During our trip to San Diego in November, one of our favorite days out was at The New Children’s Museum, an interactive museum in Downtown offering immersive art activities and interactive art installations. There are so many great opportunities for fun, creativity and art that Little T, at 3 years old, easily spent over four hours exploring the museum.
The New Children’s Museum is designed for children of all ages, from toddler to tween, and spread out across three open floors and an outdoor patio. The space is always changing, and when we visited there was a three level tree-house decorated for Halloween and a giant inflatable bouncy tube at the entrance.
I’ve listed here the art installations and studios we visited. The New Children’s Museum regularly updates their installations, workshops and programs and provides information on their website on what there currently is to see and do.
We started upstairs, where you’ll find activities for toddlers and dedicated play spaces for babies (Tot Studio by the window). Wobbleland is an active space for children age 4 and under, and designed to be a giant kitchen sink with soft sculptures of food to be stacked, sorted or rocked. I managed a shot when it was just the two of us, but this beautifully-designed soft play area filled up quickly with little ones – great place to start at if you’re visiting with a toddler.
My favorite area was the outdoor patio that had this fantastic paint studio featuring a covered wagon, cacti and fence to be painted with the color of the day! I enjoyed painting too – you can see my random paint strokes here and there. The paint, of course, washes off very easily and there’s a row of sinks nearby.
On the other side of the patio is the Clay Studio, with plenty of tools and molds to create art. There’s an area to dry your clay sculptures in the sun – just don’t forget to pick them up before you leave! We had made some great little souvenirs I would have loved to bring home.
The Innovators Lab is geared towards families with children aged 7-13, so while we didn’t take part, I wanted to include this area to give an idea of activities available for older children.
The New Children’s Museum’s Creative Team works with local artists and experts from various fields – including architects and engineers – to create skill-building projects that explore real world issues. Topics have included buoyancy and electricity, and a current project explores balance and involves developing and sculpting your own spinning top out of wax (check website for workshop times.)
Cars with a curvy track to move around on – the Desert Derby was particularly popular and an area we spent a lot of time in! I was interested to learn that the art installation was inspired by the California aqueduct, a 700-mile-long pipe and engineering feat that delivers water from Northern to Southern California. The blue shape in the center, blocked in with the dam, represents a reservoir to store water.
Although Southern California’s natural water supply can support only 2 million people, over 23 million people can live there thanks to the California aqueduct. It’s truly an engineering phenomenon, however, Southern Californians know more about the area’s freeways than their waterways.
Exactly what it says on the tin! Basically loads of cardboard and fabric – perfect for building forts and much more.
The Rain House
We passed briefly through this vibrant Rain House, which is a creative space where children could explore and play like they might on a rainy day at home – complete with the gentle sounds of raindrops in the room.
The Wonder Sound
This playhouse was made with 18,000 hand-cut wooden shapes, a labyrinth of rooms and passageways, covered with beautiful paintings and inspiring messages. Little T had a blast climbing around here and ducking into the various rooms with other kids.
The Car-a-oake sculpture – a replica of the artist’s 1984 Mercedes Benz he bought when he moved to California – has a radio and microphone inside to bring out your inner dashboard superstar, belting out tunes like no one is watching. From what I remember too, there’s a TV where you watch yourself singing! This installation questions the effect that the car has on Californians, who each spend an average of 90 hours a year in traffic.
There were several more studios and installations I haven’t covered here, along with a library and dress up box downstairs. It’s worth having a look at the New Children’s Museum’s website ahead of your visit to see the latest workshops and installations available, but you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful time exploring this unique, creative space. It’s an excellent museum that caters so well to the whole family – and it’s no wonder all the local mothers I met are annual members. It’s a place we would certainly return to on our next visit to San Diego!
The New Children’s Museum
Address: 200 West Island Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
Opening Hours: Mon, Wed, Thu, Sat: 1000 – 1600. Tuesday CLOSED. Fri: 0930 – 1600. Sun: 1200 – 1600.
Closest Trolley Stop: Convention Center Station
Tickets: Adult and children 1+ tickets are $13.00; children under 1 go free; seniors (65+) $8.50 and military w/ ID $6.50.
Good to Know:
- Tickets are valid for the whole day, and you will get a sticker to show whenever you re-enter the museum.
- The museum has a calendar of programs and workshops that includes a toddler program every Friday morning (free with admission). Have a look at the museum calendar for the up-to-date schedule and latest events and workshops.
- As of February 1st, the on-site café is under construction – check the museum website for latest information. The museum has a local list of family-friendly restaurants on its website (also at its Welcome Desk) with many offering discounts (10 – 20% off meal) for museum visitors / members.
- Street parking in the Downtown area is scarce and most spots are for 2 hour stay only. The New Children’s Museum has limited parking in its garage for $10/car (accessed from Union Street), which I’d recommend checking first because other parking lots in the area often charge a flat day rate of $15-$20. Check out the website for the museum’s current parking prices.
- Another option is to take the trolley into Downtown – the closest stop is a short walk away from the museum (Green Line, Convention Center) and most trolley stations around San Diego offer free parking. The Metropolitan Transit System has a list of trolley stops with parking, by trolley line. Morena/Linda Vista, Fashion Valley and the Old Town Transit Center are convenient for those staying in the Mission Valley / Mission Bay areas.
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