Ainsley House

Historic Downtown Campbell: Part 2 of 2. Start with the Campbell Historical Museum, then come read about the Ainsley House.

front of Ainsley House

The Ainsley House is the historical home of Mr. John Colpitts Ainsley’s family. He was one of the businessmen who put Campbell on the map through his successful fruit cannery. When you tour, the docent will share with you about the Ainsley family, California life in the early 1900s, the mixed architectural styles of the house, and the innovative technologies (innovative for their day, that is) incorporated into its design. You’ll walk through all the rooms with your docent and then get to explore the surrounding gardens on your own.

large white daisies with yellow centers

In a Nutshell

As you learned at the Campbell Historical Museum, Campbell’s fruit orchards and canneries were a huge industry in this area for a long time. Mr. Ainsley owned one of those canneries. He was born in England and moved to California at age 26. He wasn’t born wealthy, but he did see the potential to build on the existing apricot farms in this area, so he started a cannery company and became very successful. He built this house for his family later in life and lived here until he passed away in 1937. His children eventually donated the house to the City of Campbell as an historical site. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.

oak-paneled entry hall in Ainsley House

This house has many interesting architectural features and details. It also showcases “newfangled” things we take for granted today, such as an electric refrigerator or an upstairs telephone. On this guided tour of the home, you’ll learn about all of these ideas and about a family’s lifestyle in that era. Keep your eyes open for the magic button in the dining room…

Believe it or not, the house was not always on this site! It was originally built where eBay’s main campus is today. In the 1990s, it was literally picked up and trucked more than a mile to the city park land where it sits today. Wow! We were actually lucky enough to see the move happen. (I was very little but I still remember it.) When you visit, you’ll get to see a short video of the move before touring the house. It’s amazing!

Location

The Ainsley House is located at 300 Grant St. in Campbell. It’s adjacent to the Campbell Public Library and City Hall. It’s about a block and a half over from the main Campbell Avenue corridor in Downtown Campbell, and not far from the Hamilton Ave. exit from Hwy 17.

Google map of the Ainsley House area in Campbell

The Ainsley House is about half a block from the Campbell Historical Museum. You can see one from the other, but you’ll probably have to move your car to do both in one day because the museum parking is limited to 2 hours total. For the Ainsley House, you’ll park in the lot next to the Campbell Public Library. They have disabled spots in that lot in the corner closest to the Ainsley House, so you’re not limited to the spots by the library entrance.

diagram map of Campbell Historical Museum and Ainsley House's relative locations

The closest public transit is the VTA Bus Route 26‘s Civic Center stop or the VTA Light Rail‘s Downtown Campbell station on the 902 Winchester line.

Downtown Campbell is very bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, so if you prefer, you can always choose to bike or walk here to avoid the parking drama altogether. 

When you arrive, the sidewalks and the house’s grandeur will naturally lead you to the front door, but follow the signs from there to the carriage house where you buy tickets. Inside the carriage house, you’ll watch about a 5-minute intro video and then meet your docent, who will take you through the main house.

Carriage house visitor center

Weather

The house has been retrofitted with central heating and air conditioning, so you can plan your visit any time of year.

In the spring and summer, the gardens around the house are particularly photogenic. They actually do weddings here because the space is so beautiful, so be sure to bring your camera!

beautiful pink flower

Cost

When we visited (summer 2019), the Ainsley House tickets were $8 for the general public, $6 for seniors, and $4 for youth ages 7-17. Children 6 and under were free. If you purchase a joint ticket with this and the Campbell Historical Museum, you can save $1 per person over purchasing the tickets separately.

bedroom in Ainsley House

There are also membership options as described in our Campbell Historical Museum post:

If you want unlimited access to the museum and the Ainsley House, a quarterly newsletter, gift shop discounts, and free or discounted admission to museum events, memberships are available for $35 per person. Expanded benefits are available with fancier levels of membership.

Both this museum and the Ainsley House are part of the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association. This means you can get  free or discounted admission to these and many other museums around the continent if you have a membership at one of them. You can search the full list here.

Length of Time

The tour is led by a docent, so the length of time can range from 30 minutes to easily over an hour, depending on the level of detail they share and the number of questions you ask. Combined with the Campbell Historical Museum, allow 2.5 to 4 hours total.

kitchen

Wheelchair Access

Their website has information for guests with disabilities. The house was built in 1925, so there isn’t much they can do to make it wheelchair-friendly, unfortunately. The main floor of the carriage house (which serves as the visitor’s center and gift shop) is wheelchair-accessible. An accessible restroom is included in that building too.

