We are so lucky to have a hands-on museum for kids right here in Santa Rosa! The Children's Museum of Sonoma County provides our children with the perfect combination of education and fun. The new Science & Imagination Gallery, along with all the outdoor exhibits, makes the museum a great place to spend the day with your family!
The Children's Museum of Sonoma County is geared towards children 10 and younger, and offers interactive, hands-on exhibits and experiences focused on art, nature, and science. They have operated as the Museum-on-the-Go since 2005 and opened their permanent location as the Children's Museum of Sonoma County in early 2014.
When you walk in the door, you will immediately notice the new Science and Imagination Gallery. This is a 2-level indoor exhibit full of activities that foster the imagination.
Downstairs you'll find AirMazing, an amazing 15-foot high floor to ceiling air maze where children can direct the maze airflow and watch feathers, scarves and balls whiz by, through, up, down, and out!
Kids can enjoy some fun role play and creativity in the Nuts & Bolts Hardware Store, Flavortown Kids Café and Kitchen, Crocodile Dental Clinic, and Head-2-Toe Health & Science Lab. These are all areas that are miniature versions of the real thing, stocked with all the equipment kids need for pretend play. Our kids loved ordering from the menus and preparing the food on the stove with the extensive utencils provided in the Flavortown Kids Café and Kitchen.
The Puppet Theateris full of playful and whimsical puppets of all kinds to play with. The stage is complete with multi-colored stage lights that can be controlled during a puppet show. Children will delight in thinking up plays and acting them out for family members and visitors.
The Miniature Train City is a wooden train track that is built in a Lego City. Trains are provided for kids to play with and there are tunnels and hills to explore with their trains. A floor to ceiling Lego tower stands over the tracks and was built completely out of Legos.
Upstairs you will find the Pollen Popper where the kids shoot plastic balls through the air and try to get them into various baskets. When the balls reach the bottom, children can use a giant crank wheel to get the balls back up where they can be launched again!
The Air Cannons shoot an invisible puff of air to a target 10 feet away. They can be aimed at multiple targets, including other visitors. Children squeal with delight when blasted with a huge ball of air – and adults too!
The Light Peg Wall is a very cool jumbo version of a Lite Brite. Kids can put giant pegs into this lit up grid and can create pictures or patterns to their content.
Jesse's Train Station is a miniature train station modeled after the Petaluma Train Station. Kids can use the control panel to switch the tracks and sound the train whistle. There is also a train car that you can sit in and watch a real-time camera attached to the top of the running train.
All the while you are in the Science and Imagination Gallery, there are trains running above your head on an elevated track! The Elevated Tracks and Diorama is an expansive network of track that runs through the exhibits and in and out of walls.
Other activities in the Science and Imagination Gallery include the Magnet Table, Magnetic Ball Wall, Wind Vortex, Bernoulli Blower, Pipe Organ, Victorian House, Apple Tree House & Pulley System, Bee Haven, Light Writing Space Odyssey, Kiddie Corner, and Fairy World.
Once you've had your fill of the Science & Imagination Gallery, head outside to Mary's Garden. Mary's Garden is named after "Mariposa," the Spanish word for Butterfly. Mary's Garden is inspired by places in Sonoma County: wetlands, local farms, the mighty redwoods, and the beautiful Russian River.
In the center of Mary's Garden is the water play area, obviously the most popular! There is a river/waterfall right in the middle where the kids can float little wooden boats or catch fish (with nets).
There is also a pond and a bridge to run across. Look for the real fish swimming in the pond!
At the base of the river there is a large gravel area with toys (trucks, boats, shovels) for the kids to play to their heart's content.
Water play tables and mechanisms are scattered near the river. The kids can pump water in and out of them and build water chutes, all the while learning about power generation and usefulness of water. Hours of fun!
The Nelson Family Farm Stand is equipped with pretend fruits & veggies, a scale, semi-edible garden, and a tractor!
Also in Mary's Garden are large, mesh caterpillar sculptures to run through, foam building blocks, bubbles, hay bales, forts, and man-powered Butterflies that the kids can operate themselves.
Brand new to Mary's Garden (August 2015), is a retired REACH medical service helicopter that has been transformed into an ornithopter resembling a dragonfly for visitors to explore. Children can replicate the dragonfly's egg-laying process with plastic balls and with a turn of a wheel, the dragonfly's wings will take flight. Inside, the Ornithopter remains the interior of a medical service helicopter. Young visitors can pretend to radio the hospital, pilot the helicopter or take a patient's stats from a gurney in the back.
The transformed Agusta 109A helicopter was a fully operational air ambulance used by REACH to transport thousands of critically ill or injured patients throughout the region.
In Ella's Art Studio the kids can paint and do various art projects. The day we were there, PG&E was doing a special presentation on power safety and they had an elaborate display of a miniature neighborhood complete with power lines, cars, houses, and little people. He demonstrated to the kids (and grown-ups!) how dangerous electricity can be and used real power to show us! Very interesting. We got PG&E hats and workbooks to take home with us.
TOTopia, designed for children 2½ years old or younger, is brand new as of August 2015. TOTopia includes many exhibits - including sensory play areas, a hide-n-peek town, a storybook cottage to enjoy a teddy bear tea, a flower pit, a ball wall, a river bridge, and a tide pool area.
The space will also feature “TOTopia PLAYdates” twice a month where a development docent from the Early Learning Institute, located in Rohnert Park, will be on hand to answer questions and chat with parents and other caregivers about developmental topics and concerns. In addition to the current exhibits, a Parent Resource Center will come online in the next few months. Located in TOTopia, the Center will provide resource materials and free internet access to parents and caregivers while their children play and learn.
When you visit, don't forget the sunscreen and hats - Mary's Garden is outside and there is only a little shade. Also pack a lunch - there is currently only a vending machine. There are shaded picnic tables for lunch and snacktime. Drinking fountains and restrooms are in the lobby.
Annual memberships are still available for a reasonable price ($145/year). A family membership gives all the children in your household, all related adults, and an unrelated adult unlimited access to the museum for a year. Memberships also include members-only mornings on Sundays 9-11am, discounts on birthday parties, and 50% off admission to more than 200 children's museums in the country (including Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, and Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley).