With school back in session, it’s the perfect time to check out all the interactive, educational activities the Bay Area has to offer. From gem hunting to living history lessons, we’ve rounded up the best exhibits around to pique their curiosity and encourage them to pull on their thinking caps.

Big Picture, Academy of Sciences, White RhinoPhoto credit: White Rhino, Etosha National Park, Namibia – 2015

San Francisco

The California Academy of Sciences
It’s absolutely impossible to leave this place without learning a thing or two. Right you can explore the Big Picture photography exhibit (ward wining images of eye-popping natural wonders), take a 3D tour through our Universe and discover Earth’s place in the cosmos and dive deep into the darkest depths of the sea with Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed. And opening September 30, check out Gems and Minerals Unearthed to discover a world of real buried treasure. Touch sparkling specimens, see a giant quartz crystal up close, and discover minerals that glow fluorescent under UV light. Kids will go back to school equipped with cafeteria convo once they learn how minerals help make up everything from smartphones to toothpaste.

5 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, Ca
415-379-8000
Online: calacademy.org

Exploratorium
You can’t possibly explore this whole incredible place in one day, so take a tour of their website before dropping in. Do you want to attempt to create total silence (harder than you think) or look into a mirror that lets you see everything but yourself? Or just hunker down and build a towering marble machine made of gears, tubes, chutes and levers. Whatever their pleasure, the littles are sure to leave smarter and more stimulated than when they walked in.

Pier 15
San Francisco, Ca
415-528-4444
Online: exploratorium.edu

Octagon House

Get schooled in San Francisco’s fascinating history while getting a lesson in geometry to boot. This mini museum features period furniture, silver, portraits, and an award-winning garden. Not to mention it’s one of a handful of still-standing eight-sided houses that were built in the 1800s and deemed by some as being the most efficient shape for a house.

2645 Gough St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-441-7512
Online: nscda.org/museums/

 

chabot_space_center                                                                                                 Image courtesy of Chabotspace.org

East Bay

Chabot Space and Science Center
Future astronauts and itty bitty stargazers will love Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center. Visit the observatory for out-of-this-world experiences with gigantic telescopes, or join in the Summer Scientists Series to watch live demonstration experiments or even build a solar-powered Lego car. Their popular Tyke Explorers class lets little ones get messy while learning about the world around them, while Bill Nye’s Climate Lab is like a live action video game where kids learn how to save the planet.

10000 Skyline Blvd.
Oakland, Ca
510-336-7300
Online: chabotspace.org

tiny-3d

                                                     Photo credit: Tiny Giants

Lawrence Hall of Science
Make your next trip to the movie theater a brain-boosting experience. Check out the BBC documentary Tiny Giants on the REALLY big screen: Lawrence Hall of Science’s very own National Geographic 3D Theater. Explore the world beneath your feet when visual effects and special 3D cameras immerse audiences in the lives of two tiny heroes, a scorpion mouse and a chipmunk. Little learners can also climb on a giant whale, play on the enormous double helix, explore erosion and plate tectonics, or build a sky-high tower with blocks.

Note: The museum is closed for maintenance through Sept. 27, reopening Sept. 28.

1 Centennial Dr.
Berkeley, Ca
510-642-5132
Online: lawrencehallofscience.org

Gardens

Image courtesy of Curiodyssey.org

Peninsula

Curiodyssey
Look through a larger-than-life kaleidoscope and have your perception shifted exploring the world of distorted mirrors with the exhibition Reflections and Perceptions. And don’t miss the popular and hands-on “Backyard Science,” which takes science out of the lab and into the garden. Experiment with ambient sound tubes, listen with a giant ear, and test what it’s like to have “superhuman” vision. The exhibition “Forces” helps kids learn about all that pushes and pulls us: gravity, magnets, winds, currents and more. Drop-in to one of their many hands-on activities, take a class, a workshop, or see an animal show.

1651 Coyote Point Dr.
San Mateo, Ca
650-342-7755
Online: curiodyssey.org

otters

Image by Airwolfhound via Flickr

Marin

Marine Mammal Center
Smarty pants with sea legs will have a blast learning all about California native Sea Mammals at the Sausalito Marine Mammal Center. Take a docent lead tour all around the facility where injured and abandoned marine mammals from the pacific coastal waters are tended to, rehabilitated, and rescued by scientists and loving volunteers. See how a fish milkshake is made to feed baby seals and sea lions, dissect a fish and examine its anatomy, look into the diet of wild pinnipeds through their poop, and dive into the full cycle of Domoic Acid from the beach to the brain.

2000 Bunker Rd., Fort Cronkhite
Sausalito, Ca
415-289-7325
Online: marinemammalcenter.org

 

the tech museum

South Bay

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
Let little engineers discover what makes city’s tick with the “Streets” exhibit, which features stoplights and road markers and a busy four-way crossroads. Take a trip into the Mammoth Discovery center and mingle with replicas of Lupe, the Wooly Mammoth found along the Guadalupe River, not far from the museum itself. The littles can play petite paleontologist digging for bones, document their findings, and play in the mini-dino room. The main floor of the museum also includes a play farmer’s market, a stage-coach, and the popular Waterworks exhibit, where kids of all ages learn about the ebb and flow of our earth’s most precious resource.

180 Woz Way
San Jose, Ca
408-298-5437
Online: cdm.org 

the tech museum

The Tech Museum of Innovation
Robots and earthquakes and space—oh my! What kid wouldn’t want to spend some time hanging out at The Tech Museum of Innovation, a 132,000-square-foot mecca of technology in downtown San Jose? Everyone will leave enlightened after visiting the award-winning Body Metrics exhibit. The interactive exhibit, presented by Kaiser Permanente, allows visitors to wear a headset that monitors their brainwaves and heart rate, a shoulder sensor that measures muscle tension, and a smart phone with a custom app that gives real-time interpretation of how visitors are feeling. Results will connect the dots between physical cues and emotional ones, letting you know when you are your most social, most nervous or most excited.

201 South Market Street
San Jose, Ca
408-294-8324
Online: thetech.org

Do you have a favorite smarty pants excursion? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

–Erin Feher