The Ainsley House itself is two stories, but even the first floor has single stairs up and down from individual rooms. About half the rooms on the first floor are wheelchair-accessible via ramps. The tour involves only short-distance walking, but a lot of stairs and lot of standing. They do have folding chairs available if you need to sit while the docent speaks, but you move between rooms so often that you don’t sit for more than a minute or two in each place. For someone with mobility problems, this house is honestly very difficult. (That’s not their fault at all, they do their very best to accommodate, but the house was built more than 60 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. What can you do?)

oak stairs

Walkers are allowed, so my mom tried using her walker instead of the wheelchair. It was really tough, honestly. The docent was excellent about making sure to point out the steps and offering to help her up and down the steps if needed. She even offered to carry the walker upstairs if that would help. By the end of the hour-long tour, though, even with sitting in each room as the docent spoke, it was obvious that this was too much walking and standing. Time for Advil and resting the rest of the day. Everyone has their own threshold for when to be stubborn about not missing out on something and when to take care of their health, so of course it’s up to you. Just be aware that this tour involves more standing and walking than it seems like a “house tour” might, so please be gentle with your body if you have mobility issues.

Official service animals are allowed, but emotional support animals are not.

Vision & Hearing

Mrs. Ainsley's desk

The docent narrates the whole tour, so guests could still get a lot out of the visit without seeing the architecture and artifacts directly. There are also recorded sound effects that play in a few of the rooms. If someone in your party has a sight limitation, you can even arrange a “touch tour” to further enhance your experience if you call in advance. (This is such an unusual offering, I have to give them kudos!)

Guests who are deaf would probably need a family member to serve as a sign language interpreter. Tour groups are usually small (often just your family), so if you have limited hearing, you could ask the docent to speak loudly and could turn your hearing aids up. The house is quiet enough for this to work.

garden

Sensory Processing

As you might expect for an historical home, the sensory level here was nicely low overall. One very unusual feature was that a few of the rooms had sound effects set up on motion sensors so they played automatically when you entered the room. (For example, a recording of FDR on the radio would play when you entered the library, or cooking and chopping noises would greet you in the kitchen.) These were not loud, but I found them a bit distracting as I tried to focus on the docent’s words at the same time. Still, this is the only place I’ve encountered such a simple but unusual idea — motion-triggered ambient sounds to enhance the experience — and I thought it was extremely clever.

garden

Food

There’s no food or drink allowed on the house tour. There are plenty of benches in the green park area in front of the house for eating before or after your visit.

Would we go back?

Sure! Even though we saw the house move (because everyone around came to see such an unusual event) in the 1990s, we had somehow never come to tour the inside of the house after that. I’m glad we did and would be happy to do so again some day. If you want to put a more personal face on all the cool stuff you learn at the Campbell Historical Museum, wander over to Ainsley House too. It’s sure to make you smile!

Ainsley House as seen from the side

Gilroy Gardens

Gilroy Gardens is a small family-friendly theme park about a half-hour drive south of San Jose. It was originally called Bonfante Gardens (named for Michael Bonfante, who founded the park) and was famous for its “Circus Trees” – very cool whacky-looking trees that  were sculpted with special grafting techniques many years ago. Since then, the park has grown to include more rides, a large playground, multiple water play areas, and special events. It’s a delightful way to spend the day with or without children of any age!

The park is generally open from late March through late September for the regular season. Then they have special hours in October for Halloween and in late November/December for holiday lights. See their calendar for specifics when you’re planning a visit.

If you’re interested in the backstory of the park, there are self-directed tours and sometimes guided tours of the gardens, circus trees, and sustainability innovations throughout the parks. You can find the self-directed tour pamphlets at the Welcome Center near the front of the park.

In a Nutshell

The atmosphere here is lively but in a peaceful way, if that makes any sense. We always find it refreshing because it’s engaging enough to pull us out of everyday thoughts and concerns, but not so big or overloading that we feel pressured to squeeze everything into one day and go home wiped. For perspective, it’s bigger than Happy Hollow but smaller than Great America and much smaller than Disneyland.

The rides are mostly low-key (think more Dumbo, less Matterhorn) with one moderate roller coaster near the back. There are also gardens to explore, water slides and water-play areas of various sizes, carnival-style games, a small amphitheater that sometimes has a special show, and little “learning sheds” with interesting information about bees, trees, and other nature-oriented topics. There are often seasonal extras, such as a petting zoo or holiday lights.

On certain weekends, the park has special add-on events such as a Memorial Day BBQ or a Mother’s Day brunch or a holiday feast. You can also rent that event space for a wedding or party.

This year they added a nighttime feature for Halloween that’s a separate admission fee unless you’re a premium member. We haven’t seen this one, but we have seen their December holiday nighttime displays and enjoyed them very much, so I’d imagine their Halloween one would also be well done.

Location

Gilroy Gardens is in — you guessed it — Gilroy, off Highway 101 and 152. It’s about 30-40 minutes south of San Jose, or about 10 minutes from the Gilroy Outlets.

There’s a large parking lot just outside the entrance to the park. Parking is $15 or is included free with certain levels of season pass. Disabled parking is plentiful and is right up front near the entrance, not in the main columns of parking spots.

Because of its location, public transit is unfortunately not a great option for Gilroy Gardens. If you can’t drive here, I’d suggest carpooling with a friend or looking into a ride-sharing option such as Lyft or Uber.

