San Francisco is full of wonderful museums, parks, and activities for kids and we all have our go-to spots. One of my family’s absolute favorites is the Randall Museum, where city kids have been going for over 65 years to learn about science, nature, and art. After a $9 million renovation, which I recently had the chance to preview, the Randall is reopening on Sunday, February 11, and it’s looking pretty amazing. Here are ten things, new and old, that I love about this San Francisco treasure.
One of the things that really distinguishes the Randall Museum from the crowd is that admission is free (the museum is owned and operated by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department). This makes the Randall accessible to all, unlike the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium and most other Bay Area museums of its kind (great spots, but pricey!) But if you have the means, do consider becoming a member of the Randall Museum Friends, a non-profit organization that supports the museum and provides much of its programming. A $45 annual family membership gets you reduced tuition and priority registration for Randall Museum classes (many of which tend to fill up very quickly), invitations to special events, and the satisfaction of helping support a true San Francisco gem.
Whether it’s the Randall’s manageable size, cozy nooks, or friendly staff, there is something special about it that kids love. My own daughters, now 10 and almost 12, started coming to the Randall when they were in preschool, regularly attending annual family days and taking classes. They were afraid that the museum would lose its homey, “Randall” character as a result of the renovation, but after getting a sneak peek at the beautifully updated museum, I can assure them and you that nothing has changed in this regard. While the Randall is better than ever, this remains a place where kids will feel very much at home.
Educational & Engaging Exhibits
With hands-on exhibits, interesting artifacts and engaging displays (most with a California focus), the Randall is a fabulous place for kids to learn about science, nature, and history. Highlights include the revamped live animal room — home to a raccoon, a covey of quail (new to the museum), lizards, turtles, snakes, and more; a new oceans room; geology and seismology exhibits; and the ever-popular Golden Gate Model Railroad, which is now open every day during regular museum hours (previously, it was only open on Saturdays). For those who’ve been to the Randall pre-renovation, you will notice there is now a lot more for kids to see and do, with new and upgraded exhibits and facilities throughout the museum.
The Toddler Room
The Randall’s light and bright toddler room, with its “treehouse” climbing structure, colorful wall mural, toys, and books, is a godsend if your kids are still in the crawling or toddling phase of life. It’s been awhile since my kids were tots, but I remember how exhausting museums can be for little ones – and for parents of such small creatures. That’s why it’s so great to be able to take your kids to a cozy space where they can just take a break or get the wiggles out when they reach the end of their attention span.
In addition to being a museum, the Randall offers some of the city’s best and most affordable enrichment classes for kids, spanning a wide range of topics in art, science, technology, ceramics, and woodworking (my younger daughter’s favorite was a parent-child woodworking class we took when she was in preschool). From art classes for children as young as 14 months to laser cutting classes for teens in the museum’s new STEM studio (“The Garage”), there is something for all ages and interests at the Randall.
Fun Family Days
My kids always look forward to the Randall’s annual family days, which include Bug Day (scheduled this year on April 21), Halloween Day (in October) and Holiday Crafts Day (in December). Admission to these special events is free, and you just need to buy tickets for your kids to take part in the various games and crafts on offer. Bug Day, as the name suggests, is the place to learn all you ever wanted to know and more about our insect friends (in past years, there has even been bug ice cream to sample!), Halloween Day is an especially nice venue for little kids to take part in daytime Halloween festivities (wear your costumes!), and kids can make a variety of gift-able crafts like lip balm, candles, and soaps, at the Holiday Crafts Day. You’ll find live music performances and a joyful, family-friendly vibe at all three events.
Unique Birthday Parties
The Randall Museum is also a great venue for birthday parties (on Sundays only). There are three options, including supervised arts and crafts, a private visit to the museum’s animal room, or on select Sundays, a children’s juggling and comedy performance by the Buddy Show in the Randall’s theater. My younger daughter had her 6th birthday celebration at the Randall Museum (we opted for the Buddy Show party), and she and her friends all had a great time.
Beautiful Setting & Outdoor Space
The Randall Museum’s beautiful location in a peaceful, park-like setting in San Francisco’s Corona Heights neighborhood, just above the bustling Castro, is in and of itself a good reason to go there. Bring a picnic lunch and let your kids run around in the grass and play hide and seek among the trees while you enjoy the view. If your kids are up for a hike, you can take them on a short but steep hike to the rocky summit of Corona Heights Park, immediately adjacent to the museum.
The Randall provides free parking in a 70-space lot immediately adjacent to the museum; no small thing in a city where parking – especially with kids in tow – can be one of life’s greatest challenges and usually comes at a price. The lot does tend to fill up on Saturdays and during special events, but in my experience, parking is usually not a problem during the week. And if the lot is full, there is free street parking to be found in the neighborhood.
Okay, now this is big . . . One thing that the old Randall lacked prior to the renovation was a place to buy food and the ever-important cup of coffee. The new Randall has a sweet little café – Café Josephine, named after the city’s first Superintendent of Recreation, Josephine Randall – selling healthy snacks, drinks and yes, coffee! So if your kids (or you!) are getting hangry and you’ve forgotten the snacks, no need to hurry home. Now you can grab a bite at Café Josephine, reenergize, and spend more time at the museum.
Are you as excited as I am to take your kids to the new Randall Museum? Here’s where to find it and when:
Location: 199 Museum Way, San Francisco (Corona Heights neighborhood)
Grand Reopening: Sunday, February 11, 2018 from 10am-3pm (find all the details here)
Regular Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am – 5pm.