This past Saturday I discovered a great activity to do with my son. Not only was it great– it was free. Score!
The Junior Center for Art and Science is a wonderful gem located next to the bird sanctuary at Lake Merritt, fit with amazing views of Oakland and all the beautiful wildlife that lives on and near the lake.
My husband, son and I were the first visitors to arrive at the Center at 10 a.m. We were welcomed by a very warm and friendly staff which included Tammara Katsikas (Executive Director) and Jenay (a teacher at the Center). Tammara was kind enough to show us around the building and inform us of the many programs they offer throughout the year in addition to the fun play time drop-ins they offer every day. In addition to the staff, Tammara’s sweet pooch Maddie happily welcomed us and even played a bit with my son Lucio. Maddie is the unofficial mascot of the Junior Center for Art and Science, and a cute one too!
The Free Animal Discovery session is held in a room full of amphibians and reptiles which overlooks Lake Merritt. The views of the lake are amazing but the room is quite amazing as well. It is adorned with lovely animal artwork by local Oakland students and informational posters of the different animals in the room.
Gary the tortoise was the first animal to greet us. He is a thirty-five year-old desert tortoise that was taken out of his natural habitat and nearly starved to death living in someone’s backyard. Gary seems to be thriving at the Center now.
We also met a Bearded Dragon named Tyler. He was a very chill reptile and we were able to pet him and hold him. Other animals we met were a Leopard Geko, a snake, toads, and Madagascar Hissing Roaches (eek!).
The free animal discovery session includes petting, touching, and observing the animals. Baskets of crayons sit on the tables, encouraging children to draw the animals they meet. The staff is prepared to play games and teach the kids about the different parts of the animals’ body, etc; however, it seems this is an underused resource, and my toddler was the only child in attendance, and at 15 months, a bit young for games.
There is a lovely deck located right outside of the room that overlooks Lake Merritt and sometimes they set up tables so the kids can enjoy their snacks if they so choose.
We had such a wonderful time there and this would be a great rainy day activity if you needed to get the kids out of the house. I highly recommend checking out the Junior Center for Art and Science Free Animal Discovery Session. My son had a blast! Bonus: you are right next to the bird sanctuary, a play structure, AND Fairyland is right around the corner. Quadruple the fun! Parking can be found all along the lake.
Free Animal Discovery takes place from 10am – 3pm on Saturdays, 10am – 1pm on Tuesday through Friday.
Junior Center for Art and Science is located at Lakeside Park
558 Bellevue Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610