Weather

Gilroy’s weather tends to be similar to San Jose, or sometimes a little warmer or windier. Most of the year, it’s very pleasant down here, especially if there’s a light breeze. In spring and fall, it’s often a little cooler in the shelter of the park than it is in the direct sun in the parking lot, so I’d recommend bringing your sweater in with you even if you think you won’t need it.

The satellite view on Google Maps shows all the trees:

There are lots of trees and peaceful garden spaces, but as with most theme parks, you will also definitely feel the prevalence of concrete and blacktop when the weather heats up. (There’s a reason the water park areas are so popular in the summer!) There isn’t a lot in the way of indoor/air-conditioned retreat options here. If you’re extra heat-sensitive, make sure to stay hydrated and go earlier in the day in the summer so you can be done before the heat of the day gets to be too much.

Cost

As of our visit (2018), general one-day admission at the gate is $58, but don’t worry, you don’t have to pay that if you plan ahead a little. Buy tickets online ahead of time (or even on your smartphone from the parking lot) and they’ll be $39 each or less, depending on how many you buy, plus taxes/fees. Note: there are often coupons in the newspaper or magazines for what look like significant discounts, but these usually only apply to the gate prices and bring them down to the same price you could get online without a coupon. If you subscribe to Goldstar deals, they sometimes have Gilroy Gardens discounts that save a couple dollars off the regular online price.

Daily tickets are somewhat pricey but there are good membership options if you plan to come more than a couple times a year. We’ve had memberships here many times before and certainly will again. We usually opt for the Premium level to get the free parking, in-park discounts, and holiday admission, but the Value level is a more affordable way to get free regular-season admission if that’s all you need. Both levels of membership are actually tax-deductible because Gilroy Gardens is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Note: A Gilroy Gardens membership doesn’t transfer to anywhere else, but if you have a Great America Gold or Platinum-level season pass, that will get you free admission into Gilroy Gardens as well. (They’re operated by the same parent company, Cedar Fair.)

Length of Time

This will take you a few hours to a full day. We usually spend about half a day riding our few favorite rides, sitting and reading in the gardens, taking lots of pictures, and just enjoying the ambiance. If your kids want to do the water park parts and/or ride all the rides, allow most of the day.

We sometimes go for a half-day or longer, or when we have a season pass (free admission + free parking), we sometimes go just for a little while. One of our favorite things to do is to sit in the shade in Claudia’s Garden near the waterfall area and just read a book for a while. It’s so peaceful!

Wheelchair Access

Their website has accessibility information and a Guest Assistance Guide PDF with more detail.

All parks operated by Cedar Fair use a Boarding Pass Program that gives you a paper pass to show the ride operators to let you go in the exit on most rides. To get this pass, go to the Welcome Center when you first enter the park. (Look at the map they give you at the entrance. After the ticket booths and security, go down the boardwalk, under the railroad track bridge, and past the restaurant and gift shop. The Welcome Center is directly in front of you.) Tell the Welcome Center folks you need a boarding pass. To help you choose which rides are safe, they’ll ask you about your ability to transfer and how much trunk/core stability you have. They’ll also ask how many people are in your party. Then they’ll give you the paper Boarding Pass with your name and today’s date and the list of rides. They’ll tell you about entering through the exit on most rides to avoid stairs and switchbacks while waiting in line. Simply show this pass to the ride operators at the exit to board.

Most of the rides are accessible if you can transfer out of your wheelchair and take a few steps. The railroad can accommodate your chair in the last car without transferring, along with one companion. Almost all of the gardens and other attractions are accessible as well, although the water parks are obviously limited to ground-level access and depend on how wet your chair can safely get.

A few of the rides are usually accessed from an elevated platform, so you’ll need to ride a little elevator to reach the exit. These elevators aren’t especially elegant, but they work reliably and you get used to them quickly. They’re rather narrow but open on top. To use one, just open the door, roll in, let the door close solidly behind you, then use the up/down button to control the lift yourself.

Wheelchair elevator as seen from the outside at the bottom
Wheelchair elevator as seen from the top
Inside the elevator

 

Service animals are allowed in the park, of course, but cannot ride most rides with you. You’ll need someone in your party to stay with the service animal (park employees are not allowed to watch them for you) while you ride. You can use the Child Swap Policy to let that other person in your party ride immediately after you’re done without having to wait in line again.

Every bathroom has accessible stalls and sinks as well. If you’re on your own, sometimes the main door to get into the ladies’ room is difficult to open from a wheelchair, and going in through the exit and out the entrance works better. If you need a private restroom for companion assistance, there’s one at the First Aid station.

You can rent a wheelchair or electric scooter for the day on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $15 for a wheelchair or $55 for an electric scooter. They also have $12 strollers and $18 double strollers to rent for younger guests.

Vision & Hearing

I think this park would be fun for guests with any level of hearing or vision impairment. Visually, there are many beautiful gardens, colors, and details to soak in. There are also printed signs with safety information for each ride. Auditorally, there is cheerful (but not overwhelming) background music and verbal instructions when boarding each ride.

If you arrange it at least a week in advance, they offer American Sign Language interpreters. The Welcome Center also has guides printed in Braille and large print upon request.

