A group of teachers and parents founded Habitot Children's Museum in 1998 with one specific mission in mind: to foster children up to 6 years old by encouraging their creativity and natural curiosity. Today, the 4,000-square-foot museum backs up this mission with research—gleaned from studies by scientists, psychologists, and educators—positing that healthy play spurs social skills, creative thinking, and problem solving, laying the foundation for kids to succeed later in life and imprison boogeymen in their booby-trapped closet tomorrow.
At Habitot, kids find such opportunities at small-scale exhibits and themed play areas throughout the museum. Aspiring firefighters steer a small-scale truck, race through a pretend burning building, and maneuver the hose and nozzle from a fire hydrant, all while donning coats, boots, and helmets. Young explorers press buttons, turn dials, and issue commands for pretend space launches inside a 13-foot model rocket ship or navigate a vertical floor-to-ceiling maze designed to mimic worm tunnels. At the waterworks table and pumping station, young engineers manipulate water using buckets, funnels, waterwheels, and pitchers to help them understand H2O’s unique properties, such as how it keeps boats afloat on the arms of a thousand mermen. (At different times throughout the year, the staff transforms this area with a different theme; at times it’s been a car wash, a marine-science lab, or the racing grounds for a rubber-ducky regatta.) Visitors can tap into their inner Van Goghs at the art studio, where they play with soft clays and go nuts on a paintable wall. Habitot also hosts year-round children's camps with themes such as beaches, transportation, space, castles, and science.
As the father of a 2-year old, Tim Alley found himself running around to playdates scattered throughout the Bay Area, scooting to toddler-friendly lessons in art, gymnastics, and dance. While he loved the programming, he wished that he and his daughter weren't confined to such a tight schedule. So, he turned to his brother-in-law, Tom Limbert, head teacher at a local preschool, and they began to work on their own children's studio at Studio Grow—a supplementary preschool atmosphere with a focus on unstructured learning where children can play throughout the day. True to its name, Studio Grow now welcomes tots at three area studios. Though programs and amenities vary by location, kids might frolic through a color-splashed dance room, construct crafty masterpieces from watercolors, play-doh, and crayons in an art room, or plunge into ball pits. At all three locations, kids can tinker in a room filled with puzzles, toy trucks, dress-up clothes, and lego building sets. in a slide-filled run room. Instructors stay on hand throughout each romp, ready to lead Berkeley guests through sing-alongs or immerse Concord’s small listeners in story time. Teachers may also balloon a giant primary-colored parachute over the playroom for kids to scurry under and use to shield themselves from sudden broccoli storms. Though staffers emphasize unstructured play, they also lead summer camps for children up to aged 6 with guided romps through the studio; as well as Friday-night babysitting sessions, where kids of all ages can play sans parents until 10 p.m.
Established in 1968 in honor of Ernest Orlando Lawrence, UC-Berkeley's first Nobel laureate, The Lawrence Hall of Science aims to inspire the scientists and innovators of the future. Their hands-on exhibits allow children and adults to see and touch a fascinating variety of displays and projects. The animated, interactive Science On a Sphere globe, for example, uses actual scientific data to depict the expanding wave patterns of tsunamis and the massive storms triggered by thoughtless butterflies. To learn more about seismic activity, guests head to the Forces That Shape the Bay outdoor park to ride an earthquake simulator. Kids can climb atop a life-size model whale or through the double helix of a huge DNA sculpture, or work with students from the Berkeley Engineers and Mentors program to design and build a prototype in the Ingenuity Lab.
The museum also sparks imaginations with an interactive planetarium and 3-D theater. Its affiliation with the university makes it an ideal spot for educational camps and classes, as well as community events, including robotics competitions.
The Pacific Film Archive is the Berkeley Art Museum’s venue for all things filmic, cinematic, and animatic, offering screenings, collections, and events and seminars that explore the rich world of motion pictures. An individual membership to the archive comes with a reel's worth of celluloidal benefits, including free admission to the PFA gallery, discounts on tickets to film screenings, and free artist discussions and lectures. With reciprocal membership privileges at more than 30 university art museums, you can become a fixture in the film world, which, unlike the spontaneous-rock-hurling world, is a vibrant, supportive community.
Playland-Not-at-the-Beach is a 9000-square foot building chock-full of amazing things to see and do. There are 30+ pinball machines set on Free Play, arcade games, videogames, carnival games of skills where you can win prizes, penny arcades full of antique amusement devices, live magic shows. We are truly The Museum of Fun!
The Golden State Model Railroad Museum brings the nation’s bygone steam-powered days back to life in miniature form, recreating the trails run by the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads. Trains snake through three huge model layouts, which depict the varied terrain of Northern and Central California lovingly recreated and operated by the East Bay Model Engineers Society. Sundays in April–December from noon to 5 p.m., some of the 70 behind-the-scenes conductors imbue the tracks with energy, transforming the 10,000-square-foot facility into a locomotive wonderland alight with the sounds of bells and whistles not heard since the days when phone numbers only had three digits. The museum is also open on Wednesdays and Saturdays for viewings or on select days for themed events such as Amtrak Day or Steam/Transition Era Day.