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Five-year-old Lauren Whiskeman, resplendent in a pink jacket, grabbed a spray bottle and squirted pink paint onto a pastel mural at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito on Saturday.
It was a big day for the museum, which was opening for the first time in the nearly five months since the COVID-19 lockdown. To help guard against transmission, only the outdoor portion of the museum is open and visitors must wear masks.
For the next two weeks, only members are allowed to visit after obtaining tickets online in advance. Starting Aug. 22, members of the public can purchase tickets.
“We’re so happy they reopened,” said Lauren’s mother, Courtney. The San Francisco resident added, “We usually come a couple times a month. She and her brother (Jackson, 7) love the boat because they can climb on it.”
It was clear that Lauren and Jackson weren’t the only children who liked “Faith,” a former salmon fishing boat. Tiny Finley Young, 3, fearlessly clambered up a ladder on the boat as her father, Jeff Young, looked on.
“(The museum) is a fun place to explore. It’s very tactile,” the San Francisco resident said.
While the Discovery Museum is recognized for offering hands-on, play-based learning, this posed a challenge in preparing to reopen. The museum has rigorously followed both state and Marin County guidelines, with frequent cleanings and other precautions.
“All the outdoor exhibits are spaced far apart. There are footprints showing the kids where to stand,” said Brandy Vause, the museum’s deputy director.
Shared materials have been eliminated, Vause said. “Families must check out tools and toys, and they’re sanitized when they’re returned.”
Luckily, the Discovery Museum is unique in having 136,000 square feet of outdoor space, an unusually expansive amount. The outdoor area includes the boat, do-it-yourself murals, an obstacle course and a mud kitchen piled high with the squishy substance kids love.
The museum has been open since 1987 as an indoor and outdoor children’s museum at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“During the lockdown, parents have told us they need opportunities for their kids to engage in gross motor play the most,” said Education Director Janine Okmin. “They’re cooped up at home with no soccer practice, no school playgrounds.”
On a typical Saturday in August, the museum would see around 1,800 visitors. This Saturday, only 475 were admitted out of an abundance of caution.
“As we settle in, we will be able to welcome more people,” Vause said.