Looking for a break from the usual rainy-day diversions? The Bay Area is rife with museums your future engineer, pilot, or naval officer will love. With planes, trains, boats and cablecars, these museums will keep kiddos (and adults!) entertained until the sun shines.


Cable Car Museums

San Francisco Railway Museum and Gift Shop can be found near the ferry building, and admission is free.  Kids always get a kick out of ‘driving’ the cable car on display there:  an exact, full-size replica of the front of a 1911 San Francisco streetcar.

A visit to San Francisco’s Cable Car Museum on Mason and Washington allows budding engineers to see cable-winding machinery in action, as well as the very first cable car ever made.

Aviation Museums

Hiller Aviation Museum at San Carlos airport is the place to go to see full-size aircraft and get the chance to sit inside a cockpit.  Kids 4 and under are free.  The museum also has a reference library full of children’s books all about flying machines.  Save on admission by printing out the $1 discount coupon currently on offer from their website.

Marin’s Pacific Coast Air Museum in Santa Rosa is both an indoor and an outdoor museum. They have around 30 restored aircraft for little plane enthusiasts to marvel at. Kids 12 and under are free.

Maritime Museums

You’ll find the WWII submarine USS Pampanito—a National Historical Landmark—at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  Kids under 6 are free. Visit the upper decks and go below to see what life was like inside a submarine.  Parking is tricky, so if you can, ride the cable car there; the Powell-Mason line stops three blocks away.  The submarine opens every day at 9.  A few piers to the west, at Hyde Street Pier, you can find other historic boats including a square rigged 19th century boat, a steam powered tug-boat, a schooner, a paddleboat and more.    Call 415.775.1943 for closing times and check out the website for more details.

The USS Hornet Museum at Alameda Point on the East Bay is a carefully-preserved WWII aircraft carrier.  It also took part in the Apollo 11 manned space mission.  There’s plenty of parking and kids 4 and under are free.  There’s a lot to visit, so you might want to let the kids choose whether they want to explore the ship or see the aircraft, and come back again to enjoy the rest.

Train Museums

Anytime you’re in the Sacramento area, plan on visiting the California State Railroad Museum in the city’s Old Sacramento neighborhood; it is a must-see for all train-lovers. It’s a big place, with an impressive collection of meticulously-restored locomotives — there’s even a railway post office car you can climb into to explore. Admission for under-fives is free.

Golden State Model Railway Museum is located in Point Richmond on the East Bay. The museum is closed from January to March, so check their website late March for open hours. Admission is $2 for kids under 12.

The Western Railway Museum in Suisun is devoted to the preservation of the electric regional railroads and streetcars that connected our cities. Ride one of these historic trains and check out more than 50 on display.

Tiburon’s Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum in Shoreline Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The restored stationmaster’s home actually houses two museums. Upstairs you can visit every room the family lived in, each complete with period details. Downstairs you’ll find a working model of the railroad town of Tiburon around 1900. Open April through October, Weds., Sat., Sun. 1pm-4pm.

Barron Park Garden Railway in Palo Alto was featured in the acclaimed regional TV series ‘Bay Area Backroads’.  Open April through November, call 650.493.7367 for details.

—Annie Sheldon