Sensory Processing

For a park this size, the sensory factor is amazingly reasonable. Yes, there’s background music in some places, but it’s simple and upbeat and not too loud. Some of the rides make a high-pitched whine as they get moving, but it doesn’t last long. This is one of the few places that I don’t need my earplugs. Visually, the colors come mostly from the flowers in the gardens or from the rides, most of which are designed to look like fruits and vegetables. There were mild food smells inside the restaurants but nothing overpowering inside or out.

Food

Officially you’re not supposed to bring food into the parks, but there are two exceptions:

  1. Food for infants & toddlers
  2. Special diets due to food allergies, religious restrictions, or personal choice

Anyone can bring a picnic lunch if you eat it at the picnic tables near the entrance. For all outside food, they request that you eat it in the picnic area near the front entrance, but in our experience this is not strictly enforced. Just be respectful about it.

They do sell gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan food options in some of the restaurants in the park. In our experience, these are hit-or-miss, especially for the vegan options. Almost everywhere sells the fruit salad and the side salad, but if you want something vegan with protein, you’re more limited. This season it’s essentially only the tofu veggie option at The Wok, which was closed the day we visited. (There were also hummus and pretzel cups at the coffee shop near the front.) To be safe, I recommend bringing a vegan protein bar at least.

Would we go back?

Of course! We even plan to renew our season passes in the future. Even when we go for only a couple hours, it always feels like we really went somewhere special — a mini getaway — and we always come home refreshed. If you’re looking for a special spot to visit, Gilroy Gardens will make you smile!

Happy Hollow

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo (HHPZ) is a local gem that has been treasured by San Jose families for generations. My mom grew up going there, as did I, and now my preschool students sparkle when they talk about going to Happy Hollow on the weekend. Thanks to a major renovation completed in 2010, you’ll find the perfect blend of simple nostalgia and engaging modern attractions to appeal to all ages.

In a Nutshell

Happy Hollow is a combination of a small but high-quality zoo, interactive animal experiences and zookeeper talks, children’s amusement park rides, a large playground, a puppet theater, and open space. See the map for more details. They’re open almost every day and have special events on certain days.

They’re aimed at children of all ages, but we also enjoy visiting as adults without children in tow. There’s even a free Senior Safari Walkabout one Thursday morning a month for seniors age 50+.

The zoo is divided into two parts: the smaller “Zoo on the Hill,” which includes several animals and a petting zoo, and “Zoo in the Hollow,” which houses most of the animals. We’re particularly fond of the capybaras and meerkats, and of course the star attraction, Sophia the Jaguar.

The zoo has a total of 150+ animals and is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. We like to refer to them as a “small but mighty” zoo because, while they’re nowhere near the scale of the San Francisco Zoo, many of Happy Hollow’s animals are part of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan, meaning that they’re part of a wide network of captive breeding programs in zoos working together to help save threatened and endangered species.

 

We usually spend most of our time in the zoo, but we still walk around the park area just to enjoy the ambiance. It’s simultaneously peaceful and lively, filled with happy children and families enjoying their day together. There are some rides aimed at younger children, some for school-age children and adults, and some for the whole family. Our favorite ride is always Danny the Dragon, a gentle train ride through storybook dioramas. (Danny is also the mascot of HHPZ.)

In addition to the rides, the park area has a large redwood-themed playground, a walk-through maze, several smaller play areas, and a puppet theater with multiple shows on most days. 

Between the park and the zoo, you’ll find a large open field where families often eat, relax,  or let the kids run off steam. Special events are often held on the outdoor stage in this area too.

Before you go, check the Plan Your Visit page to see today’s hours and check which attractions may be closed for maintenance.

Location

Happy Hollow is located at 1300 Senter Road in San Jose. It’s part of the city’s Kelley Park, where you’ll also find History San Jose, the Japanese Friendship Gardens, the Leininger Community Center, and plenty of open space with picnic areas.

Their website has good driving directions from various freeways as well as how to take public transit to the park. There are also bicycle racks available near the entrance if you prefer.

Parking

If you drive to Happy Hollow, there are two main parking lots. One is off Senter Road and the other is on the opposite side of the park, off Story Road at Remillard. Either parking lot involves a little bit of a walk to the front gates. Scroll down to the map on the Plan Your Visit page for details.

In either lot, general parking is $10 per vehicle or $80 for an annual parking pass that works at all City of San Jose Regional Parks. The parking attendant booths are usually not staffed, so pay for parking at the automated kiosk in the parking lot and then put the printed receipt/pass on your dashboard before going into the park. (The machines take credit/debit cards or cash if you have exact change only.)

