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Children’s Museum of Sonoma County


The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County

By Anya Por

I walked into the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County with my 21-month-old daughter, who had recently given up her midafternoon nap but whose nervous a hasn’t yet gotten the memo. I’d heard that the museum is a gem for young families and was excited to investigate, hoping for an hour of entertainment to push her over the ledge into sleepy land on the car-ride home. 

Easy to find on West Steele Lane next to the Snoopy Empire, the museum is well-situated near Yogurt Time and the Coddingtown Mall. The parking lot is calm and shady, family friendly from the start! Young rail enthusiasts can hear the SMART train whistle blow at frequent intervals, adding ambiance thrilling to the average three year old.

We met no lines and three friendly greeters at the entrance. Daily admission is $10 for adults and children alike, but a reasonable yearly membership offers unlimited access. While my tot became immersed in a blown air exhibit, I met a frequent flyer swaying back and forth with a newborn in a sling. Her 6 and 8 year olds had been happily playing for three hours already, she told me. This mama chose to be a member because her subscription had paid for itself in just a few trips and she appreciated the deep discounts at the many partnering museums. 

A great deal of thought went into the design of this sweet little museum which was busy but didn’t feel crowded by the many enthralled toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. It is rare to find something accessible to your infant that will engage your 8-year old, too. Each exhibit is sponsored by a local business, giving patrons a sense of the interconnectedness of our community and showing us which businesses and organizations are committed to educating Sonoma County children.

Originally founded in 2005 as a Museum-On-the-Go by parents who dreamt of bringing quality educational enrichment closer to home, the museum found its permanent home in 2014. If you have not visited since the early days, you will find that they’ve increased the number of exhibits and you can stay all day without fear of your children whining the song of their people, “We’re booored!” My already tired toddler happily played for more than three hours and then crashed hard for a long nap at home. Victory!

The multi-level indoor exhibits provide endless opportunities for discovery through play. An entire room dedicated to those under 2-and-a-half years old features climbing and sensory stations and imaginative toys. Crawlers and toddlers freely explore a clean, interesting environment, shielded from boisterous bigger kids. A docent popped in and kindly banished a pair of rowdy four year olds who had snuck in and were behaving like four year olds for about 30 seconds.

To enjoy the outdoor exhibits on their environmentally landscaped grounds, bring a hat and dress accordingly. On warm days, children can get wet toes and tummies playing with the (filtered) water installations and stream equipped with minnows and nets for catch and release! The yard is an expansive paradise for tots and caregivers alike with shaded benches to rest on while little ones flit about. Vast wild zones offer adventurers space for unstructured play and picnic tables provide refuge for hungry explorers with a well-stocked, healthy vending machine dispensing healthy and organic favorites from Apple Juice to Z-Bars.

Designed for caregivers’ comfort, the well-equipped family bathrooms have tiny toilets next to the regular commodes, steps at the sink for easy hand-washing with fragrance free soaps and emergency kits with diapers and clean, used clothing for those dreaded ill-equipped moments. 

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County succeeds in creating an inclusive, nurturing place for learning, free of corporate branding and binary gender programming (no princesses, no Nemo and no pink exhibits for girls!). Just good, clean (and messy) fun!  Enjoy the clean, comfortable, bright and friendly atmosphere while your children make discoveries about life and science through inspired play. Just don’t tell them they’re learning!

As we left, I asked my tot what she thought about the museum. Her reply, an enthusiastic “Up!” – her highest praise.

Children’s Museum of Sonoma County
1835 W. Steele Ln, Santa Rosa
(707) 546-4069
Open daily 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., closed most Tuesdays
Admission $10; infants free