Intel Museum

We’re back! Thank you all for your patience the last few months. Let’s dive back into exploring our own backyard here in Silicon Valley!

close-up of a mural with 0 and 1 binary text all over

I’d describe the Intel Museum as a “small but mighty” museum that chronicles not just the Intel company but the evolution of Silicon Valley and the technology behind our growth. It’s approachable and interesting for techies and non-techies alike, all without feeling like the information is “dumbed down” at all. We thoroughly enjoyed it!

In a Nutshell

This museum is on the Intel campus in Santa Clara. It includes the museum itself, a cute little gift shop, and a spacious courtyard area outside. The giant Intel sign  out front is known as one of the key high-tech tourism stops in the Bay Area, so be sure to snap a selfie there!

Giant Intel logo sign outside the museum

Inside the museum, you’ll walk through sections showing the history of the company, the evolution of modern computing, the way silicon chips work, how they’re manufactured, and what may be coming next in the world of tech. You can even dress up as a “clean room” worker.

Photo opportunity to dress up as a clean room worker

The design of the museum is quite appealing. It’s a healthy blend of plaques to read, touchscreen stations, artifacts and memorabilia in display cases, movie clips, interactive elements, and thought-provoking questions. I’d say the target audience would be kids at least 9-10 years old through adults.

The museum is open to the public and also hosts school field trips. In a way, it’s like a mini version of the Computer History Museum — less detail but also much less time-consuming and still very enjoyable. I love the CHM, but if you don’t have all day, the Intel Museum is a very good alternative.

Poster of a quote that says, "Today, there is no place on, above or below the earth that the microprocessor has not reached." by Michael S. Malone

They are usually open 9-6 on weekdays and 10-5 on Saturdays. They recommend calling ahead (1-408-765-5050) to make sure they’re not closed for a holiday or special event on the day you plan to come.

Location

The Intel Museum is located on the main Intel campus in Santa Clara. Their address is 2200 Mission College Blvd., close to 101 and Montague Expressway.

Google map of the Intel Museum area

Parking is free and fairly close to the museum, but takes a bit of guesswork to find. Here’s what you need to know:

  • From Mission College Blvd., turn into the Intel campus. If you came from Montague Expressway, it will be a left turn at the light that says “Burton” with an arrow to the right. There’s a little Intel sign at the driveway, but it almost doesn’t look big enough to be the main entrance. It actually is. Turn there.

Entrance to the Intel campus

  • As you enter the parking lot, follow the “visitor parking” signs, some of which are rather small. You’ll hug the right three times, go past the ticket booth (which was empty for the weekend) and enter the parking lot.
  • From the disabled parking spots, you’ll see the blue and white crosswalk and a wheelchair sign directing you to the sidewalk and then to the left. Follow these signs even if you’re not using a wheelchair.

arrow showing the walkway toward the museum

  • Follow the sidewalk along the front of the building until it opens up to a courtyard. Look to your right and see the giant Intel logo sign. Go toward the sign.
  • The museum entrance is the double doors to the left of the sign.
    (Note: We went during Pride month, so I don’t know if these doors are always rainbow-colored or just in June.)

Intel Museum entrance doors

If you prefer public transit, the VTA Route 60 bus drops off about half a block from the entrance. That bus does run on weekends.

Weather

As an indoor museum with good air conditioning, this would be an excellent stop any time of year. In the spring and summer, the flowers in the courtyard are blooming nicely, so that’s an added bonus if you’re a fellow shutterbug.

yellow flower

Cost

Parking and admission are both free here. They don’t even ask for a donation at the door; they just smile and welcome you in. Nice!

If you want to take one, they offer a printed map of the museum layout to guide you through the different areas. (It’s a loop, so it’s not like you need the map to avoid getting lost. It’s just a guide.) The map is available in multiple languages on the rack between the welcome desk and the gift shop.

 

Length of Time

We spent about two hours here including the gift shop, although if you thoroughly read each display and spend more time on the interactive stations, you could easily spend half a day. It’s easy to enjoy at your own pace.

Intel Museum gift shop display of "Pride Inside" t-shirts and bracelets during the month of June

Wheelchair Access

This museum was delightfully wide open and easy to navigate. The displays were magically comfortable to read from both a seated/wheelchair height and an adult standing height. (I’m not quite sure how they managed that, but kudos, because very few museums pull that off!) The floor is mostly made of metal tiles that are smooth and quiet to roll over.

museum display about Moore's Law

The restroom included a wheelchair-accessible stall that was easy to use independently.

Vision & Hearing

As in many museums, most of the displays here are visual. They’re either text on a wall or touchscreen, or artifacts in acrylic display cases. A few of the stations could be interactive through touch or hearing alone, but for the most part, someone with limited vision would need a companion to read the plaques to them. We asked at the front desk and unfortunately there’s no braille guide or audio tour available yet. (Maybe some day…)

antique IBM computer

Hearing loss is much less of an issue here. Nearly everything was text-based and easily enjoyed visually. The museum was remarkably quiet overall, even though there were other people there at the time, so there wasn’t even much background interference for someone with hearing aids to filter out.