Important: If you have a disabled parking placard or plates on your vehicle, the price and procedure are different from general parking and different from what it was a few years ago. As of May 2018, this was the procedure if you don’t have a Discount Card from the city yet:

  1. Park in a disabled spot if possible. If those are full, make a note of where you parked.
  2. Bring your proof of disabled parking paper from the DMV. (This is the little paper that came with your placard or plates.) Also make sure you know your car’s make, model, year, color, and license plate number.
  3. Do not buy a parking pass at the kiosk. Instead, go directly to the Happy Hollow ticket booth.
  4. In addition to your admission tickets, tell the person in the booth that you need to pay for disabled parking. They’ll ask to see your DMV paper and ask for the identifying information about your car.
  5. You’ll pay the $2 parking fee (discounted from the general $10 rate) in addition to your admission tickets.
  6. Just go into the park! They write down your car’s information so they know you paid. That way you don’t have to walk all the way back to the car to put anything on your dashboard.

If you have the disabled parking placard or plates and plan to park at Happy Hollow or any other San Jose parks more than a couple times a year, it’s worth your while to jump through the paperwork hoops to get the Discount Card. This basically lets you prove that you’re eligible once for the year instead of every time you go. They’ll mail you a card which you then swipe at the kiosk and pay the discounted rate right there at the kiosk the same way everyone else pays their $10. Here’s the application for the Discount Card. Alternatively, you can also choose to get the discounted annual parking pass ($30 vs generally $80) if you plan to visit San Jose Regional Parks a lot.

Weather

As an outdoor place, Happy Hollow experiences the same weather as the surrounding neighborhood. There is a fair amount of shade in some parts, but you’ll still feel the heat, wind, or rain like you would at any other park. I definitely recommend sunscreen regardless of when you go.

Cost

As of our most recent visit (2019), the tickets were $14.25 for ages 2-59. Infants and toddlers under 2 years old are free, and there are discounts for seniors 60+ or for groups of 14 or more people. Your AAA card may give you a discount.  See their website for current pricing.

We usually choose the annual membership. This makes it worth our while to drop in for a short visit when we have time and want a “happiness recharge,” or to spend the whole morning wandering the zoo if we choose. The membership also supports HHPZ, of course, so we consider it a good investment even if we don’t go as often as we’d like. You can purchase a membership in person when you arrive or by mail ahead of time. If you’d like to upgrade a daily admission to a membership, you can do that while you’re there the same day and they’ll credit your daily admission price toward the membership purchase.

Happy Hollow has reciprocal agreements with CuriOdyssey, the San Francisco Zoo, and other local attractions, so if you have a membership somewhere else, you may get a discount on your Happy Hollow admission. See the zoo & aquarium reciprocal agreement list for details.

Note: HHPZ is no longer part of the nationwide reciprocal agreement list for science centers, but if you ask at the local science centers (Chabot, Children’s Creativity Museum, Lawrence Hall of Science, The Tech, and Lindsay Wildlife Museum), they may honor your HHPZ membership for a 50% discount on admission. Ask the individual museums about their policies.

Length of Time

This will take you a couple hours to half a day or more, depending on how many rides your family wants to ride or how much time you spend at the playgrounds. We usually finish in about 2 hours and then browse the gift shop before going home, but you could easily spend much longer if you choose to. It’s a very flexible place with plenty to do.

Wheelchair Access

Their website has information for guests with disabilities. Since the 2010 renovation, every part of Happy Hollow meets or exceeds ADA standards for accessibility. We’ve certainly found this to be true – the zoo and park are easily navigable by wheelchair, as are the restrooms, cafe, and gift shop. The ground is fairly level or gently sloping and the paths are nicely paved.

Due to safety concerns, the height/age/size requirements for the rides are enforced regardless of abilities. Guests will need to transfer out of their wheelchair or scooter in order to ride most of the rides. (The carousel and Danny the Dragon are wheelchair accessible and even accommodate service animals.) The ride attendants are not allowed to help with the transfer, but they are very kind about giving you time to do it and making sure the chair is safe until you get back.

If your family’s special needs prevent you from waiting in line, visit Guest Services at the front gate to ask for the “exit entry” wrist band. This will let your family enter through the exit instead of waiting in the standard line. We haven’t done this because we are able to wait, but it’s a marvelous service they offer to families who need it. You can call Guest and Member Services at (408) 794-6400 for more details.

Vision & Hearing

Unfortunately there is no braille on the zoo plaques and the animals are mostly quiet (no lions or elephants here), so a guest with limited vision would need someone to describe what’s there. With guidance, they could easily interact with the petting zoo, listen to the zookeepers’ talks and special presentations, and play on the playgrounds. The lively narration and sound effects would make the puppet shows accessible. The feelings of the rides and the cheerful surrounding sounds would also be thoroughly enjoyable.

A guest with a hearing impairment would be able to interact easily with all parts of the zoo, rides, and playgrounds. The puppet shows, however, are not closed captioned and I have never seen a sign language interpreter there. Many of the shows are classic stories (The Three Little Pigs, etc.), so if you’re already familiar with the plot, it may still be easy to follow along and enjoy the colorful puppets even if you can’t fully hear the narration.

Sensory Processing

The zoo is calm and open, with lots of shade and natural colors. There’s no background music. The Zoo in the Hollow (the larger part with more animals) doesn’t smell like much of anything. The Zoo on the Hill has a petting zoo and usually smells exactly the way you’d expect it to.

