Are you looking to learn more about the San Francisco Peninsula than just the location of the nearest Starbucks? Check out these community-rooted museums that chronicle the rich history of its various locales. Most on this list have free admission, and all are housed in landmark sites, giving your visit an authentic historical vibe. “Many of the towns have their own historical museums,” said Mitch Postel, president of the San Mateo County History Museum. “They are always interesting. People are hungry for cultural experiences and may not want to go all the way to San Francisco to get that.”
Daly City History Museum
You can start off at this museum that celebrates the “Gateway to the Peninsula.” The museum is located in an Art Deco-style building that used to be the town library. Photographs, documents, and artifacts, along with a friendly volunteer docent will tell you the story of Daly City from its dairy-farm beginnings to its growth as a modern-day commuter community known for its diverse population and shopping malls. Free admission. Website: http://dalycityhistory.org/guild/museum.htm.
Burlingame Hillsborough History Museum
Exhibits, memorabilia, and other material at this museum housed in a historic train station in downtown Burlingame go back to the area’s roots as a summer getaway for the wealthy in the 19th century. Interestingly enough, Burlingame and Hillsborough still remain spots for well-heeled families. Free admission. Website: http://www.burlingamehistorical.org.
Museum of San Carlos History
This museum in a building replicating an old firehouse holds an extensive array of photographs, maps, literature, and mementos that trace the town’s early Native American days to the technology era. There are also displays of early office and electronic equipment. Free admission. Website: http://www.sancarloshistorymuseum.org.
Walking inside this historic, multi-gabled house in downtown Redwood City, you are immediately transported back to 19th-century California. All around you are items frozen from that time – the antique furniture, Victorian clothing, a heavy typesetter on a desk, and a cast-iron kitchen stove. With help from a grandmotherly volunteer docent, this house built in 1863 will tell you the story of its owners and pioneer-era Redwood City. Free admission. Website: http://www.lathrophouse.org/index.htm.
San Mateo County History Museum
For a broader, regional perspective, drop by the county museum located in another historic building - the Old County Courthouse - in Redwood City’s Italian piazza-style downtown square near the Lathrop House. Artifacts, pictures, paintings, hands-on exhibits, and educational programs will delve into the county’s varied history involving immigration, transportation, high-tech innovation, and even surfing. Admission fee. Website: http://www.historysmc.org.
Museum of American Heritage
This museum in an old, venerable residential structure in Palo Alto combines history, technology, and design. With collections of antique toys, typewriters, radios, and other everyday electrical and mechanical devices, this place showcases the evolution of innovation that has helped shape American life over the last two centuries. Free admission. Website: http://www.moah.org.
Moffett Field Historical Society Museum
Explore the critical role that Moffett Field, a former military base and home to the huge Hangar One, has played in aviation and national defense at this museum near Sunnyvale. Exhibits include aircraft like the U-2 spy plane, a flight simulator, and military artifacts from World War II. The museum also offers docent tours and has a library for those interested in researching local or military history. Admission fee. Website: http://moffettfieldmuseum.org.
—By Neil Gonzales
Neil Gonzales is a freelance writer based in Redwood City, Calif. Previously, he worked as a newspaper reporter for nearly 20 years.