They say good things come in small packages. And that’s definitely true of the pint-sized, lesser-known museums dotted across the Bay Area. Some are hard to find, but not to be missed. We’re sharing some of our favorite, small museums with something to offer every member of the family.


San Francisco

Boudin Bakery and Bread Museum
Let your inner “flour” child shine at the bakery located in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. Take a tour through interactive exhibits that show how the bakery—and the city—have grown over the last two centuries. The museum also offers a perfect view of the bakers in action. Plan ahead and sign up for the “Roll with the Bakers” program where you can learn how to make the world-famous bread from the experts.

160 Jefferson St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m., every day
Cost: Free


Photo by Joe Ross via Flickr

Cable Car Museum
Explore the city’s famous cable cars without fighting the crowds at the turnarounds. The museum features three antique cars from the 1870s. Visitors can also get a one-of-a-kind look at the mechanics that make the lines run. If you’re up for a ride, the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hide lines stop right outside.

1201 Mason St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., from April 1-Sept. 30; 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Oct. 1-Mar. 31
Cost: Free

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
We predict you’ll never see so many fortune cookies in one place again! This small factory is tucked along one of Chinatown’s unassuming alleys, the best way to find it is to follow your nose (that is, if there isn’t a line of people outside.) Just steps inside the door, workers turn flat, round pieces of dough into treats before your eyes. Be sure to grab a bag of hot, fresh cookies on the way out.

56 Ross Alley (at Jackson St. in Chinatown)
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., every day
Cost: Free


Photo courtesy of the Randall Museum

Randall Museum of San Francisco
Located right in the center of the city, it’s easy to put this stop on nearly any itinerary. And you definitely want to swing in if there is a train lover in your group. Among other displays and exhibits, the museum features a model caboose and a kid-powered urban rail system. The museum is easily accessible by MUNI, but beware: the short walk from the Castro Station is steep!

199 Museum Way
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday
Cost: Free


Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia
A huge surprise awaits inside this small museum: the world’s largest Pez dispenser. You can also find examples of every kind of Pez dispenser ever sold—more than 900! And the collection keeps growing. The museum shop offers up many unique, vintage and imported dispensers, and of course plenty of candy.

214 California Dr.
Burlingame, Ca
Hours: Tues.-Sat.,10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: $3/Adults, $2/Ages 4-12, Free/Under 4

NASA Ames Visitor Center
Visitors can get a taste of what it’s like to work for NASA while visiting this research facility. Take a self-guided tour around the visitor’s center to learn what they’re currently working on, and find out about former missions. There’s plenty packed into this Mountain View locale, so plan to spend as much as 2 hours there.

Naval Air Station, Moffett Field
Mountain View, Ca
Hours: Tues.,-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, noon-4 p.m.
Cost: Free


Photo courtesy of Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo
This stellar combo lets kids (and adults) get up close and personal with animals and provides hands-on science exhibits. More than 50 species of animals call the museum home- from bobcats to a giant tortoise. The interactive exhibits make this is a great spot for families and groups with children of a wide age-range.

1451 Middlefield Rd.
Palo Alto, Ca
Hours: Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.- 4 p.m.
Cost: Suggested donation of $5/person


Image courtesy of Craig Howell

Hiller Aviation
Take a step back in time and explore the history of aviation at this great museum on the Peninsula. You’ll marvel at the more than 50 aircraft on display, representing a century of flight. Go on a Wednesday for an added treat: a variety of food trucks camp out in the Museum’s parking lot from 11 a.m.-2p.m. Grab some lunch and enjoy in either the outdoor or indoor seating areas.

601 Skyline Rd.
San Carlos, Ca
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., every day
Cost: $14/Adults, $9/Ages 5-12, Free/Under 4

East Bay

Environmental Education Center at Tilden Park
Located right next to the Little Farm in Tilden Park, it might be easy to overlook the center. But once you’re done feeding the cows and goats (bring your own lettuce and celery!) take some time to check out the interpretive exhibits on the history of wildlife in the area. The small retail shop also offers some unique souvenirs and gifts.

Central Park Dr.
Berkeley, Ca
Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., every day
Cost: Free


Photo by Habitot Waterworks via Yelp

Habitot Children’s Discovery Museum
Put this one near the top of your list for great, rainy day activities for the littler ones. Habitot is all indoors and offers exhibits meant to bring out curiosity and creativity in infants, toddlers and young children. They can explore things like a wind tunnel, water play, and a face-painting table.

2065 Kittredge St.
Berkeley, Ca
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 9:30 a.m-4:30 p.m.,
Cost: $8/Adults, $10/Children Free/Infants Under 12 months.

Lindsay Wildlife Museum
More than 50 species of native California animals call this museum home, and many are perched just inches from where visitors can view them. Don’t miss daily activities like a petting circle and animal feedings. You just might even see a bald eagle during one of the live animal demonstrations. As an added bonus, the museum is located in Larkey Park, which has great play structures for kids of all ages.

1931 First Ave.
Walnut Creek, Ca
Hours: Wed.-Fri., noon-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost:  $8.50/Adults, $6.50/Ages 2-17, Free/Under 2.
MOCHA Oakland

Photo courtesy of MOCHA

MOCHA (Museum of Children’s Art)
Let your child’s inner artist shine—and don’t worry about cleaning up! This Oakland spot encourages kids and families to connect through art projects. They’ll get to roll up their sleeves and explore mediums like paint, paper mache, clay and feathers, just to name a few. Museum staff is available to help with materials and finding age-appropriate projects.

1625 Clay St.
Oakland, Ca
Hours: Fri. & Sat., 10 a.m.- 1 p.m.; other days available for field trips and private parties
Cost: $7/Adults and children Free/Children under 18 months.



photo credit: Beth G via Yelp

Falkirk Cultural Center
The older kids and adults will get the most bang-for-the-buck at this historic estate. The beautiful Victorian contains some of the works of the best local artists. The Marin Master Gardeners maintain the amazing gardens around the mansion. If the beauty inspires your kids, be sure to sign them up for the Art for Kids Only program, which meets in the mansion.

1408 Mission Ave.
San Rafael, Ca
Hours: Tues.-Fri., 1 p.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Cost: Free

Museum of the American Indian
The culture of Native Americans—past and present—comes alive at this Novato center. It’s located on the site of a Miwok village. The museum contains many artifacts from Native American cultures from across the continent. Be sure to check out one of their live demonstrations to see history truly come alive.

2200 Novato Blvd.
Novato, Ca
Hours: Wed.-Sun.,12:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Free

—Melissa Bouse

What are some of your favorite small museums?