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Tortillas to robots at San Jose's youthful museums.

After a protracted adolescence, California's oldest city may finally be coming of age. Two innovative museums for people young enough to be experiencing their own growing pains are among the more exciting products of the billion-dollar renovation of downtown San Jose. More like hands-on classrooms and playgrounds than conventional museums, these dynamic environments take advantage of youthful curiosity and energy to help children and teen-agers make sense of their increasingly complex world. A visit to either the Children's Discovery Museum or the Technology Center's temporary home makes an entertaining yet educational outing during holiday break. The first caters to children through grade-school age, while the second is geared to high schoolers; the museums' proximity to each other makes it easy for families with children of different ages to manage an expedition. Both museums have cafeterias, and both are on San Jose's new ligh-trail line. It's safe to play in the street inside this children's museum The sense of playfulness that pervades the new Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose becomes apparent on your first glimpse of it through the trees of the freshly landscaped Guadalupe River Park (a good picnic spot). Painted bright purple, the building is all odd angles, as if constructed with building blocks by a precocious child; in reality, it was designed by renowned Mexico City architect Ricardo Legorreta. Step inside, where a microcosm of urban San Jose has been re-created, and you're greeted by the sounds of children at riotous play. Daylight spills through two-story-tall glass walls to illuminate indoor streetscapes complete with traffic lights that youngsters can operate. Aspiring firemen don helmets and climb behind the wheel of a real fire truck. The usually unseen world below city streets is also open to exploration: you slide down a culvert and clamber through sewer pipes. Some exhibit areas literally let children get a grasp on complicated systems that affect their lives. In a global communications area, they can listen to and even talk with air traffic controllers guiding planes at the San Jose airport. The Kids' Bank uses tennis balls and mechanisms worthy of Rube Goldberg to demystify the routes that money takes as it makes it way through the various channels of a financial institution. In the Waterworks, children pump pedals and spin big screws to transport water from one level to another (and splash everything within reach). The layers of history of the region, successively inhabited by Indians, Mexicans, and Europeans, become reality when youngsters enter an Ohlone hut and grind acorns, make tortillas and adobe bricks, or climb up a tank house and do farm chores. Future inventors will enjoy the Doodad Dump, where materials donated by various local industries can be glued together to form an infinite variety of thingamajigs and whatchamacallits. Other exhibits-such as a climbing structure with movable bars, and a tunnel that can be reconfigured to zig here and zag there-just encourage creative physical play. A cafeteria serves hamburgers, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. The museum is open 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for ages 4 through 18. High-tech for high schoolers in an unusual "garage" San Jose owes most of its phenomenal growth to the electronics industry, which several decades ago began converting the pastoral Santa Clara Valley into computer-minded Silicon Valley. It's an appropriate home for the Technology Center, an institution-in-the-making on a mission to get young people of all ages excited about technology. It seems equally appropriate that the center's temporary exhibit space, which recently opened in McCabe Hall, should be dubbed "The Garage," reflecting the humble beginnings of many high-tech companies that have since become industry giants. Eventually (at some time in the mid1990s) the Technology Center will move next door to the Children's Museum, into a building also designed by Legorreta but planned to be four times the size of its neighbor. In the meantime, The Garage houses a series of interactive exhibits that suggest ways technology can be used to solve a multitude of problems. The exhibits cover subjects ranging from the planetary to the microscopic. Visitors can take the controls of a Mars Rover model and guide it around the obstacles of a simulated Martian landscape. Or they can witness the amazingly complex interactions that take place on a silicon chip. Biotechnology exhibits demonstrate how genetic engineering, through the development of substances such as human growth hormone, can affect our own bodies. A double-helix tower of 500 telephone books graphically illustrates the astounding amount of information contained in a molecule of DNA. A robotics exhibit further confirms what a remarkable machine the human body is, showing how difficult it is to make machines move as easily as people do. Laboratories and a multimedia library draw on the latest technology to allow visitors to delve deeper into the subjects treated in the exhibits. The Garage is open 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission costs $6 for adults, $4 for ages 6 through 18 and seniors. Unique gifts: games and gizmos Adults with children on their holiday gift lists might want to plan a shopping trip on their own to either museum. Both have shops selling fascinating toys, games, and puzzles that you're unlikely to find elsewhere and that reflect the themes of the museums; for example, the shop at The Garage sells such high-tech items as tiny robots and microchip jigsaw puzzles. Prices at either shop range from 1 or so to more than $ 1 00. Hours are the same as general museum hours. How to get there To get to either museum from 1-280, take the Bird Avenue exit. Turn right on Bird, right on Auzerais Avenue, and right again on Woz Way; you can park all day for $2 in a lot ahead on the right. If you take the light rail, get off at the Convention Center stop for The Garage, or at the Technology Center station for the Children's Discovery Museum. (Great America amusement park is at the north end of the rail line. When it reopens in March, you could combine an outing there with a museum visit.)
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Title Annotation:Children's Discovery Museum
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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