Heck, let your actual children come along too! These three San Francisco museums, which range from expensive to free, totally bust the stereotype of museums as dusty and stodgy.
The Exploratorium: Unlike old-school art museums, The Exploratorium not only lets children touch the exhibits, it encourages kids to explore with all their senses. Exhibits on California's fault lines, how human knees make skateboards change direction, and what the penguins are doing in the Antarctic these days are just some of the draws. The Tactile Dome costs extra, but it’s worth it to take sight out of your picture and feel the world in a totally different way. Take a long walk or a short bus ride to the Exploratorium from the Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square.
Cartoon Art Museum: From the fun of Saturday morning cartoons to the high artistry of classic Disney films all the way to the stunning visuals of video games, the creative genius that goes into cartoons is on display in this smallish SoMa museum. Though the name has ‘cartoon’ in it, this museum’s collections draw teens and adults more than smaller kids. (Some exhibitions even focus on adult-themed cartoon art.) Check the offerings online before dragging the family down from the Palace Hotel or the St. Regis San Francisco.
Musee Mechanique: At this private little museum, hundreds of mechanical games ranging from 19th century wonders to 1980's Ms. Pac Man inhabit an old warehouse space at Pier 45 along Fisherman’s Wharf. Entry is free, and most games cost 50 cents per play. Plenty of arcade-style change machines on-site make it easy to get a song from a player piano, to see a hydraulic mining wonder machine, or to play a quick game of skee-ball. The Musee is the perfect place to kill some time before a seafood dinner on the Wharf, and it’s within easy walking distance of the Radisson Hotel Fisherman’s Wharf.
--Liz Hamill Scott of eatswritesandleaves.com and travelswithpain.com