There’s a bit more hustle-and-bustle with more people in the park area around the rides and playground, but it’s still always been comfortably open. The paths are wide here and there are plenty of benches to take a break if needed. The only time we ever felt somewhat crowded was on a holiday weekend when the Kristy Yamaguchi Reading Adventures special event had drawn many extra people to HHPZ.

Everything is colorful enough to be interesting, but never in-your-face bright, and always balanced with lots of large trees and grass areas. Sensorially speaking, it’s among the most relaxing family parks I’ve visited.

Food

You can bring your own food or buy food there. They have a cafe called the Picnic Basket fairly close to the entrance. The menu includes chicken strips, burgers, fries, pizza, and hot pretzels. There are also some grab-and-go selections that usually include salads, sandwiches, hummus-and-veggie cups, yogurt, Smuckers Uncrustables, juice boxes, and milk. There’s indoor or outdoor seating available with flexible tables that you can move to accommodate your party size. It’s easy to fit a wheelchair at the tables.  If you choose to bring your own food, you can bring “homemade individual brown bag lunches” but no coolers or commercially prepared food. If you want to bring a more elaborate meal, such as party platters or coolers for a larger group, you can use the picnic areas located outside of Happy Hollow in the grassy areas of Kelley Park.

There are larger picnic areas inside Happy Hollow which can be reserved for two-hour windows as part of a birthday party package. These parties are usually catered by Happy Hollow, or you can cater your own for an additional fee. If you want to bring your own homemade or store-bought party food for a group event, it’s best to just use the picnic tables located in Kelley Park outside of Happy Hollow.

Would we go back?

We’ve been coming here for two generations and absolutely plan to keep coming, usually multiple times a year. We love the cheerful, family-friendly atmosphere, the sweet animals in the zoo, and of course the nostalgia. It’s a very special place for us. If you haven’t been here, or at least not since 2010, I highly recommend it. You’ll absolutely leave with a smile!

The Museum of American Heritage

The Museum of American Heritage is a delightful little gem near downtown Palo Alto. It’s a beautiful historic home that’s been converted to a museum inside and a peaceful garden outside. There’s also a classroom space out back where they host special events. The volunteer docents were cheerful, kind, and knowledgeable, but didn’t hover as we explored the museum at our own pace. It’s one of those places that’s been around for a while, but even as a local, we somehow never knew about it. Now that we do, we will definitely be back!

What do they have there?

The museum is dedicated to showcasing innovations that shaped America from approximately 1750 to 1950. It reminds me somewhat of History San Jose, but on a more intimate scale. Here, each room of the house has a different focus. The kitchen is like a time capsule of early 1900s American home life. (Did you know built-in kitchen cabinets are a recent invention?) Other rooms showcase classic woodworking tools, a home office/study with a very cool old typewriter, and an old general store that reminds me of The Waltons.  As a designer, it was especially cool to see the old packages on the shelves and notice which brands/logos have evolved and which have remained nearly unchanged for a half-century or more.

While most of the museum is about looking, some parts are hands-on. Some of the woodworking tools are mounted on the wall so you can turn the cranks and see how they work. Next to the general store room is a room filled with Erector Sets and other building toys meant to be operated. There is also a kids’ hands-on play room near the study with a train table, children’s books, and a typewriter that’s meant to be used. Have your kids ever had a chance to see a manual typewriter?

Out back, there’s a print shop with several beautiful older printing presses which are demonstrated about once a week when the volunteer is there to run them. There’s also a garage with a beautifully restored Model T Ford from 1915!  The gardens outside have been restored to be historically accurate and include a 1942 “Victory Garden,” medicinal herbs, water-wise Mediterranean plants and gorgeous redwood trees. It would be worth going back in blooming season (rather than February) to see more of the gardens.

In addition to the permanent exhibits, a large front room houses rotating exhibits about American innovation. When we went, it was a fascinating display of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse’s work on electricity and their mutual rivalry along the way. This exhibit is gone now, but you can check out their website for the next topic. There’s always something new coming!

 

Beyond the museum itself, there’s a classroom space out back that hosts special events for children and adults, both on weekends and for field trips during the week. When we were there, they were having a big Lego building fest. Examples of other offerings include crystal radio building classes, science enrichment workshops, and public lectures. (Note: While the museum is free, some of these events are not.) Check out their events page for upcoming special events, annual events, and past examples.

Ages

Overall, this museum is not targeted at young children. I’d say 4th graders through adults would get the most out of this trip.

Location

The Museum of American Heritage is in Palo Alto at 351 Homer Avenue, Palo Alto, California 94301, just a couple blocks over from the main downtown space on University Avenue. (Here’s the map.) It’s about 20-30 minutes north of San Jose.

It’s directly across the street from Heritage Park and the not-yet-open Palo Alto History Museum.

It’s mostly on-street parking unless you’re there for a special event, in which case there are some spaces available behind the house. The on-street parking is free (but of course watch out for permits or time restrictions, since this is a neighborhood) but has no disabled slots. It would have been impossible to use the wheelchair lift in the place we ended up parking on the street. If you need disabled parking, the museum’s website says to call ahead (1-650-321-1004) to arrange for a spot in the back lot.

