The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego melds local art with a hands-on approach that appeals to young children. Kids may not “get” the artistic emotion behind each of the exhibits, but that won’t matter. They’ll just have fun ping-ponging around the rooms, exploring and discovering! And yes, even learning along the way.
New Children’s Museum in San Diego
The New Children’s Museum is three stories tall with activities for all ages throughout. Entry is on the middle floor and tall glass windows offer a view of the palm tree court yard outside. Part of the beauty of The New Children’s Museum is that it is ever-evolving. What was on display during one visit may change on your next visit. Keep that in mind while reading this review – what we saw might not be there when you go.
Who Will Enjoy the New Children’s Museum?
The activities in the museum will satisfy a range of ages. I’ve been to the The New Children’s Museum many times over the years with my kids, bringing them when they were toddlers and tweens. I’d say that the age interest tops out around age 12.
Some of the activities younger and older kids may enjoy doing together, like climbing structures and some craft spaces. Some activities all of my kids participate in together but might have held the older kid’s attention longer, like clay sculpting. Other activities were just for younger ones, including a soft-play area for kids under 4.
The New Children’s Museum in San Diego offers a mix of activities, no matter what type of kid you have. There are active play areas for exercising large motor skills, art areas for creating and using your hands, as well as restful quiet areas for taking a break. Adults are encouraged in all areas to play alongside their children.
Exploration That Encourages Movement
Because of the changing nature of this museum there are art installations that come and go in this creative space. Many of them encourage active play, so dress you kiddos in comfy clothes and a pair of socks – some spaces require them to take off their shoes. Your kids are going to get sweaty from climbing and running around and might even take a really good nap afterwards!
The newest installation is called Whammock! It’s an interactive textile playground. Resembling a large, colorful knit hammock, there are places to climb inside, nesting cocoons and pendulums to swing from.
Kids love to jump on the bed? The mattress room has moe than 40 mattresses and 160 pillows that look like tires that encourage bouncing and crawling.
More Ways to Play
Another active play area is The Rain House. Not any actual drops of rain (it is San Diego, after all!), but a playhouse of imagination that children could spend time in if it should rain.
The Wonder Sound is a beautiful and imaginative labyrinth of rooms begging to be explored, with places to climb and hide. There’s a rope web, pulleys and places to make music inside the tiny rooms.
Dining at the New Children’s Museum
On the first floor there is a Bean Sprouts Cafe and lounge for dining, outdoor patio and a nursing area. Outside food is allowed but must be eaten in this lounge area. We usually bring in our own snacks and drinks and enjoy them mid-day. Bean Sprouts offers healthy “clean eating” options that are truly kid-friendly and fun. For example, there’s a sunflower butter and organic jam sandwich that’s cut to look like piano keys!
I was glad the museum allowed in and out privileges as well as outside food. I dislike feeling “stuck” having to purchase from museum cafes, especially when I’m visiting on a budget. There are many local restaurants within walking distance of the museum. Just ask the front desk. Some of the restaurants offer a discount if you show your museum ticket.
Dress for a Mess
There are some seriously messy play areas, like painting, chalk and clay. There are aprons available to borrow in a variety of sizes. But kids being kids, an apron is only going to do so much! Don’t wear fancy clothes and let the kids get messy and have fun. Also the space tends to get a little warm (especially on the upper floor) so dress lightly during hot weather. You can always catch a breeze outside on one of the patios if you get overly warm.
One corner outside on the large patio space is reserved for painting. Kids can paint here with the “color of the day” onto the display (it’s currently a 1950s Dodge truck). Kids use chunky brushes, sometimes reverting to just swirling the paint on with their hands!
This Museum is Hands On
On the other end of the patio is the clay studio. Everyone is encouraged to take a chunk of clay and some tools to work at the low tables. Creations are set in the sun to dry and can be taken home.
Before coming to the New Children’s Museum check the website for facilitated workshop dates and times. There are projects for all ages. Inside the Tot Studios, kids 4 and under will have guided workshops with hands-on projects. The Innovators Lab (for kids aged 7+) is a “makerspace” for older kids to work with local artists and experts.
Fortunately with all this messy play there were lots of large sinks with soap and towels for washing up. I also appreciated that there were plenty of bathrooms in the museum, including family-sized bathrooms with diaper changing stations.
From Quiet to Raucous Play
While much of the New Children’s Museum is geared towards noise and active play, there are additional areas that are quiet spaces. The three levels of the museum are easily accessed via stairs or the elevator so you can escape noisy areas quickly, which is particularly helpful if you have a child with special needs.
The Sandbox Gallery is nestled in a small, dimly lit space accented with the sound of waves. A “boardwalk” type walkway lines the room with benches and contains a soft sandpit in the center. Ditch shoes into the cubby at the door and be transported to the beach at night. Sand toys, buckets and brushes are available for quiet and relaxing sand play. My 3-year old and his 11-year old sister (who has autism) happily sifted sand and buried their feet.
More Quiet Play Areas (and a Place for Toddlers)
In other locations, there are places to build towers with small planks of wood or enjoy dress-up fun with easy-on costumes sized for kids. There’s also a quiet reading area where families can sit with a book from the museum library. The Sketch Aquarium allows kids to design and color their own sea creature, which is then scanned in and displayed on interactive screens.
My little ones love to play in “Wobbleland,” an adorable soft play area only for kids under 4 years. It appears like the kids are in a giant stainless steel sink, complete with pouring water fountain and soft-play fruits and vegetables like the rocking-horse avocado and a sailboat watermelon.d
Tips for Your Trip
We were at the museum within 30 minutes of opening on a Monday and it was already pretty busy. The crowd thinned as the afternoon went on as many of the museum members with toddlers left. I would recommend avoiding weekends if possible. Crowds tend to be heavy on Saturdays and Sundays.
The museum has limited seating space. I recommend wearing comfortable shoes because you’ll be standing a lot. Adults are encouraged to join in on the play with children when possible so kick off your shoes and get in there with the kids! Strollers are welcome inside the New Children’s Museum with areas inside to park them.
This is definitely not a rush-in and out place as kids will enjoy meandering and playing at their own pace. Set aside a few hours to spend at The New Children’s Museum and let them just relax, play and learn without a brisk timeline.
Location, Tickets and Parking
The New Children’s Museum is located in downtown San Diego, near Seaport Village, the San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park. Address is 200 West Island Ave., San Diego, CA 92101.
Infants who have not yet reached their first birthday are free to enter the museum. All other adults and children are $14 each; seniors and military with ID are $10. Visiting during October? During the Kids Free October promotion in San Diego, two kids get free admission with each paid adult.
Parking is $10 on weekdays, $15 on weekends and is located in a garage under the museum. There is also metered parking on the street. Public transportation is another good way to get there, as it stops just a short way from the museum entrance.
If you’re looking for more to do in the area with the kids, check out this walking tour of downtown San Diego.