. You'll find over 100 of these enormous animatronic bugs situated throughout the museum and even outside, and you'll encounter such critters as an orchid mantis, a monarch butterfly, a tarantula, honeybees, and a 15-foot-long Japanese hornet.
Not only can you examine these big bugs up close, but you can listen to the sounds they make, watch them move and learn how they play a critical role in our environment. My kids loved the extreme size and realistic look of these amazing bugs. It's truly fascinating and engaging for kids and grownups of all ages. Some of the bugs were accompanied by an interactive iPad component, too. This part of the exhibit is located in one of the rooms in the back of the building on the first floor. You can visit some of the giant robotic bugs' real-life counterparts in the Backyard Zoo, which features a tarantula, a scorpion, a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach, and an Argentine ant colony.
This summer, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito offers a variety of exciting summer Discovery Camps for children ages 3 to 8. Weekly camps start June 2 and run through August 22. Kids can sign up for a different camp each week and enjoy guided exploration and open-ended creative play. The museum's experienced educators and camp counselors will be on hand to help provide direction and guidance for the campers. General registration starts Tuesday, February 18, 2014.
New offerings for 2014 include a Junior Counselor program for kids ages 9–12 and a new camp theme, Inventing with Art. There's also an additional extended care hours for morning sessions, as well as the an option to order lunch for your child from the museum's Bean Sprouts Cafe & Cooking School.
The museum's 2014 camps include an expanded Big Discovery Camp for three-year-olds, an afternoon Summer Camp Sampler featuring some of the most popular camp themes, and a multiple week discount—get an extra $25 off when you sign up for four weeks, $50 off or five weeks, $75 off for six weeks, and $100 off for seven or more weeks.
Gung hay fat choy! Sausalito's Bay Area Discovery Museum opens on a Monday (something that happens rarely) for its annual Chinese New Year Festival. The festivities take place today, February 17 (Presidents' Day) from 9 am to 5 pm. At the this celebration of the Year of the Horse, the whole family can find something to do. Try your hand at traditional Chinese calligraphy, construct a kite, see a vibrant performance by the Chinese Performing Arts of America Youth Group, dine on delicious Chinese food, or make your own sweet wonton (they’ll even cook them for you).
You can also learn about the Chinese zodiac and enjoy an exciting performance by the Dragon Horse Lion Dance Team (10 am) and the lion dancers of the Marin Chinese Cultural Group (2 pm). Lion dance performances take place in the museum's Festival Plaza (performances will be in the Discovery Theater if it's raining).
Boo! Come get a jump on Halloween at the 27th annual Goblin Jamboree at the Bay Area Discovery Museum! Bring your little goblins to this year’s spooky fundraiser on Saturday and Sunday, October 19 and 20 from 10 am–4 pm. Come in costume and explore the Bay Area Discovery Museum transformed into a haunted Halloween wonderland complete with games, attractions and live entertainment.
Ride a spooky train or real ponies, make potions in the witches' and wizards' school, and enjoy a full brew of games, activities and live entertainment. This fundraiser supports museum education programs, exhibitions, and community access initiatives. Tickets available at the door. Museum members $13, general $15, infants six months and under free. All activities and entertainment are included with admission.
Sausalito's Bay Area Discovery Museum, everybody's favorite hands-on place for kids to learn and explore, will be closed for its annual maintenance the next two weeks: Monday, September 9 through Monday, September 23, 2013. The museum will re-open on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. For more info call (415) 339-3900 or visit www.badm.org.
One of the Bay Area's favorite family summer outings is a visit to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The Cal Academy re-opened in 2008 in a state-of-the-art sustainable building that features amazing attractions like a natural history museum, aquarium, planetarium, two-acre living roof, a four-story rain forest, and even a 3D theater. It's definitely a must-visit family destination!
Currently on view this summer is Built for Speed. This special exhibit, on view through September 29, showcases the sea's fastest denizens, from mako sharks and humboldt squid to a sailboat designed by America's Cup defender Oracle Team USA.
Also on the don't-miss list is the incredible new movie The Last Reef 3D: Cities Beneath the Sea. Put on your 3D glasses and find yourself underwater in some of the earth's most spectacular underwater settings. You'll not only be amazed, but learn how these environments are as vital to the earth as the rainforests. We all kept finding ourselves reaching out towards the screen to touch fish and other sea creatures—it was that real! The Last Reef 3D plays every hour from 11 am to 4 pm, and is included in your Cal Academy admission.
If you grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, you no doubt spent some time as a kid at the Exploratorium. This innovative and influential hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception has been educating and entertaining families for over 40 years. The Exploratorium is a perfect place for an outing for families with children of all ages, from toddlers to teens. Parents, grandparents, and most other grownups will find it a lot of fun, too.
Until recently, the Exploratorium was located at the iconic Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco's Marina District, but it recently moved to an all-new, much larger facility at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. This new building features all the old favorite exhibits along with 150 new ones, as well as a Bay Observatory that allows visitors to explore the environment of adjacent San Francisco Bay. The new location is spacious and stunning and worth checking out.
We can't think of a better way to spend Father's Day weekend than at the California Academy of Sciences' Penguins + Pajamas sleepover—it's a fantastic family experience that's both fun and educational. The next Penguins+Pajamas sleepover is scheduled for Saturday, June 15, and we're giving away a pair of tickets to a lucky Marin Mommies reader!
Experience your own "night at the museum" as you explore the exhibits after-hours, stargaze at a planetarium show, enjoy a special live animal presentation, explore the fastest fish and swiftest sailboats in the Academy's Built for Speed special exhibit, and dance and sing along to your favorite tunes from the Radio Disney AM 1310 Road Crew. Before bedtime, settle in for story time with cookies and milk to learn about Pierre—the Academy’s famous wetsuit-wearing penguin.
When the lights go out, unroll your sleeping bag in African Hall, next to the swaying kelp of the aquarium's California Coast tank, or even at the Swamp window, face-to-face with Claude, the albino alligator. In the morning, rise and shine, then head over to the Academy Café for a continental breakfast.