If you’re nearby, it would be easy to walk or bike here. If you need public transit, it looks like about a 12-minute walk from the CalTrain station or very close to a Route 35 bus stop. Keep in mind that the museum is usually only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 to 4, so time your trip accordingly. 

Weather

The museum is indoors, so it would be fun any day. Of course if you’re looking at the gardens, it would help to pick a non-rainy day, probably in spring or early summer to see the most blooms. (I’m the furthest thing from a plant expert, so call the museum to ask what’s blooming if you’re specifically interested in the gardens.)

Cost

There’s no admission fee for the museum (as of 2018), but a $5 donation per visitor is appreciated. School field trips or group tours have a small fee ($3-5) per person. You can also join as a member, which provides a large part of the museum’s funding and gets you special access to their events and newsletter.

Length of Time

Visiting the museum will take you about 1-3 hours, depending on how much detail you read in each exhibit and how long you want to spend in the gardens.

Wheelchair Access

The museum is entirely wheelchair accessible! This was a major surprise for a century-old home. I give big kudos to the museum operators for making this happen so naturally. There are clear signs about where to enter. (The wheelchair entrance is through the kitchen door from the side porch, which has a ramp, rather than from the front door, which has big stairs.) Inside the house, the whole museum is on the main floor and all the displays are wide enough for a wheelchair to navigate without issue. The print shop, garage, classroom, and gardens are also accessible. How delightful!

Vision & Hearing

Not surprisingly for a historical museum, many things are don’t-look-touch and some are protected under plexiglass. Even the hands-on parts are mostly about turning a crank or lever or switch and seeing what happens. For this reason, I think this museum experience would be rather limited for someone with a vision impairment. The lectures and workshops might be quite engaging, however.

For all the same reasons, it’s easy for someone with a hearing impairment to enjoy the museum. We found it to be pleasantly quiet (think of it as the exact opposite of something like The Tech) so there wasn’t even much background noise to filter out. I don’t know how this would work for the lectures or workshops; you’d have to contact the museum to find out.

Sensory Processing

This is a very calm museum, as you might expect from a century-old home. Its displays are visually interesting without being busy. It’s neat without being sterile. What stood out the most to me was actually the sensory simplicity of the displays. Whereas most museums these days seem to be trying to one-up each other on the flashy interactive big-screen displays, the information here is all done with nice little posters and plaques. Not only does this help with costs (since it’s a donation-based, volunteer-run museum), but I actually found it much easier to read the information that way. I really enjoyed getting to read the information at my own pace without bright flickering screens distracting at every turn!

Food

There is no gift shop or snack shack here, and no food or drink allowed inside the galleries (true of most museums), so plan to have lunch beforehand. The park across the street would be a great picnic spot in nice weather, or there are several restaurants nearby.

Would we go back?

You bet! We chose to visit this time because it was the last weekend of the Thomas Edison display, but we look forward to going back for future exhibits and maybe some of the special events. It will also be interesting to see the gardens at a different time of year. If you have a couple hours to spend on something interesting, the Museum of American Heritage will make you smile!

CuriOdyssey

CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point is a sweet little combination zoo and science museum. It’s a nonprofit that’s part of the Coyote Point Recreation Area. We particularly enjoyed the peaceful vibe in the zoo and the joy of the children in the science museum.

CuriOdyssey sign

In a Nutshell

Their zoo is small but diverse, including bobcats, eagles, skunks, otters, and other critters, most of whom came to them as rescue animals and cannot be re-released into the wild for various reasons. Because it is smaller than other zoos, you can get very close to the animals and talk freely with the docents and keepers. Although it doesn’t take as long or have as many animals as some of the Bay Area’s larger zoos, I found it to be just as satisfying of a visit because of this more personal feeling. It’s cozy.

CuriOdyssey zoo: owls

CuriOdyssey zoo: raccoons

CuriOdyssey zoo: golden eagle

Their science museum has very engaging hands-on exploration displays on various topics. Some are permanent and others rotate through over time. Check their website for a list of current exhibits. The target audience for this part appeared to be approximately ages 5-12, but I still had fun exploring them as an adult and many younger children were highly engaged as well.

CuriOdyssey science museum: child's hands in wet sand

CuriOdyssey science museum: gears

Location

Coyote Point is in San Mateo off Highway 101. It’s about 30-40 minutes north of San Jose.

Google map to CuriOdyssey

There’s a parking lot just outside the entrance to CuriOdyssey. If that’s full, there’s overflow parking in the lot near the marina. It’s a bit of a walk from that lot back up the hill to CuriOdyssey, but there is a wheelchair-accessible route you can use.

We parked in the overflow lot because the sign said the main lot was full, but when we got there, we found that there were two disabled slots open even though the rest of the lot was full. If you need disabled parking, the main lot would be worth a try even if the sign says it’s full.

