The Way to Play in San Jose: Children’s Discovery Museum

It’s big, purple, and your kids will love it. Nope, we aren’t talking about Barney (exhale sigh of relief). We took a recent trip to the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose where we had a blast playing with bubbles, stomping up musical stairs, and getting to know Lupe the wooly mammoth. Read on for our guide to one of the hippest kid’s museums in the greater Bay Area.

CDM_San Jose Allie_Caulfield ccPhoto by Allie Caulfield via Flickr Creative Commons 

Emergency Entrance
Once you get in the door kids are likely to bolt directly to the real, shiny fire engine parked just beyond the ticket counter. They can don hats and uniforms and climb inside the cab for one of many adorb photo-ops throughout the museum. You can probably pry them free of the fire truck by pointing out the upcoming ambulance they can climb in, or mention musical stairs and bubbles and get ready to rumble!

Insiders’ tip: there are restrooms (with a changing station) just to the right upon entering.

fire truck at cdm san joseStop, Drop, and Go!
The heart of this sprawling (but manageable) museum is literally an intersection. Stoplights and road markers lead you to a four-way crossroads. In all directions and around every corner kids will find activities at just the right height for them. The main floor includes a play farmer’s market, a stage-coach, and the popular Waterworks exhibit, which includes an area designated just for toddlers. The bubble zone is down a short set of stairs. The main floor also includes the Lee and Diane Brandenburgh Theater (near the front entrance) with ongoing disco lights and music, an outdoor amphitheater for regular concerts and events, and a children’s garden.

Insiders’ tip: All exhibit signs are tri-lingual: Spanish, English, and Vietnamese.

science wooly mammoth roomVisit an OLD Friend
Before heading up the musical stairs, take a trip into the Mammoth Discovery center. Kids can 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.

Insiders’ tip: Save the bubbles and water as the finale to your visit, or bring a spare change of clothes.

stage coach at cdm san jose

Toppermost Floor
The upper floor includes the Secrets of Circles, The Art Loft, and the Wonder Cabinet. The Art Loft, for ages 4 and up, is a space to paint, craft, and sculpt with clay. Kids 4 and under will be uber-excited when they enter the Wonder Cabinet. Think Victorian cabinet of curiosities meets Sesame Street. With mellow lighting and a bevy of activity, parents can relax while the kids explore the tunnels, stairs, and nooks and get crafty in their own special art room. New mamas will be stoked on the Crawl Space designed just for the non-walkers.

Insiders’ tip: Strollers are welcome throughout the museum except for inside the Wonder Cabinet, the theater, and West Wing. Restrooms are located on both floors. 

art loft at cdm

What to Wear
Dress kids in clothes that can get messy: painting, bubbles, water, gardening activities are all part of the fun! The museum is pretty big, and the location in Guadalupe River Park (home to the largest outdoor Monopoly board) means there’s plenty of room to run around, so comfy shoes for parents and kids are a must.

When to Go
The museum is closed most Mondays, except special holidays including Veteran’s Day (Nov. 10) as well as Dec. 22 & 29. Check the calendar before visiting. There are lots of varying daily events, and a great line up of special events including a two-day Diwali celebration (Oct. 18 & 19) and the Dia de Los Reyos Magos celebration—a two day party in honor of the Mexican tradition of Three Kings Day (Jan.10 & 11).

Where to Eat
The museum has a cafe and it’s recently undergone a compete revamping to offer fresh food and healthy choices. You can eat right in the heart of the action.

All Families
The museum includes programs for kids of all ages and needs. Their Autism Initiative program helps parents and caregivers of kids 2–15 with autism prepare for and maximize their museum visit. Check out this link for more info. They offer Play Your Way events, specifically for kids with autism. The next one is Nov. 15.

children's discovery museum upstairs

Getting There
Do you know the way to San Jose?Just under an hour south of San Francisco (without traffic) the museum is located in the downtown area of San Jose. There are several public and privately-owed lots within a few block radius of the museum, including Woz Way, Auzerais Street, and Almaden Boulevard. Prices range from $5–$7. For more parking info, click here. If you are more local to the South Bay, you can take the Light Rail, Alum Rock-Santa Teresa line to Discovery Museum station. There are also bus stops along Almaden Blvd. Watch for the mini-train bound for the museum going to and from the stops and light rail!

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
180 Woz Way
San Jose, Ca 95110
408-298-5437
Hours: Tues.­–Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun., 12­–5 p.m. Sun., special members hour is 11 a.m.–12 p.m.
Cost: $12; children 1 and under are free
Online: cdm.org

Have you an your family been to this amazing museum yet? If so, what’s your favorite part?

 ~Amber Guetebier

All photos credit the author unless othewise noted.