Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Family Outing: Hiller Aviation Museum (San Carlos)

A toddler-friendly simulation --
but man, you'll see why they don't let 3 year olds fly planes!
We finally made it up to Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos last weekend -- an outing that has been on my to-do list for over a year -- and I'm delighted to say that it was all I had hoped for, and more! Toddler X, Mr. X and I all had a great time. I'm not particularly "into" airplanes, but it's hard not to be enthusiastic about sitting in the cockpit of a British Airways 747, listening to live air traffic control communications, trying to keep your plane level in a simulation, and watching small planes take off and land on a runway just yards from the viewing platform -- just a few of the many activities available at Hiller.


Overall, Hiller has all the makings of an excellent outing for any family (though I'd say toddlers 2 and up would enjoy it more than younger ones). It offers both indoor (air conditioned!) and outdoor areas, is clean and very well-maintained, and is accessible to all (with the exception of the 747 cockpit, which requires navigating stairs), making it a great choice if you're traveling with a group of differing ages and abilities. You can bring your own food, and come and go at your leisure. There is lots to see and do, but there are also areas to relax -- the picnic tables out back, where you can enjoy a snack while you watch planes take off and land, the kids' indoor play area, where you can relax in old-school airplane seats while your toddler colors or plays in the cockpit, or the seats in the downstairs of the 747, where you can chill out and watch a video.

Enjoying a snack at the shaded picnic tables, 100 yards or so from the runway
Comfy seats for parents' relaxation in the kids' area
The only time we'll set foot in the First Class cabin of a 747
Even more importantly, there is something there for everyone. Airplane buffs will love seeing the museum filled with antique planes from all different eras of air travel.

Those, like me, who don't care particularly about the mechanics of the planes will still be fascinated by the stories about many of them -- there's a plane whose cockpit you can view from the second level, for example, that was involved in a hijacking, and the detailed description of the events is so interesting!
The 747 cockpit -- buttons, knobs and levers galore!
And for toddlers, something truly incredible: all the parts of the cockpits you can enter -- the 747, the Blue Angels plane, and the little capsule in the kids' area -- are functional! No, your two year-old is not going to take off into the sky, but the controls of the planes are not glued down or frozen in place -- the buttons can be pushed, the dials can be turned, the switches can be switched, the throttle can be tilted forward and back. Everything is completely interactive, and amazingly accessible to little hands. Toddler X was enthralled.

The cockpit of the Blue Angels plane -- so much to touch!
The museum is great for exploring, but be sure not to miss:

  • The 747 outside (open 11:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. daily), and particularly the cockpit upstairs. Toddler X loved the zillions of buttons, knobs and gauges, the cool, twisty stairs, and the fact that, for once, we'd let him press the flight attendant call button as often as he wanted.


    Free access to the flight attendant call button -- heaven for a 3 year old!
  • The Blue Angels plane in the rear of the main museum room, with an open cockpit and lots of great buttons.

  • One of the three free flight simulators on the lower level. (You can also pay for a more substantial computer simulation experience, offered on the upper level, but I don't think it's worth the investment for a toddler -- they'll have just as much fun crashing their planes using the free options downstairs.)
  • The touch-screen weather maker, where you adjust humidity, air temperature and surface temperature to "create" weather phenomena (Toddler X couldn't get enough of this -- we had to tear him away multiple times to see other areas of the museum, but he kept going back).

    Couldn't get enough!
  • The kids' area, with some crayons, a couple of rocking planes, and (by far the coolest element) a cockpit/capsule that is toddler heaven (as well as some comfortable plane seats for parents to relax in while their kids explore the many buttons and knobs).


  • The compass design on the blacktop outside, which is a fun learning tool and a great energy burning spot (we did races from point to point, timed Toddler X running around the perimeter, played tag, etc.).

  • The outside viewing platform, where you can watch planes take off and land.

  • The back of the upstairs level inside, where you can watch a flight tracker, listen to live air traffic control communications, and read about that hijacked plane I mentioned before.



Finally, Hiller frequently hosts special events, including food trucks every Wednesday at lunch, Open Cockpit days, performances by Happy Birds and more. Click here to check out their calendar.
The Details:

Location: Right off Highway 101 at the Holly Street/Redwood Shores Parkway exit. Can't miss it.

Hours: Open daily, 10-5 (the 747 is open from 11-4:30), except for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Cost: Admission is $14 for adults, $9 for seniors and youths 5-17, and kids under 5 are free. You can come and go all day, which is nice, as there's an In n Out across the street, and picnic tables in back of the museum where you can watch planes take off and land. Memberships are available. Parking is free.

Food: The gift shop sells cold drinks and a few snacks, but you're welcome to bring your own food and enjoy the tables inside or the picnic tables out back.

Overall, I definitely recommend this for a fun and unique outing for any family with kids old enough to appreciate (and manipulate) buttons, dials, knobs and levers -- by far Toddler X's favorite part of the whole experience.

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