Their website has specific directions for driving, biking, walking, or taking public transit. You can technically take CalTrain or SamTRANS, but it’s not a direct route at all and involves a pretty long walk from the station to the park.

Weather

I think almost any weather would work here. The zoo is about 2/3 outdoors and 1/3 indoors but is all heavily shaded and sheltered by big trees and enclosures, so it was comfortable even on a cold January day and would be fine on all but the hottest summer days. Just be sure to dress accordingly. I would imagine it could be less fun in the rain, but they do field trips year-round and just ask students to dress for the weather rain or shine, so maybe it would work. The science museum is entirely indoors so it would be comfortable anytime.

CuriOdyssey: redowod trees

Cost

When we visited (2018), the tickets were $12.50 for adults and less for children, students, and seniors. See their website for current pricing. There are also annual membership options.

Note: There was also a $6 per car admission/parking charge to get into the Coyote Point Recreation Area. (It’s a county park.) This is waived for CuriOdyssey members.

CuriOdyssey has reciprocal agreements with Happy Hollow, the San Francisco Zoo, and other local attractions, so if you have a membership somewhere else, you may get a discount on your CuriOdyssey admission. See the reciprocal agreement list for details.

CuriOdyssey: waterfall

Length of Time

This will take you a few hours to half a day. We finished the zoo and gift shop in about 2 hours and then walked through the science museum for a little while. (The exhibits looked fun, but as an adult, I couldn’t bring myself to push the happy 8-year-olds out of the way to get a turn, so I mostly observed.) If you have school-age children, you could easily spend another couple hours in the science museum part.

Wheelchair Access

Their website has information for guests with disabilities.

We found the zoo to be easily accessible. The science museum got a little crowded in places, but all of the walkways were wide enough to navigate without issue. Even the gift shop was uncluttered enough to roll through, which isn’t always the case in places like this.

Note: The accessible restroom is outside in the zoo area. The bathroom in the main museum building is wide enough for a stroller or wheelchair to wait in line but has no accessible stalls, so it would only work if you can walk a short distance and don’t mind leaving the chair outside the stall. To their credit, one of the museum docents saw us heading toward the main bathroom and very kindly gave us the heads-up about this. We used the accessible restroom instead and noticed that while it was physically roomy enough and had the typical grab bars and such, the door to the restroom was very heavy and the handle/lock was up very high. It would be difficult to access from a wheelchair without a companion.

Vision & Hearing

The animals at this zoo are mostly quiet (no roaring lions here) and every exhibit has an informational plaque describing the animal’s backstory and natural habits. The science museum was similarly oriented around flat visual plaques and hands-on experiences. Someone with a hearing impairment could participate almost fully in both parts of the park. I think someone with limited vision would probably find the zoo fairly pointless and would have a mixed experience in the science museum. Many of the science exhibits were highly tactile and a few revolved around sound or music, but a lot of the displays involving physics or cause-and-effect mechanisms were inside of plexiglass boxes, so these would be difficult to enjoy without at least near-field vision.

Sensory Processing

The zoo was calm and open, with lots of shade and natural colors. There’s no background music. It also doesn’t smell like a zoo (it doesn’t smell like anything I could detect), mainly because there are no elephants and no petting zoo, only smaller animals in well-maintained enclosures. The only semi-crowded point was when everyone wanted to see the scheduled feedings; otherwise there were people around but we had plenty of space to move freely and didn’t feel crowded, even on a busy day.

I did notice that the whole recreation area seems to be directly under the flight path to SFO, so there were frequently airplanes flying somewhat low overhead. For some children, that’s a bonus feature, but for others, the unexpected extra noise could be a factor. It wasn’t obnoxious enough to be a deal-breaker by any stretch, but if I were traveling with a very sound-sensitive or easily-startled child, I would want to tell them ahead of time to expect the airplane noises outside.

The science museum was much busier than the zoo. The museum is entirely indoors so the excitement of all the children is more concentrated there. It was somewhat loud and could be overloading for some children with sensory issues. For sensory-seeking children, however, the variety of interactive displays could be exactly perfect.

Their website also has a social story to help your child know what to expect before their visit. Kudos, CuriOdyssey!

Food

You can bring your own food or buy food there. They have a little cafe with mostly hot dogs, chips, and fruit available during limited lunch hours on the weekends. The gift shop also carries a pretty impressive variety of packaged snacks and drinks, including many healthy options, some of which were vegan-friendly or allergy-friendly. (You could phone ahead to see what they have in stock that day.) When we went, the classroom space (presumably used by field trip groups during the week) was open and several families were enjoying their homemade lunches at the tables. We did the same. There are also picnic tables outside in the shade in the zoo area. If you want to eat before or after your visit, keep in mind that you are also in a county park, so there there are larger tables and even BBQ grills in the picnic areas closer to the nearby playground.

Would we go back?

Absolutely! This is my third visit to CuriOdyssey and will certainly not be my last. I love the gentle vibe and kind cheerful people we always encounter there. If you’re looking for a new spot to visit, it’s sure to make you smile!

 

 

CuriOdyssey sign: building the minds of tomorrow today