Love To Learn: Museums To Start The School Year


“Museum.” For some, this word piques excitement and interest. For many, it evokes bored childhood memories of hushed voices, slowly plodding steps, and the ever-constant scolding: “Don’t touch that!”

If you fall into the latter category, it might be time to give museums another try. Among its many treasures, the North State can boast of top-quality museums that feature everything from modern science to local history. Hands-on activities entertain young children, interactive experiments intrigue older kids, and relevant, informative exhibits fascinate all ages.

The region’s local museums turn learning into a fun process of discovery that can help gear kids’ minds up for a new school year. Spending time in these kid-friendly environments can also teach positive public behavior, like using indoor voices to avoid frightening an animal, or taking turns with other kids at an experiment table.

Plus, a nice air-conditioned museum offers kids a great way to get off the couch and away from television and other electronic devices while also staying cool on hot end-of-summer days.

Check out the list below to see some of the museum options the North State has to offers.

art-0801-museums5Gateway Science Museum; Chico. Since opening in 2010, this hands-on museum has certainly lived up to its mission of “inspiring the exploration of science and natural history in the Butte County region and beyond.” Open Wednesday through Sunday, the Gateway Science Museum makes weekend visits especially tantalizing by offering special hands-on activities included in museum admission. In August, kids can explore the science of coloring candy, study different kinds of volcanoes and the properties of lava, stir up a batch of gak, and construct a maze for a marble. A special summer exhibit features tree houses that researchers use to study wildlife in forests and jungles. Ongoing exhibits include the museum’s drought-tolerant gardens, the skeletons of ice-age animals, and cross-sections of some of Chico’s oldest valley oak trees. For those who can’t get enough of museums, the Gateway Science Museum is conveniently located next to the historic Bidwell Mansion, which offers guided tours Friday through Monday during the summer. 625 Esplanade. (530) 898-4121.

Gold Nugget Museum; Paradise. When visitors step onto Gold Nugget Museum’s property, they step back into California’s rich history. This volunteer-run museum strives to not only preserve the area’s past, but to bring it to life. Toward that end, the museum offers teachers, students and parents day-long living history programs during the school year. In one program, participants experience the lives of 1850s pioneers by making butter, weaving cloth, and mining for gold. An alternate program teaches kids to grind acorns, dance and throw spears like the Maidu people. In August, the museum hosts a special Dutch Oven Cook-off, an event that draws chefs and community members alike for the competition and delicious food. Normal museum hours are 12-4pm Wednesday through Sunday, and regular exhibits include Maidu Indian artifacts, a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse, a miner’s cabin and a covered bridge.
502 Pearson Rd. (530) 872-8722.

art-0801-museums3Paradise Depot Museum. A venue of the Gold Nugget Museum, this wonderful grass-roots museum is located in the Paradise Community Park and features a full-sized restored caboose in addition to its star attraction: a 30-foot working HO gauge model of the Butte County Railroad. Kids can operate the interactive model that represents the 33-mile rail line that ran between Chico and Stirling City. Though typically open only on weekends, for the month of August the Depot Museum opens its doors for a weekly “Party in the Park,” from 5:30-8pm on Thursday evenings. 5570 Black Olive Dr. (530) 872-8722.

art-0801-museums4Gaumer’s Mineral & Mining Museum; Red Bluff. Set in Gaumer’s jewelry and lapidary shop, this unexpected gem of a museum will delight everyone in your family, from the novice geologists to the fashion divas. The museum displays collections of fossils, rocks and gems from all over the world, and Native American artifacts. Perhaps most fascinating are the fluorescent minerals, which glow under black light. Open during weekdays, this museum also offers schools the chance to schedule tours of the sparkling surprises it holds. 78 Belle Mill Rd. (530) 527-6166.

Turtle Bay Museum; Redding. With two of its core values listed as “playfulness” and “community,” Turtle Bay Exploration Park clearly understands kids and families. In addition to the museum, the park includes the Sundial Bridge, a forestry and wildlife center, botanical gardens, and an arboretum. Inside the museum, kids can watch fish eat, peer through a glass floor to see a tree’s complex root structure, and explore interactive attractions. In August the museum features two very different “rock” exhibits. In the “Rock U: The Institute of Rock ‘N’ Roll” exhibit, visitors can explore the history and technology of recording and broadcasting music. The “Rock Penjing” exhibit displays the Chinese art of cultivating incredible miniature landscapes. With multi-media displays, historical and natural exhibits, and a hands-on science lab, your family won’t want to miss the Turtle Bay Museum adventure. The park is open daily, and guests can take advantage of discount days on the 5th and 10th of each month. 844 Sundial Bridge Dr. 1-800-TURTLEBAY.

art-0801-museums2Siskiyou County Museum; Yreka. This charming museum, built in 1950, continues to carry out its original mission to “collect, preserve, disseminate, and interpret the history of the area for future generations.” A series of galleries educate visitors about the history of Siskiyou County’s Native Americans, pioneer settlers, Chinese immigrants, gold miners and trappers. Another gallery gives insight into the area’s timber industry, and yet another features historical firearms. During the summer months only, at no additional cost, visitors can step into the past by exploring authentic and reconstructed local buildings that compose the 2.5 acre outdoor museum. Open 9am-3pm Tuesday through Saturday (outdoor museum closes 2pm through October, weather permitting).
910 South Main St. (530) 842-3836.

For a comprehensive list of North State museums, visit the Museums & Historical Sites page in the Family Resources section of North State Parent’s website at

Jenna Christophersen
About Jenna Christophersen

Jenna Christophersen is a Chico native who loves her community and can never get quite enough of the arts. She supports fostering creativity in any venue, especially as a part of young people’s daily lives.

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