Mission & History
To inspire curiosity and creativity through joyful, transformative experiences.
In 2005, a group of Sonoma County mothers began planning a children’s museum to address the lack of a local gathering place where parents, grandparents, and teachers could support a child’s natural craving for curiosity and exploration. Inspired by their visits to children’s museums across the country, these mothers knew firsthand the need for providing children enriched, learning experiences.
Within Sonoma County, Santa Rosa is the largest city in California’s North Coast and the 5th most populated city in the San Francisco Bay Area. The closest children’s museum was 55 miles south of Santa Rosa, an impossible and costly trip for families without transportation. The 2nd closest museum was more than 200 miles north.
Faced with the distance to “out-of-school” learning experiences, coupled with increasing budget cuts to science and art programs within schools, this team of educated volunteers established Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (CMOSC) as a Federal 501(c)(3) corporation in December 2005. CMOSC’s mission is to “inspire children’s creativity and stimulate their curiosity to discover the world through playful exploration of the arts and sciences.”
With absolutely no funding from outside groups or donors, this action-oriented group of moms and teachers immediately launched the Museum-on-the-Go (MOG) mobile science and art outreach program. Basic and engaging concepts in these two focused areas would become the hallmark of MOG exhibits.
In 2008, The Junior League of Napa-Sonoma stepped up and provided the first seed funding ($35,000 over three years) to officially sponsor the Museum-on-the-Go. Thanks to this generous funding, the volunteers were able to purchase a trailer for their ever expanding collection of hand-made exhibits and expand their reach and services to more of Sonoma County's children and immediate caretakers.
This same year, CMOSC launched the Founding Family program. Excited about the possibility of bringing a children's museum to Sonoma County, more than 100 families came together to affirm their commitment to the vision over the next three years.
In December of 2011, the Museum entered into a lease on 4.2 acres with an existing building located at 1835 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa.
In 2011, CMOSC received a grant ($1,835,000) from the State of California's Department of Parks and Recreation to build an outdoor nature education area called "Mary's Garden" named after the Spanish word meaning butterfly.
In 2012, the Museum team launched an $8.3MM capital campaign, which included the state grant as well as additional funding to build the permanent Museum. The Ella Bisbee Foundation was the first major seed funder for the capital campaign when they approached the Museum about a legacy gift of an art room.
In 2014, the Museum opened Mary's Garden, the first phase of the capital campaign, to the public. And a year later, followed with the opening of the Science and Imagination Gallery and Totopia interior galleries with a generous $1M stakeholder gift from the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation. In September of 2015, the Museum celebrated the completion of the capital campaign.
The Museum campus includes over 7,000 square feet of existing interior space, coupled with 36,000 square feet of outdoor exhibits. All exhibits are devoted to science, art or nature, with a specific emphasis in the outdoor exhibit garden on environmental sustainability, water conservation and renewable energies.
The permanent Museum has become a destination for Sonoma County families and beyond. On pace to serve over 150,000 visitors this year, CMOSC inspires children’s creativity and stimulates their development by encouraging exploration in an open and accessible interactive museum. Rooted in current early childhood research, CMOSC is modeled on proven children’s museums such as the Bay Area Discovery Museum and the Discovery Museum of San Jose.
We are eternally grateful for the significant gifts that have been made by so many individuals and foundations over the past decade. The Children's Museum of Sonoma County exists today because of the incredible generosity and vision of so many in our community.