The Tech Museum,San Jose
Other children’s museums and kid-oriented attractions had to step up their game when this place moved into its flashy digs on San Carlos in 1998. The Tech Museum was, and still is, the place to indulge your inner geek, by playing with complicated electronic contraptions that looked like the things your parents told you not to mess with, and ogling the awesome IMAX dome. While not all of us grew up to be programmers, we all got a quick thrill riding the earthquake simulator, piloting our own jet pack, or spelling out dirty words with the alphabet-block robot on the 2nd floor.
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, San Jose
It’s pretty much agreed that the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is the coolest place you’ll ever be forced to go. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum throws you head-first into the world of the Ancient Egyptians, jam-packed with ancient art and pottery, well-preserved mummies, and even a life-size, walk-through model of an Egyptian tomb. Even the most determined class clown, when faced with artifacts that have survived thousands upon thousands of years, had to wonder what the Egyptians were doing right. There’s a good chance the Rosicrucian Museum might have, even for a few hours, made you care about history.
Walden West Outdoor School, Saratoga/Camp Campbell, Boulder Creek
Some time in 6th grade, you probably faced your first real rite of passage – a week at science camp, most likely either Walden West in Saratoga or Camp Campbell in Boulder Creek. No matter which one you went to, everyone has a story from the cabins that they won’t soon forget (The boyfriend-stealing! The fights over hot water in the shower! The troublemaker who got sent home! The immense heartbreak of your last night together!). Everyone comes home from science camp with at least one good story, a better understanding of the natural world, and also with an embarrassing ‘nature name’.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey
Usually reserved for the big, ‘you’ve been passably well-behaved for the last 9 months, here’s your reward’, end-of-the-year trip, the Monterey Bay Aquarium was a big deal. It was so far away, and the place was so big, it almost felt like you were skipping school. You even might have gotten your first taste of freedom at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where some teachers decided you were responsible enough to run wild throughout the joint and meet them back at the gift shop at a certain time. The Monterey Bay Aquarium had it all—petting manta rays, a shark tank, and otters. Oh, those adorable otters…
History Park at Kelley Park, San Jose
If you grew up in the area, chances are you probably spent a day at History Park, probably around your 3rd or 4th grade year, wandering the grounds, which are replete with replicas and real-deals of buildings that were once commonplace in turn-of-the-century San Jose. Though the idea was to get you to learn about history, the big draw was always the candy counter, where many allowances were spent (some might say ‘wasted’) on rock candy, ice cream, and old-fashioned, hand-mixed Cokes.
Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose
CDM might have been your first field trip. And was there a better one? Nothing can compare to pretend-shopping in the store, pretend-mailing stuff in the post office, and pretend-driving the fire truck or the stagecoach. Oh, and as much as we know you want to, don’t stick your face in the big red impression wall to see what it looks like on the other side. Aside from being unsanitary, it really is kind of dangerous.
Tide Pools at Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz
A trip to Natural Bridges, even in late spring, always acted as foggy, cool, coastal escape from a warm San Jose afternoon. Natural Bridges provided a rare opportunity get up close and personal with animals that are usually behind glass – at low tide, a docent lead your class out to the tide pools and let you traipse along the rocks, spotting starfish, anemone, and crabs in their natural habitat.
Alum Rock Park, San Jose
What’s that smell? Why, it’s the enticing, rotten-egg aroma of sulfur, and there’s a huge concentration of it in the water that flows in the mineral springs at Alum Rock Park. As unpleasantly pungent as Alum Rock Park may be, it’s home to the Youth Science Institute, where students can take in science exhibits and meet a small collection of feathered friends that the Institute studies and cares for.
Emma Prusch Farm Park, San Jose
The last thing you’d expect to see under the freeway at Story and King is sprawling green acreage, but there Emma Prusch Farm Park stands, as it has for almost 50 years. Prusch Farm Park has a barn that houses friendly livestock that like to meet and greet with younger kids, making it a popular field trip with preschools, kindergarten classes and day camps. Emma Prusch Farms experiencing a renaissance of sorts these days, gaining new relevance as the curators of Veggielution, a community farm program aiming to create a sustainable stock of vegetables for San Joseans.
Ainsley House, Campbell
Maybe this one’s only for Campbellites—some people who grew up in the more far-flung regions of Santa Clara County report no knowledge of the Ainsley House’s existence. But Campbell kids know the Ainsley House well, and know the story of the Ainsleys, English immigrants who cashed in on the valley’s agricultural boom of the 1900s-20s. Their house was moved to downtown Campbell in 1990, and now stands as a representation of the grand houses of agriculture kingpins that once dotted the landscape, back when the valley was nothing but pastoral farmland.