Bobcats and peacocks and raccoons, oh my! And that’s just the beginning at this sweet spot. The Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo is a wonderful getaway for your little scientists. Not only is the small-scale zoo impressive, kids also love the hands-on science exhibits.

Go: Anytime! The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Sunday, 1:00 pm – 4:00pm.

Get there: From San Francisco, drive about 30 minutes on 101 South. Exit Embarcadero Road West towards Stanford. Go just over a mile and turn right on Middlefield Road. The museum will be just up ahead on the right. The museum is located at 1451 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, if you’d like to program the address into your GPS for sure-fire directions.

What to bring: You don’t need much more than curiosity to have fun exploring the oldest children’s museum west of the Mississippi. It’s really quite small, so unless you have a pre-crawler, your stroller will spend most of the time parked at the entrance.

What to wear: Be sure to dress for climbing, crawling, jumping and sunshine. Sunscreen is a must on clear days and hats are a good idea too.

Things to do: Recently revitalized, the museum has become a local favorite amongst Bay Area parents because it provides great entertainment and learning opportunities for young kids. Get started inside the museum by experimenting with all kinds of power—hydro, wind, solar, you name it. Then check out some truly fascinating many-legged creatures like the desert millipede, black widows and hissing cockroaches. And if you have little ones still on all fours themselves, you’ll appreciate the new baby-only zone.

After some indoor fun, take your sunscreen-lathered kids outside to admire the quiet, but fascinating wildlife. The new bobcat ridge gives you great views of their two active felines and they’re surrounded by other little wonders as well. Skinks, ferrets, turtles, bats, raccoons, tiger sharks, bunnies, snakes, peacocks…a surprising number and variety of animals (over 50 species!) are right there in a lovely outdoor garden.

Active children will also enjoy the small play area next to the raccoons. It’s got great rocks for climbing on and jumping off, and a hidden garden that the kids can explore on their own.

If your crew still wants to blow off steam before driving home, there are two play structures right there in Rinconada Park.

Where to eat: The museum doesn’t sell any food, so be sure to pack your kiddos favorite snacks. There are tables and some great grassy areas in the park, so consider bringing along a picnic. You can also head to downtown Palo Alto and walk University Avenue to find a quick bite (sit by the fountain at Pizza My Heart or enjoy a milkshake at Peninsula Creamery). Or, after picnicking, drive a few blocks to indulge in some sweets at Kara’s Cupcakes.

Cost: The museum is Free, but the fun cash-collecting container makes it fun for kids to make a donation (they suggest $3/person).

Online: cityofpaloalto.org

– Amy Heinz