If you’ve exhausted your time at the staple Bay Area museums such as the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the Academy of Sciences, and the de Young, then it’s time for a visit to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a truly modern building located in the heart of San Francisco, opposite the Metreon and Yerba Buena Gardens. While from its facade it may not look kid-friendly, the museum actually offers memorable, family-friendly exhibits like the most recently added “Houdini: Art and Magic” and upcoming exhibits like “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats” on view November 15, 2012- February 24, 2013. With over 10,000 square feet of exhibition space, there’s plenty to explore and learn here for your entire family. Their motto is “connecting art, people, and ideas”, which should have your little ones buzzing with ideas for future art projects and inspire discussions about their artistic fantasies.

Bonus: You’ll find many more spots to roam around before and after your visit like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Waterfall in Yerba Buena Gardens, the enormous playground just behind the Children’s Creativity Museum, and the carousel — all within a short walking distance from the museum.

What to bring: Bring water bottles and snacks to keep tired little artistes on the move and a cup of joe for you once you’ve arrived at the museum.

When you arrive: Pick up an ARTpack at the admission desk (free with admission) to make your visit even more engaging for your child. The ARTpack includes educational activities like “be an architect,” pass it on storytelling, and a SketchPack with drawing and sketching instructions.

Special exhibits and activities not to miss: The national oral history program StoryCorps StoryBooth could be a fantastic opportunity for children to accompany beloved relatives and witness a first-hand walk down memory lane. If an older child were to come prepared with a list of questions for his or her grandmother or grandfather, this could prove an illuminating discussion and one that may be selected to air on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

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Drop-in Art Making Classes (every Sunday) and Preschool Gallery Hour (on second Sundays from 9-11am) are usually connected to current exhibits like Contour Trees, Green Groggers and Twig Art in relation to Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought.

Family Gallery Tours (on first and second Sundays from 3-3:45 are ideally suited for families with children 6-9) are interactive tours to make learning about art even more fun. For ages six and up, the museum offers 4×4 Family Studios, artist-led classes designed specifically for families.

For older children, the Torah Tour with Julie Seltzer may prove especially fascinating. Check the schedule for unusual yet entertaining film and video screenings that might interest your children. The museum store also offers Modern Judaica, art books, exhibit-inspired gifts, and jewelry.

Where to eat: American Box, the new museum café, serves up organic options for kids (with a healthy snack and fruit) like grilled cheese, AB&J, hot dogs, and corn & cheese quesadilla. Adults will savor funny menu items like “Jane’s Addiction” a vegan eggplant parmesan sandwich. You can even add “Red Hot Chili Peppers” to your order. $1 from each box is generously donated to Surfrider Foundation.

If you’re more in the mood for a quick and easy snack, Beard Papa’s just next door might tempt your little ones with his cream puffs. For a truly fun and nostalgic dining experience, nearby Mel’s Drive-In won’t disappoint. Technically not a drive-in, but more a diner, kids will have a blast choosing from jukebox faves and playing with a vintage paper automobiles while munching on cheeseburgers and fries in their red leather booth.

Free on the first Tuesday of the month. Museum admission is free for children.

736 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA
415. 655.7800
Online:  http://www.thecjm.org/

–Nicki Richesin