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When you’ve got to cater to a group of kids who range in age, it can be tough to plan family days out. You want to entertain all of the children at once, while not being bored out of your skull yourself.
That can be a huge ask in some places, but luckily not in San Jose, California. There’s a tonne of great, interesting and fun things to do, interactive museums to visit and open spaces to enjoy.
Here’s my compilation of the five best ones.
THE TECH MUSEUM OF INNOVATION
Have you ever stared up at the birds soaring high above you and wondered what it would be like to have that same freedom? The wind in your hair while you’re tilting and gliding over the city.
Then you need to get to the Tech Museum of Innovation. It’s a playground of all things technological and it’s guaranteed to have something that will blow your mind.
But getting back to being a bird. It might not look like much from the picture, but this is how you’ll soar over New York city and see the Empire State building from a completely different angle. Birdly is a fully-immersive experience, down to the fan blowing wind in your face.
As you tilt your body, flap your arms and twist your hands, the virtual reality shows all of the turns and dives you make. If you prefer to keep your feet firmly planted on terra firma during your family days out why not try a different kind of virtual reality?
The Reboot Reality section is all about VR and how it is shaping our lives. It’s got a bunch of great activities to choose from, like using a computer to create paintings which can be printed to mimic the textures of an oil painting.
My favourite was the Tilt Brush, designed by Google, which uses a VR headset to place yourself in a world you create. Once you’re inside you can build a spacescape, landscape or any other scape you can think of. It’s not just in front of you either – it’s behind, above and below you.
That’s enough mind-bending VR. Have you got any little cyber detectives in your family? Why not get them learning about internet security and safety now?
This is where the museum’s “tech tag” comes in. Everyone gets a tag with barcode that you scan as you walk through and interact with the museum. In the case of the Cyber Detectives section, you collect skills as you wind through the training zone, honing your digital privacy and protection skills.
Once you’re done training it’s time to head to the mission zone, where you’ll fend off cyber espionage, sabotage and a financial breach.
For the Tots
If this all seems a little much for your younger children, fear not, there’s heaps for them to do downstairs! Children can build robots, design their own creature by mixing and matching bits of DNA and take part in all sorts of workshops.
They can experience the Ninja Walk – a maze that’s a little different. It’s got bells, squawking rubber chickens and bubble wrap. Children are tasked with getting through the maze as quietly as possible and their paths are plotted on a graph afterwards.
Details & Sensory Friendly Hours
Visit the Tech Museum of Innovation website for ticket prices, hours and all the details! It also offers special “sensory friendly” hours on certain days for children who have mobility challenges, become easily overwhelmed or struggle to communicate.
For discounted prices, the sensory friendly sessions mean lower volumes on audio exhibits, brightly-lit areas and quiet rooms complete with calm-down kits. Staff members are also trained to help make kids with sensory issues feel welcome and included.
SOUTH FIRST FRIDAYS ART WALK
The SoFA District (South of First Area) hosts a self-guided evening tour through art galleries, museums and performance spaces each first Friday of the month.
It’s coupled with a street market where artists will show their pieces and sometimes work from booths. Live performances by bands and artists give it a real celebratory feel, and you can taste test the best food trucks for dinner as well!
It’s a win/win situation really.
There are a great range of participating art galleries and museums that are open all evening with free admission. Check the map for all of them, but my favourites were MACLA and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.
MACLA is a contemporary arts space that supports and promotes the Chicano/Latino experience in the US and beyond with visual, literary and performance art.
It sounds like a mouthful and a little tough to imagine, but it’s really a great space for seeing the world through the eyes of the Latino community or seeing your own experiences reflected back at you.
MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana) supports new and developing artists.
Elena Guzman’s story of struggling with homelessness in New York’s Bronx district, while studying for her Masters Degree is an especially sobering one but necessary to understand that homelessness can affect anyone at any time of their life.
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art is on my family days out list because of its size and range of art on display. It’s not particularly large, making it easy to get through before younger kids lose interest.
Apart from that, this non-profit gallery featured a nice mixture of media. There was a collection of paintings inspired by the sea, by artist Healther Wilcoxon. A great spread of pieces collectively called Detritus, which are the offcuts, scraps and byproducts of the process of making art.
And lastly a video animation by Oakland artist Kate Rhoades, titled Karen, made entirely from pieces found at San Francisco’s solid waste and recycling center. It’s based on the “junk lady” character from Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth.
CHILDREN’S DISCOVERY MUSEUM OF SAN JOSE
What good are family days out without including a hands-on children’s museum that gives kids the opportunity to roam free in familiar surroundings?
And so we come to the Children’s Discovery Museum, built in the early 1990s to foster and inspire creativity, curiosity, and lifelong learning. It caters for newborns all the way up to 16-year-olds with dedicated spaces to keep everyone engaged.
