Local culture: Family-friendly museums fosterfun and learning close to home

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Dante Herrera Urovitch, left, examines an exhibit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

A day at a museum doesn’t have to mean a trek to San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose - fascinating possibilities abound right in the neighborhood. Local museums highlight art, technology, history and more.

Descriptions of a few of the offerings in Los Altos and Mountain View and at Stanford University follow.

Computer History Museum

Whether one is interested in computers, mathematics, autonomous vehicles or entrepreneurship, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View presents ongoing exhibits and hands-on activities for everyone in the family. Many of the museum’s exhibits also can be accessed online.

According to Kate McGregor, manager of family and community programs, "Saturdays are a great day for families at the Computer History Museum." That’s the day the museum offers several guided experiences - led by teen interns - along with 30-minute family tours scheduled 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Museum exhibits include: "Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing," chronicling the world history of computing; "Make Software: Change the World," exploring the history, impact and technology behind MP3, Photoshop, MRI, car crash simulation, Wikipedia, texting and World of Warcraft; "A History of Autonomous Vehicles," examining the challenge of bringing self-driving cars to the general public, and how autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles have long roamed air, sea and space; "One Word: Advice from Silicon Valley" (through July), aiming to inspire visitors to think about what it takes to start and build a company; demo labs of the IBM 1401 and Digital Equipment PDP-1 computers; and "Thinking Big: Ada, Countess of Lovelace," featuring English mathematician and visionary Ada Lovelace (1815-1852).

Upcoming special events include:

• Lecture. "Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist, Augusta Ada King’s Life in Mathematics, 1815-1843" is scheduled 6 p.m. March 18 (lecture begins at 7 p.m.). Two of the co-authors of "Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist" - Ursula Martin and Adrian Rice - will discuss Lovelace’s life in mathematics and its relevance today. The lecture also will be streamed live on the museum’s Facebook page at

• Design_Code_Build sessions. Offered throughout the year, the sessions provide hands-on science, technology, engineering, arts and math learning opportunities for students. A Design_Code_Build All Girls Edition for girls in grades 6-8 is slated 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 30. Cost is $15 per student.

The Computer History Museum is located at 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Docent-led tours and demonstrations are available at specific times. Admission fees range from free for children 7 and younger to $17.50.

For more information, call 810-1010 or visit

Los Altos History Museum

Blending history and art, the Los Altos History Museum provides both a trip back in time and the best of present-day Silicon Valley. Adjacent to the civic center heritage orchard, the museum features changing exhibitions as well as a permanent collection. The ongoing "The Crown of the Peninsula" display explores the history of Los Altos and the surrounding area through photographs, paintings, artifacts and a replica of old Los Altos complete with model railroad. The J. Gilbert Smith House (built 1901-1905), refurbished to replicate a 1930s farmhouse, was designated a local historical landmark and a California State Point of Historical Interest.

The museum’s current exhibition, "Inspired by Juana: La Doña de la Frontera," runs through March 31. Juana Briones y Tapia de Miranda (1802-1889) once owned the land that currently comprises most of Los Altos Hills and parts of Los Altos and Palo Alto. The show, which includes displays created by local high school students during a two-week summer workshop, explores many aspects of Briones’ life, including her abusive marriage, her work as a healer and her farming activities and land ownership.

A related special activity, Rancho Day, is scheduled March 16. Visitors can participate in hands-on activities and watch demonstrations such as sheep-shearing, roping, blacksmithing and adobe brick-making.

A new exhibition, "Silicon Valley Eats," set to open May 11 and run through Sept. 8, will explore food trends of the local area, from the native Ohlones to the modern palate. Related activities include cooking classes and a summer camp for kids.

The museum hosts a number of family-friendly events every year, such as the Apricot STEM Fair in late June and the popular Train Days in September, which attracted more than 3,000 visitors at 2018’s 10th annual event. Another crowd-pleasing annual event is November’s Catch the Spirit, featuring the J. Gilbert Smith house decorated for Christmas, Schola Cantorum singing holiday songs and home-baked treats.

Diane Holcomb, who works in outreach for the museum, said the facility has something for everyone.

"Kids like the train diorama on the third floor, and sitting on the tractor outside, and looking at the three-person outhouse," she said. "The Smith House is another fun attraction for all ages, to step back in time."

The Los Altos History Museum is located at 51 S. San Antonio Road. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. (Inquire for tours of the J. Gilbert Smith House.) Admission is free. For more information, call 948-9427 or visit

Cantor Arts Center

To inspire one’s artistic side, Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center boasts a variety of art and activities for all ages. Regularly scheduled tours showcase the museum’s highlights and its Rodin sculpture collection.

The temporary exhibition "Do Ho Suh: The Spaces in Between" is on display through May 27. Artist Do Ho Suh brings attention to themes of migration and transnational identity and questions cultural and aesthetic differences between his native Korea and his adopted homes in the U.S. and Europe.

Upcoming special family programs at Cantor Arts Center include:

• Second Sundays. The monthly events feature art talks and hands-on creating centered on a specific theme. Stop by the information desk in the Atrium or the Diekman Gallery on the first floor for a schedule; schedules are available on Second Sundays only.

• Sunday Spotlight. The 15-minute gallery talks, designed for all ages, start at 11:30 a.m. and continue on the half-hour until 3 p.m.

• Drop-in Studio. The studio offers hands-on art making for all ages. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Art packs. Supplies are available for sketching during gallery visits, and an art-making activity table, inspired by art currently on display, offers a creative break from touring.

Diane Holaday, educational programs associate, said the activities are extremely popular and Cantor Arts Center sees many repeat visitors.

"Families like that the program can be appreciated according to each family’s time and interest level," she said. "Adults and children work together as partners in the creative (art making) process."

Cantor Arts Center is located at 328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way on the Stanford University campus. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Admission is free.

For more information, call 498-1480 or visit ◆

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