New exhibit debuts Saturday at Children’s Museum of Sonoma County

The offering allows kids to roam a scaled-down version of Main Street and explore mock doctor’s and dentist’s offices, a hardware store, a diner and more.|

One of two new exhibits opens Saturday at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, expanding what’s been a mostly outdoor experience to a multi-level, indoor play area meant to spark interest in science and the imagination.

The offering, inside a converted church building, allows kids to roam a scaled-down version of Main Street and explore mock doctor’s and dentist’s offices, a hardware store, a diner and more.

They’ll climb into a tree house on the museum’s upper floor, dress up in Victorian garb and have their pictures appear in wall frames or fire plastic balls in one of an assortment of air-pressure toys.

A separate “Totopia” section for those 2-years-old and under will open in two weeks. It includes a tide pool grotto and storybook cottage, where kids can pretend to have a tea party with stuffed animals.

“We packed a lot in here to keep people interested and engaged,” said Collette Michaud, the museum’s chief executive officer, as she walked the new exhibits Friday morning.

Doors will open at 9 a.m. Starting Saturday, admission is $10 for adults and children over 1. Family memberships start at $145 a year.

The West Steele Lane museum first opened last year next to the Charles M. Schulz Museum on 4.2 acres leased from owner Jean Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow.

Initially, it consisted of “Mary’s Garden,” a vast outdoor area featuring a vegetable garden, water exhibits and an art studio where kids 10 and under can paint on a glass wall, among other things.

Michaud said it’s drawn about 70,000 visitors over the past 12 months.

“It gives children a chance to be outside in a safe space, doing what they do naturally which is run, jump, play and get wet,” Michaud said.

At the same time, a group of mostly local artisans and contractors has been at work building the new exhibits on about 2,800-square feet of space inside the old church on the property.

They were putting the finishing touches on the $2.5 million project late Friday.

“We’re just about there,” said Greg Duncan, a Santa Rosa contractor who designs the Hall of Flowers exhibit at the Sonoma County Fair and built the Totopia room for the museum.

Private donors and grants paid for the work. Local philanthropists made contributions, including celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who sponsored the mock diner, which features pretend food and a miniature stainless-steel range.

Other clever attractions are a heart rate machine that transmits a person’s heartbeat over a bass drum. There’s a fake X-ray machine that shows cavities in a crocodile, magnetic play structures, a puppet show and a hardware store where kids can pretend to make things.

“They can build all kinds of crazy stuff,” Michaud said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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