Museums for Kids, Children's Theater

Summer Science at the Cal Academy in Golden Gate Park

July 31, 2013

California Academy of SciencesOne 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.

Hands-on Science Fun and Education at the Exploratorium in San Francisco

July 23, 2013

ExploratoriumIf 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.

Marin Theatre Company Kicks Off Its New Children's Series with The Cat in the Hat

July 1, 2013

Doyle Ott as the Cat in the HatWhen Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley presented Bay Area Children's Theatre's production of Ivy + Bean, the response was overwhelming and tickets quickly sold out. This summer MTC and BATC team up again to begin a new theater series for young audiences, starting with The Cat in the Hat from August 10–18.

On a cold, cold day too wet to play, Sally and her brother had nothing to do, but sit sit sit. And they did not like it, not one bit. But then with a BUMP, that made them both jump, appeared the Cat in a Hat! And just like that, Sally and her brother had games to play and a lot of good tricks to pass the day. Their mother won't mind at all, and the mess will be small... Or should they listen to the wish of their responsible pet fish and send this mischievous cat away?

Experience this beloved Dr. Seuss classic live on stage! This production, directed by Erin Merritt and starring Doyle Ott as the Cat, runs 45 minutes with no intermission. Shows take place on Saturday, August 10 and 17, and Sunday, August 11 and 18 at 10:30 am and 12: 30 pm.

Tickets are $15 for children under 14, $20 for adults, and $17 for seniors 64+. Individual tickets go on sale Tuesday, July 2. Order online at tickets.marintheatre.org, by phone at  (415) 388-5208, or in person at the MTC box office, 397 Miller Avenue in Mill Valley (Tuesday–Saturday, noon–5 pm). Discounted group tickets for groups of 15 or more can be reserved at the box office.

Win Tickets to the June 15 Penguins+Pajamas Sleepover at the Cal Academy

June 7, 2013

Penguins + Pajamas at the California Academy of SciencesWe 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.

Hands-on History at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park

June 4, 2013

Sutter's FortLike many other fourth graders in Marin, my son has been immersed in California history this year. One of the books that he read in class was Patty Reed's Doll, which tells the story of the ill-fated Donner Party from the point of view of one of its youngest members and her beloved doll "Dolly." When we learned that Dolly herself is on view at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento, we decided we had to make the trip to go see it.

Sutter's Fort was built between 1841 and 1843 by Swiss-born pioneer John Augustus Sutter, who made it the centerpiece of his settlement which he dubbed New Helvetia. Sutter's Fort was a welcome sight for many early California immigrants who often endured arduous conditions crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sutter was renowned for his hospitality and assistance to immigrants, but his lands were overrun by gold-seekers after 1848, destroying much of the empire that he built.

While the two-story adobe Marin Building is original, the rest of the fort, including the 15-foot-high adobe walls, has been reconstructed. Step through the fort's gates, though, and you're back in the 1840s, especially if one of their special interpretive "Hands-on History" programs is taking place.

Butterflies and Blooms Abound at San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers

May 26, 2013

Butterflies and Blooms at the Conservatory of FlowersOne of our favorite destinations in San Francisco is the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, especially when they're presenting a special exhibit. This spring and summer, visitors to the Conservatory can get eye to eye with a butterfly in Butterflies & Blooms, in the special exhibits gallery through October 20, 2013.

Butterflies & Blooms transforms the Conservatory's special exhibits gallery into an intimate cottage garden that plays host to hundreds of butterflies! You'll see over 20 species of North American butterflies, including monarchs, western swallowtails, red admirals, and more, as well as several giant moths like the colorful cecropia moth.

We paid a visit to Butterflies & Blooms last week. When you first walk into the room, you realize you're walking into the butterflies' habitat. The gallery is draped in a giant white net that contains the fluttering inhabitants. The hundreds of butterflies are free to fly around the room and land on the butterfly-friendly plants and flowers like daisies, sunflowers, and zinnias, and the effect is magical. Some will even land on you—we were told it's good luck!

The Insider's Guide to the 2013 Mountain Play: The Sound of Music

May 13, 2013

Sound of MusicOne of Marin County's most beloved and unique events is the famous Mountain Play—an outdoor theater experience high on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais that's been going strong for a century! This year's 100th-anniversary Mountain Play production is Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, the unforgettable story of spirited young governess Maria Rainer, Captain von Trapp and his seven children, and Austria on the eve of the Nazi takeover.

Featuring classic songs like Do-Re-Mi, Edelweiss, and My Favorite Things, the Mountain Play's production of The Sound of Music is directed by Jay Manley, and features Heather Buck as Maria, Ryan Drummond as Georg von Trapp, and Susan Zelinsky (Marin Paroo in last year's production of The Music Man) as Else Schraeder. Musical direction is by Mountain Play veteran Debra Chambliss.

Performances take place at 2 pm at Mt. Tam's Cushing Memorial Amphitheater on May 19 and 26, and June 2, 8, 9, and 16. General seating ticket prices range from $20–$40., and children 3 and under are free. Reserved seats are available for Mountain Play Fan Club members (starting at $56); higher membership levels include perks like reserved parking and special shuttle passes. Order tickets online here or by phone at (415) 383-1100.

Win Tickets to the May 10 Penguins+Pajamas Sleepover at the Cal Academy

May 1, 2013

Penguins + Pajamas at the California Academy of SciencesWe had a blast when we attended 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 Friday, May 10, 2013, 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, and enjoy a special live animal presentation. 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.

A High Energy "Knuffle Bunny" from Bay Area Children's Theatre

April 14, 2013

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary MusicalMy kids have always loved the books by children's author Mo Willems, especially his Knuffle Bunny series, so we were all excited to see the new Bay Area Children's Theatre production of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley.

This high-energy, fast-moving, and funny production expands upon the Knuffle Bunny story but remains true to the book, thanks to the witty song lyrics and script penned by Willems himself.

Knuffle Bunny tells the story of what happens when Dad (Derek Travis Collard) tries to give Mom (Michelle Drexler) a break and takes tricky toddler Trixie (Allison Johnson) and her stuffed animal Knuffle Bunny with him to the laundromat.

Overconfident Dad thinks the trip will go without a hitch, but stressed-out Mom knows otherwise but agrees with the plan anyhow. All goes well until Trixie realizes something is wrong and tries to tell Dad, who can't understand her babble and thinks she just needs her diaper changed.

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