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New Children’s Museum exhibit brings wonder-filled adventure for kids in San Diego

Declan, Donovan, Zoe and Quinn play with signs at  at The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego.
Declan, Donovan, Zoe and Quinn play with signs at at The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego.
Maurice Hewitt

San Diego’s original Children’s Museum started out in 1983, in what is now the Westfield UTC Mall on La Jolla Village Drive. Ten years later, it moved to a downtown warehouse on West Island Avenue, and in 2008, thanks to funding from local philanthropists, it morphed into a fabulous, three-level, 50,000-square-foot space full of natural light and fresh air designed by Rob Wellington Quigley, the multi-award-winning architect also responsible for the new Central Library.

One of the first green museums in California, The New Children’s Museum has presented some terrific exhibitions over the years, but their most ambitious and wonder-filled to date is “The Wonder Sound,” which opened to the public this summer.

Part tree-house, part 21st-century Lascaux cave complex, the exhibit is a full-out invitation to exploration and discovery, the kinds of activities most children today never get a chance to experience. After two years of collecting input from local community centers and two months of onsite construction, artist Wes Sam-Bruce and his team have created a world of opportunities for crawling, climbing, looking and listening, with a surprise at every turn. And the more you explore, the more you discover.

“Now we get to see how this thing comes alive, as people become part of it,” said the artist at the members’ preview. “We’ve been working with families around here for years, and their stories found their way into the piece, and now they’re your stories, too. I’m thrilled to be able to share this with you and hope you find mystery and poetry in it.”

Two years in the making, “The Wonder Sound” will be a long-term, semi-permanent installation. If you don’t have children of your own, consider borrowing a friend’s kid to accompany you to the exhibit; your inner child will thank you for the play date. Don’t miss the dark-tunnel crawl into the spoon cave, where you can make music with 3,000 hanging spoons. Take a snack break at the museum’s Green Bellies Café, and allow extra time to check out last year’s “Eureka!” exhibit, still on display, offering an additional set of attractions.

IF YOU GO: The New Children’s Museum is open daily at 200 West Island Ave., downtown San Diego. (619) 233-8792. thinkplaycreate.org

Children climb a rope wall at The New Children’s Museum.
Children climb a rope wall at The New Children’s Museum.
Maurice Hewitt

The Elephant Wall
The Elephant Wall
Maurice Hewitt
Judy Forrester, the museum’s new CEO/executive director
Judy Forrester, the museum’s new CEO/executive director
Maurice Hewitt
Sharon Omahen, one of the founders of the original Children’s Museum, with her husband Jim Mosher at the preview reception
Sharon Omahen, one of the founders of the original Children’s Museum, with her husband Jim Mosher at the preview reception
Maurice Hewitt
Julie Bigboy and 3-month-old Natalie
Julie Bigboy and 3-month-old Natalie
Maurice Hewitt
Installation assistant Scott Malosh with some of the 18,000 plywood tiles he spent three weeks hand-cutting
Installation assistant Scott Malosh with some of the 18,000 plywood tiles he spent three weeks hand-cutting
Maurice Hewitt
At the Members’ Preview, artist Wes Sam-Bruce, his hands still covered with paint from last-minute touch-ups, introduced the New Children’s Museum’s ambitious exhibit, ‘The Wonder Sound.’
At the Members’ Preview, artist Wes Sam-Bruce, his hands still covered with paint from last-minute touch-ups, introduced the New Children’s Museum’s ambitious exhibit, ‘The Wonder Sound.’
Maurice Hewitt
Writer Lonnie Burstein Hewitt on the ropes, negotiating a two-story spider web.
Writer Lonnie Burstein Hewitt on the ropes, negotiating a two-story spider web.
Maurice Hewitt