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What Is the Bay Area Discovery Museum?

By Angie Pollock
Updated May 17, 2024
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An American museum located in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, the Bay Area Discovery Museum was created by four parents with a focus on early childhood learning, primarily 6 months through 8 years of age. Situated near the Golden Gate Bridge, the museum opened its pilot site in Corte Madera in 1987 and later moved to Fort Baker in 1991. The facility features unique indoor and outdoor experiences that emphasize learning in a child-oriented environment. In addition, it also hosts permanent exhibitions as well as a variety of themed special showings throughout the year. It has also been awarded a number of esteemed awards both locally and nationally.

Historic Fort Baker features various unused Army structures which were re-designed to accommodate the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Since its inception at the fort in 1991, the museum has expanded to feature more exhibitions and the one-of-a-kind outdoor Lookout Cove. Covering 2.5 acres (one hectare), Lookout Cove is an interactive educational site featuring an authentic fishing boat for exploring, a hiking trail with views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, and a shipwreck for discovering artifacts. Also featured outdoors is Imagination Playground designed by architect David Rockwell that allows children to explore and build with over-sized building toys.

Indoors, the Bay Area Discovery Museum features a variety of interactive areas including Bay Hall, Discovery Hall, and the Art Studios. Each area houses different exhibits and sections for exploration. At Bay Hall, children can discover the Fisherman’s Wharf or enjoy the vintage train set at the Trains exhibit. The adventures available at Discovery Hall change throughout the year, while the Art Studios offer opportunities for children to express their creative side through visual arts.

For the youngest children, the Tot Spot provides both indoor and outdoor imaginative play. Inside are the Wetlands and Woodlands displays, which help young children learn coordination through rolling, jumping, and climbing. Outside, toddlers can explore The Stream and The Meadow, which feature a stream bed and grassy area.

Both permanent and special exhibitions are featured at Bay Area Discovery Museum. The special exhibitions are generally themed-oriented focusing on areas such as space and animal habitats. Part of the permanent offerings include Discovery Theatre, a 180-seat theatre for performing arts. Along with the permanent and special exhibitions, the museum hosts special events throughout the year that focus on celebrating special holidays or offering children a glimpse into world cultures with events such as the Chinese New Year Celebration.

The Bay Area Discovery Museum has been awarded many accolades from both private and public sectors. In 2005, the California Preservation Foundation recognized the museum with the Preservation Design Award, and, in 1992, the museum received the National Historic Preservation Award. Since its inception, the museum has also been recognized as a Top 20 Children’s Museum, Best Children’s Attraction, and Best Family Outing in the United States. From 2005 through 2011, Bay Area Parent magazine awarded Bay Area Discovery Museum with the silver medal for Best Museum and the bronze medal for Best Kid’s Birthday.

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