Thursday, May 26, 2016

{Bay Kids Fun} Children's Museum of Sonoma County

Here once again with this months' Bay Area Kids Fun post!


Children's Museum of Sonoma County

This month we checked out a children's museum closer to home. This museum is fairly new, being founded in 2005 and started with only outdoor exhibits (except for the little arts and crafts house). Construction on an indoor science and imagination gallery started in 2014 and opened during the summer of 2015. The outside exhibits are awesome on their own, but with the opening of the indoor exhibits, this place is one of our favorites in the whole Bay Area!

Starting my review inside:

Totopia is a side room they added to the indoor exhibits. It is designed for the little ones 35" or smaller. This space has enough to keep babies and younger toddlers occupied for as long as the bigger kids play in the rest of the museum. My son is just on the edge of being able to go in, so he did check some of it out. It features a cute little playhouse to sip tea with bears, a lilly pad (waterbed) for safe jumping, a grotto and tide pool water play area, and more (full list shown at link above).

The first floor of the Science and Imagination Gallery has a big open area with rooms located all around housing the different exhibits. If you look up, you'll see a maze of train tracks circling the entire indoor area. From an exhibit on the second floor, kids can control the trains with buttons to start, stop, and switch tracks. They can also sit in a life-size train car and watch the train travel through the museum by way of a GoPro camera on the front of the train that links to a TV screen in the car.

 The Nuts & Bolts area is perfect for the older kids that love to build and create using their imagination. Diagrams are provided for those of us (me!) that need a little extra help putting together that butterfly your child so desperately needs to play with (for all of 5 seconds). Tons of tools and different building sets are available to accommodate a wide age range as well.


 

The doctor and dentist areas are perfect for kids to play and learn while they get acquainted and comfortable with the concepts of those places. In the crocodile dental clinic, kids can pretend to be the dentist and examine the croc's teeth and bones with an 'x-ray' machine. Next door is the doctor's office that has lab coats, microscopes, and a machine that measures heartbeats with a drum. Myles' favorite part here is the exam table with newborn baby dolls. 

My favorite room is the BeeHaven. A bee hive is on display where kids can see a real hive in action. You can find the queen bee and watch the worker bees create honey.

The rest of the downstairs consists of a state-of-the-art cafe/kitchen, a puppet theater where kids can control the lighting to put on a real show, and tons of ball launchers. Our favorite in this area is the AirMazing exhibit; a 15-foot high air maze where you can direct the air in different ways to see how varying objects flow through. 

The first thing you find upstairs is this neat Victorian style picture exhibit. A camera takes your picture and then digitally displays it in one of the picture frames on the wall.

Next is the train station, complete with ticketing booth, train controls, and that life-size train car I spoke about earlier. Myles purchased his ticket to go see grandma and grandpa in Illinois:

They have another little tot area upstairs to keep the little ones occupied while the bigger ones play with the older kid exhibits.

My favorite exhibit upstairs, of course, is the life-size 'Lite Bright'.


When you first walk outside, to your left is a set of life-size (foam) building blocks. I've seen some pretty awesome forts and ball tracks built with these; tons of fun for kids and adults to enjoy together. 


If you keep going to the left, you will find Mary's garden. Kids can play at a cute little farm stand with pretend fruits and vegetables out front before they go into the real garden. 


The best exhibit outside is the Russian River water feature connecting to the gravel pit. Myles could play here for hours! It's especially nice to keep cooler when it's hot out; don't forget to bring water shoes, a towel, and swimsuits/change of clothes. The salmon, buckets, trucks, and other digging toys are great additions to these exhibits. And the bubbling rocks allow for awesome water play and engineering fun.


This dragon fly helicopter was added just after they finished the inside. At certain times, it is open for kids to explore.

Lastly outside, is Ella's art studio. One side of this building is for the arts and the other side is for parties, summer camps, etc. A small corner has some puzzles, building toys, and reading while the rest of the room is for the arts and crafts. They usually have a few structured activities going on each day and also this window for open painting. 


Cost:
Adults and Children: $10
Babies Under 12 months: FREE

Pros:
 

Everything is kept clean and functional. We didn't experience anything that didn't work or was closed for repairs. 
Great use of a smaller space; they really used every inch of space in their indoor area to create the most varying amount of exhibits as possible. 
Also great use of outdoor area; it feels open and big, but with so much for the kids to engage with. The water features are so amazing; the best of any children's museum around.
If you go at the right times (early weekdays), kids can play freely with not much hassle from crowds. 

Cons:
All of the exhibits are designed for ages 10 and under and an adult must be with their children, so I'm not sure why adults must also pay $10.

  This is typical of any place really, but during busy times, outside toys are scarce and indoor areas are crowded. It got busier as the day went on and somethings Myles wasn't able to check out because it they were being occupied for so long.

Overall review:  

8.5/10
This museum is one of the only indoor/outdoor play places for children in all of Sonoma County, so there isn't much competition. However, I think this place has a lot of unique and truly engaging exhibits for the kids. And I am only more impressed since the opening of their new indoor science and imagination gallery. I would go a lot more often if I didn't also have to pay to get in, but Myles (4 years old) never experiences a shortage of fun and learning here!


Bay Area Kids Fun Posts:
Children's Creativity Museum
 Habitot
Children's Natural History Museum
Children's Fairyland
 Lawrence Hall of Science
Sonoma County Children's Museum
Exploratorium 
 


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