Child’s Play: San Francisco’s Interactive Zeum

Art meets technology at this innovative museum offering kids and families engaging, interactive displays that bring out the creative child in visitors of all ages.


Had there been a museum like Zeum around when I was growing up, I might have become an artist. Or a television producer. Or a master of claymation.

Kids can try their hand at all these careers, and more, at this cool place of innovation and exploration of the creative self, located in Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood, across from SFMoMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).

I discovered this interactive temple while visiting a friend from college and her two daughters, ages 4 and 6 at the time. At first, I was more excited than they were at the prospect of going to a place where you could let your imagination run wild. (I’ll also admit that the name reminded me of one of my favorite childhood television shows, Zoom. But I digress.)

The Amazing Maze

They soon warmed up to the place, however, when they discovered the colorful Spiral Walkway Gallery, lined with rotating art shows and interactive television screens. At the base of the walkway is a room where, at the time of our visit, lasers displayed images of mazes on a black floor and kids could take off their shoes and race to make their way through the puzzles before the projection changes. (If you’re particular about dirt and dust, bring a spare pair of socks.)

The new MetaField Maze in The Roundabout is a computer-generated game where kids essentially are “in” the game—they use their bodies to direct a virtual rolling marble through a room-sized, maze projected on the floor. The trick though is that as they move across the maze, the image “tilts,” which causes the marble to escape from their control, making the task of getting to the end of the maze without letting the ball fall into a virtual hole that much more tricky.

Video Killed the Radio Star

The creative juices started really flowing when we reached the third floor. Bring out your child’s inner Hannah Montana at Zeum’s Music Production Lab. Here kids can create their own soundtrack, or produce and star in their own music video—karaoke-style—available to take home as future blackmail material for a mere $5.

Participants can pretend it’s Halloween and choose from a host of costumes, wigs and accessories to create just the right look for their close-up. My friend’s girls decided to skip the costumes and more than 2,000 songs available in-house and opted instead to perform a children’s song they had learned at school, a capella. Afterwards, an engineer plays back the tape for everyone in the gallery to see, and hear.

Note: If you visit with aspiring boy-band members, make sure they all know their place in the lineup and don’t let jealousies lead to a fist-fight on stage, as demonstrated by the group ahead of us. (Although it does make that blackmail tape that much more valuable.)

From Dr. Spock to Mr. Bill

Colorful, hands-on displays and work areas, where kids can paint, draw, create abstract images—or snowflakes—with geometric magnets, and more are peppered throughout the facility. In the Digital Workshop gallery, visitors can design their own posters or see what they’d look like with green hair and Dr. Spock ears. Those interested in current affairs can create and produce their own news broadcast.

But if you and yours want to get your hands a little dirty, head to the Animators Studio. Blocks of colorful clay are waiting to be molded into whatever your imagination desires. I took my task quite seriously and focused on sculpting a Gumby-colored, pig-tailed girl in a bell-bottom jumper. One of my playmates, in true San Fran style, made a beautiful clay rainbow.

We could have continued with our clay play and made a film with our creations using stop-motion animation, but the girls were anxious to ride the Zeum carousel located outside the entrance, and I had to face the fact that, sadly, I am not an artist—and it has nothing to do with growing up without a place like Zeum to inspire my inner Rodin.

Zeum, 221 Fourth Street (at Howard), tel. (415) 820-3320; Hours: Wed.–Fri. 1–5 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Carousel hours 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Admission: youths 3-18, $6; students/seniors, $7; adults, $8; Zeum members and children age 2 and under, free.

Getting there: MUNI–Market Street and 4th Street/Powell Street stop. BART–Powell Street Station. If driving, there are several parking garages nearby.

This information was accurate at the time of publication. Because hours and admission prices may change depending on the time of year, please verify by checking the Web site or calling before visiting.  

Destinations: San Francisco

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Museums

User Comments

Fun! I'm going for sure!

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