Sensory Processing

I found this museum hit the “sweet spot” in terms of sensory levels. It was engaging enough to be interesting, but in no way overwhelming or overstimulating. It was invitingly light but not too bright. The displays were spread out enough not to feel overly busy. The few video stations were loud enough to hear while standing in front of them, but didn’t blast the surrounding area with distracting sound.

Intel Museum first section of displays

The only mild issue was that in the second half of the museum, there were times when a random flash would light up the area. It turns out it was from the the flashbulb at the “selfie station” near the end, where you can dress up as a clean room worker. It wasn’t a strobe or anything too obnoxious, but it was very noticeable and somewhat distracting in the moment. Once I figured out what it was, it was okay.

This museum is very close to the airport, so we did hear quite a few airplanes passing directly overhead while we were out in the parking lot. (You can’t hear them from indoors, don’t worry.) If you or your child are easily triggered by loud noises, do be prepared for the loud overhead airplanes while you’re outside here.

Food

Food and drinks are not allowed in this museum, but there are a lot of benches in the courtyard outside if you bring your own lunch. Otherwise, you’re pretty close to Specialty’s Cafe, Subway, Starbucks, and other nearby eateries.

Would we go back?

Yes! There’s plenty of detail I’m sure we missed the first time through, and we enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere. If your inner geek needs a pick-me-up or if your out-of-town visitor wants to see something free and unique to Silicon Valley, the Intel Museum is sure to make you smile!

Quote by Robert Noyce: "Don't be encumbered by history. Go off and do something wonderful."

Visited June 2019

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!

The Tech Museum of Innovation

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose is a highly interactive exploration of science, technology, and its effect on human society. There is also an IMAX theater showing various movies and documentaries.

In a Nutshell

The Tech is a nonprofit science museum that I’ve visited several times on school field trips and more recently as an adult. In the past, beyond their regular museum displays, they’ve hosted traveling exhibits such as Body Worlds, the Leonardo da Vinci collection, or Star Trek: The Exhibition. Currently, Body Worlds Decoded is set for a 10-year run here and is now included in the regular admission price to the museum.

Body Worlds Decoded is a smaller total collection of bodies than the original Body Worlds traveling exhibit was, but they’ve added more interactive elements using Augmented Reality (AR) tablets (which you borrow for free when you enter the gallery) and other virtual elements.

There are lots of other permanent exhibits to explore inside the main museum as well. These cover topics such as robotics, genetics, medicine, physics, earth science, cyber security, outer space, video games and virtual reality. Each one is explored through interactive, hands-on and/or multimedia displays.

One of my favorite parts was the Tech for Global Good display which shows short documentaries (just a couple minutes long) about the ways in which people and organizations are using technology in creative ways to improve lives by solving medical and social problems around the world. 

The adjacent Innovations in Health Care gallery follows a similar theme. Some of the solutions they described were quite high-tech, but others were more about using out-of-the-box thinking to use resources we already have in new and creative ways. I really loved learning about all these amazing innovations!

Location

The Tech is on South Market Street in downtown San Jose next to Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

There are nearby parking lots in the downtown area and limited on-street parking directly in front of The Tech. Several of the closest slots are reserved for disabled parking, but others are open to anyone who’s not afraid of parallel parking on a sometimes-busy street.

Note: If you have a side-access wheelchair lift van, then the blue parking spots on the curb directly in front of the museum will work for you. Your lift ramp will let you directly onto the sidewalk without a problem. (Just watch out for the palm trees.)

If you have a rear-access wheelchair lift, however, be aware that there are no cut curbs between those disabled parking spots closest to the museum. Instead, the blue curb closer to the Montgomery Theater, just after The Tech, backs up to a large driveway that can double as your cut curb. It’s only slightly further from the door and will let you get onto the sidewalk much more safely. This is where we parked, as seen from standing in front of The Tech:

Of course you can also walk or bike to The Tech, or take public transit from anywhere in the Bay Area. On VTA, you can take Light Rail to the San Antonio station or the Route 68 bus to the 1st & Paseo de San Antonio stop, and then walk across Plaza de Cesar Chavez to the museum. From the Fremont BART station, take the VTA Express Bus 181 to W San Fernando / Almaden and walk about five minutes back up W San Fernando to Market St. If you’re coming from farther away, Caltrain and Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor will take you to the Diridon Station, from which you can walk (about 20 minutes) or take the Route 68 bus three stops up to The Tech. Use 511.org to plan your specific route.

Weather

This is an entirely indoor museum, so it would be enjoyable year-round. (It’s actually a great air-conditioned destination on a hot day if you don’t have AC at home.) If you’re parking in a nearby garage, you may have to walk a couple blocks to the museum, so plan accordingly if it’s raining.

Cost

This is honestly one of the pricier places we’ve visited for Saturday Smiles. As of June 2018, the tickets were $25 for adults and $20 for children, students, and seniors. If you want to see an IMAX movie while you’re there, the standalone IMAX ticket is $12 (or $10 for children, students, and seniors) or the combo museum+IMAX ticket is $31 and $24 respectively. See their website for current pricing.

