Robots and earthquakes and space—oh my! What kid wouldn’t want to spend some time hanging out at The Tech Museum of Innovation, a 132,000-square-foot mecca of technology in downtown San Jose? We recently headed over to The Tech to spend the day generating electricity on a bicycle, traveling through space and riding roller coasters we built on a computer. Read on to find out what you can discover at The Tech.
Photo: via Anna Fox on Flickr creative commons
The Home Page
As soon as you walk in the doors, to your right is the entrance to the Hackworth IMAX Dome Theater. This theater hosts educational films like Humpback Whales and Mysteries of the Unseen World, as well as feature films like The Dark Knight. You can choose to see an IMAX movie without visiting the museum galleries or save a few bucks by combining an educational IMAX film with museum admission.
The ground floor also houses The Tech Store. Enter at your own risk as your kids will surely convince you that they CANNOT go home without a Hexbug or some Kinetic Sand. Lots of great science books, toys and games are available (think: birthday gifts!) and even some geeky gear that’s great for grown ups.
Head up the escalator to The Tech Silicon Valley Innovation Gallery where you can step up to the Reface exhibit. Practice your best selfie smile and see how the software redistributes visitors’ eyes, noses and mouths into random combinations. Kids love to dance, skip and run across the Social Circles exhibit which encourages social encounters through playful interaction (translation: your circle changes color and gets larger when you are close to another person).
Always wanted to step on the surface of Mars or swim underwater with sea lions? Get an opportunity to see what it would be like with the You Are Everywhere exhibit, sponsored by Google. Step up to the semicircular screens and select your adventure. Using the joystick as your guide, explore every mountain or ocean in your path.
Photo: Tech Museum
The Tech Test Zone teaches kids of all ages about sound, shadows and movement, all through interactive exhibits where kids think they are playing but are actually learning (shhh—don’t tell them!). Step in front of the infrared camera and see what parts of your body retain the most heat. Or test out the virtual roller coaster where riders can use a computer program to design their own roller coaster and then take a virtual ride over all the loops, drops and curves.
Click on Through
Head down the escalator and back to The Exploration Gallery where you can hop on the Shake Platform and experience one of eight earthquake simulations based on actual earthquake data. Around the corner you can find the area devoted to space exploration. Taller kids can test out the jet pack chair and feel what it is like to be an astronaut, floating on a cushion of air. Also on the lower level is Social Robots where you can design, build and program actual robots. Best for grade school kids and up, Social Robots even has wigs and costumes that you can use to customize your robot to your exact specifications.
Little ones love the exhibits on the lower level. This floor houses the Hands-On Science Workshop, a revolving exhibit where explorers of every age can put their STEM knowledge to work in a hands-on environment. The recent Engineering for Earthquakes exhibit had little engineers using various materials to build tall buildings and test them out on the earthquake simulation table. They even had an area where toddler builders could use giant tinker toys to build their structures!
Recharge Your Batteries
On the ground floor you can find The Tech Café which is the only food option in the building. You can access the cafe from outside the museum or if you are inside the building, just head down the hallway next to The Tech Store. They offer a good selection of salads, sandwiches and hot food, including some kid-friendly options at reasonable prices.
Photo: Tech Museum
When to Go
The Tech is open 359 days a year, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Weekday mornings are the busiest time at The Tech as it hosts many school field trips. Head over on a weekday afternoon or weekend morning for the least crowded experience. The IMAX box office opens at 10 a.m. daily.
Must Be 21 to Enter This Site
Spent all your time at The Tech chasing the short people around? Then you need to spend some adult-only time at The Tech After Hours—a monthly themed event where the over-21 crowd mingles among the exhibits with alcoholic beverages in hand. They even bust out the 4-foot Jenga and other fun games and music just for the grown ups. Insider tip: Head to After Hours during your birthday month and you will get in free!
Right in the heart of downtown San Jose, the mango and azure colors of The Tech are hard to miss. The closest parking is at the Convention Center and is only two blocks away. The museum validates that and two other lots in the area so that parking will only cost you $5. If light rail is your gig, disembark at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center stop and walk east to Market Street and north 1 block on Market Street to Park Avenue.
The Tech Museum of Innovation
201 South Market St.
San Jose, Ca
Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m., 359 days a year
Cost for museum galleries only: $20/adults, $15/students, seniors and children 3-17, children under 3/free.
Cost for IMAX only: $10/adults, $8/students. seniors and children 3-17, children under 3/free.
Cost for museum and educational IMAX: $25/adults, $20/students, seniors and children 3-17, children under 3/free.
Have you checked out The Tech? Let us know what your favorite exhibit is in the comments below.
All photos credit the author unless otherwise noted.