In Palo Alto, California, the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo (JMZ) is where children and their caregivers can “explore, discover, create and play.” The hands-on interactive science and nature museum exhibits are complimented by a small zoo of diverse wildlife and a nature play area. Additionally, through school and groups outreach programs, afterschool programs, birthday parties, special events, summer camps, workshops, and preschool programs, they “seek to engage a child's curiosity for science and nature.”1

The Junior Museum, when it was founded by Josephine O'Hara in 1934, became one of the first children's museums west of the Mississippi River. From the museum's original home in the basement of a local elementary school, it has been relocated to downtown Palo Alto. In 1962 volunteers organized the Associates of the Palo Alto Junior Museum to assist the city of Palo Alto with museum operations, fundraising, and development.

The Zoo was added seven years later in 1969 with mostly indigenous wildlife. This beginning has grown to over 50 species of animals including bobcats, snakes, ducks, hedgehogs, bats, and raccoons. The zoo dimension of the museum has been designed to “develop a deeper understanding of the natural world and the relationships between people and animals.”2

Twenty years of growth led to the re-organization of The Associates into the nonprofit Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo. Over the next two decades the Friends established the East Palo Alto Science Outreach Program (1999), raised funds to renovate the bat habitat (2003), raised $450,000 to design and construct the Bobcat Ridge (2010), and assisted with funding the Buzzzz exhibit (2011).3

Over the years the JMZ has created 14 interactive exhibits teaching such science concepts as gravity, motion, energy, and etymology. Though only two exhibits are displayed at any one time, the other exhibits are utilized with educational outreach programs for schools, community groups, and preschool children. Exhibits are designed to be accessible for children and caregivers of all abilities. The JMZ also offers a Superfamily Sunday event when the museum is open early for those with special needs in order to provide them a calmer environment for learning and exploring.4

  • 1. “About the Junior Museum and Zoo.” City of Palo Alto. < > 21 July 2013.
  • 2. “The History of the Junior Museum and Zoo.” City of Palo Alto. < > 21 July 2013.
  • 3. “Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo.” Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo. < > 21 July 2013.
  • 4. “Accessibility.” City of Palo Alto. < > 21 July 2013.