You may be able to get a $3-4 discount per ticket with your AAA card or using the San Jose Library’s Discover & Go pass. If you have a Bank of America ATM card, you can get one free basic admission on the first full weekend of the month. There are also annual membership options with discounts for teachers.

The Tech has reciprocal agreements with Chabot Space and Science Center, Children’s Creativity Museum, CuriOdyssey, Lindsay Wildlife Experience, and other attractions, so if you have a membership somewhere else, you may get a discount on your Tech admission. See the reciprocal agreement list for details. (Note: Happy Hollow is not on that list, but The Tech might honor a Happy Hollow membership if you have one. It’s worth asking.)

Length of Time

This will take you half to two-thirds of a day, depending on how involved you get with some of the interactive exhibits and whether or not you choose to see an IMAX movie.

Wheelchair Access

Their website has information for guests with special needs.

We found the museum’s galleries and restrooms to be easily accessible. You can even check out a manual wheelchair from the Information Desk if needed, of course on a first-come first-served basis and ID is required. The only only areas without wheelchair access are the jetpack simulator and the Birdly flight simulator. Additionally, the earthquake shake platform is technically accessible, but you’ll need to secure your wheelchair’s brakes and be aware that the platform’s jerky movements may be too strong for some guests’ core strength or comfort.

The IMAX theater has wheelchair seating and adjacent companion seats near the top row. The theater attendants will guide you to the elevator and the proper entrance to reach these seats. Note: the theater’s seats are steeply banked (as in many IMAX theaters) and there is no railing, so the accessible seating area at the top can be a bit daunting at first for anyone who’s afraid of heights. Once you’re seated, it’s fine.

In the Body Worlds Decoded exhibit, part of the experience happens through Augmented Reality (AR) tablets they loan out at the front desk. We were thrilled to see that they offer a special little flexible arm that clamps onto a wheelchair’s armrest or frame and holds the tablet for you if needed. We didn’t need to use it, but it was wonderful that The Tech has thought of this and offered it to us in case it would help.

Vision & Hearing

Some of the displays include videos with audio narratives and closed captioning, so these would be accessible to everyone. As with many museums, the explanatory plaques are mostly visually-oriented, as are many of the exhibits (especially Body Worlds Decoded), but there are more tactile/hands-on opportunities than many museums I’ve seen. While a hearing impairment would not prevent you from interacting with the museum galleries, please note that the museum’s background noise may be challenging for someone with hearing aids to filter out. If this applies to anyone in your family, be patient and make sure you have their attention before talking to them.

Sensory Processing

Overall, I’d rate The Tech as a “moderate” to “moderately high” sensory destination. Some parts (especially the “Exploration” zone on the lower level) were much more intense than others due to a combination of visual busyness, background noise, and strange lighting. Other areas (especially the medical innovation areas upstairs) were reasonably calm, open, and well-lit. I found it fairly easy to regulate here by spending less time in the darker, busier areas and more time in the parts I liked. I did wear earplugs the entire time to help lower the volume.

To their credit, The Tech recognizes this need and actually offers sensory-friendly hours! It’s usually been one Sunday morning a month, but always check the calendar for current scheduling. During these hours, the volume on everything is turned down, the lighting is more normal, there are fewer total guests in the museum, and there are even calm-down/quiet rooms available if needed. Sensory-friendly field trips have recently been added as well. Kudos to The Tech for these accommodations!

We got the combo ticket so we could see the IMAX documentary about pandas while we were there. It was a sweet movie (no sad endings, don’t worry) but sensorially speaking, the IMAX experience was quite overwhelming. The giant curved screen is meant to fill most of your peripheral vision to make the experience more immersive, but we found it unpleasantly intrusive and at times disorienting. We had to simply close our eyes in some scenes, especially during the swooping/flying camera angles. I think part of the problem was that the wheelchair-accessible seating is toward one side (it might have been less distorted-looking had we sat closer to the center of that giant curved screen), but mainly we just hadn’t accounted for how different an IMAX experience is from a regular movie. It was also extremely loud. If anyone in your family is sensory-sensitive, think carefully about the IMAX choice before you upgrade your ticket. We’ll both be skipping the IMAX show next time around.

Food

They have a little cafe downstairs next to the gift shop. (This cafe is also open to the public without museum admission.) It’s fairly gourmet, especially by museum cafe standards, and includes some vegetarian-friendly choices (not much for vegans) and a kids’ menu. Their full menu is available online.

In addition, there is a grab-and-go case with sandwiches, juice, etc., and baskets of candy, protein bars, instant oatmeal, and fresh fruit available. Some of these choices are vegan. The coffee bar offers coffee, lattes, etc., and has almond and soy milk alternatives if you ask.

There is indoor and outdoor seating available. It’s also easy to bring your own food to eat at the tables. No food is allowed in the museum galleries.

As you might expect, the IMAX theater also sells popcorn, candy, etc. to enjoy during the movie.

Would we go back?

Yes, especially if there’s a new or special traveling exhibit. Although it’s more expensive than some other attractions in the area, the museum offers a lot of variety and great hands-on learning opportunities for both kids and adults. If science is your thing, The Tech will definitely make you 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