It’s also a great place to stop for lunch – the museum’s cafe, called the FoodShed, focuses on healthy, nutritious food instead of the usual chips and pizza fare. It serves fresh seasonal foods that are low in added sugars, free from additives, chemicals and artificial ingredients. But don’t worry, it’s still stuff that your kids will want to eat!
The Crawl Space
Don’t be worried about tweens and teens running around if you’ve got toddlers and newborns, the museum has a special spot just for them.
The Crawl Space is a fully enclosed room partitioned into different sections for babies and those that are still getting around on all-fours. Apart from the self-guided activities, kids can get involved in story time, songs, and other activities designed for children up to four-years-old.
For the Older Kids
There’s so much to do – from discovering Mammoth fossils, to seeing the giant reconstructed beast towering over you. There’s art and crafts, a dance and theatre room and face painting. With a difference. The kids get to paint their own faces.
Who can resist climbing into a carriage used in wild western times? Or sitting in a fire engine pretending you’re on the way to expertly fight a blaze just like Fireman Sam? If I’m honest, the Children’s Museum had a lot of stuff that I wanted to do. Now I just need to borrow a child so that it doesn’t seem so strange! Anyone need a babysitter?
The bubble blowing room also gets my stamp of approval. Not only can parents help their kids make bubbles but there are lots of different ways that kids can learn to make bubbles as well.
The museum also hosts community cultural celebrations to help everyone get to know and enjoy Vietnamese and Latino traditions. We were lucky enough to visit during Lunada Familiar.
It carries on the tradition of gathering with family and friends on the night of the full moon to share stories, poetry, music and of course food. This is usually done in small towns around Mexico, but San Jose’s version is just as lively and colourful.
And there’s plenty of opportunity for the kids to grab hold of the microphone and join in. We witnessed a particularly spirited rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen, that put a smile on everyone’s faces.
Details & Sensory Friendly “Play Your Way” Sessions
The museum has set up special “Play Your Way” sessions for children aged two to 15 with autism. The session set up is guided by an Autism Advisory Group and staff are trained to help with hands-on learning.
It’s a great way of getting to know other families and learn about local Autism resources. You can also prepare your kids for the museum trip by checking out the museum’s online resources.
For details on tickets, prices and hours, please visit the museum website.
SHARKS, EARTHQUAKES, GIANTS & SPIDERS
They’re an odd bunch but they’ve got one thing in common: sports. That’s right, they’re all San Jose sporting teams in respective disciplines.
We’ve been through a lot of art and play-based activities but if you’ve got some avid sports fans in your midst, a trip to watch one of these teams battle it out on the field (or ice) might just be the boost your family days out need!
San Jose Sharks
Being from Australia, where the sun beats down fairly mercilessly, I’m not very accustomed to ice hockey. But having been to a Sharks game before, I can tell that they’re not joking when they say that San Jose bleeds teal for their team.
Get down to the SAP Center (AKA the Shark Tank) to spend the evening with 17,000 fellow hockey enthusiasts. I hear SJ Sharkie is the best mascot in the business.
Check the season schedule here.
San Jose Earthquakes
Soccer is my sport of choice and what better team to support than one that shakes the ground they play on? The Earthquakes play at Avaya Stadium and have been playing round ball football (as we sometimes call it in Australia) since 1974. Just in different incarnations. Yes, it used to be the San Jose Major League Soccer club, amongst other things.
Check the season schedule here.
San Jose Giants
The Giants are a minor league pro baseball team and play at the historic Municipal Stadium. As their name suggests, they’re affiliated with the San Francisco team, and are a farm team for them. So if you’re lucky you can see the next major league rising stars before the hit the big time! And for a fraction of the price.
Check the season schedule here.
San Jose Spiders
I’ve arguably saved the best for last. I give you the San Jose Spiders, in a game that we play on the beach and that I didn’t realise was a legitimate sport – frisbee. To be precise, Ultimate Frisbee. For the low, low price of $10 you can watch the Spiders play in the American Ultimate Disc League.
They’re no slouches either – the Spiders won the 2015 Championships and are always looking for another victory. They play at the Foothill College in Los Altos.
Check the season schedule here.
HAPPY HOLLOW PARK & ZOO
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a real San Jose community project – funded by sponsorships and donations, named by a local and it even boasts trees planted by the Campfire Girls. All this was back in the 1950s so it closed its doors in 2008 for a much-needed renovation and is back bigger and better than ever.
The zoo doubles as an amusement park that includes a roller coaster, puppet theatre and a petting zoo amongst its animals. I’d actually never heard of some of them – the capybara, fossa and collared peccary are all new to me.
If you’re hoping to learn a few new things, visit the education center, which focuses on sustainability and conservation. And if getting the kids to leave is a challenge at the end of the day you can always plan to stay for the “Howl-o-ween” family sleep over. Camp out in the zoo and learn all about what happens after dark.
For all the details on ticket prices and operating hours, please visit the Zoo’s website.