More About Us

Our mission is to engage a child's curiosity in science and nature.

The Junior Museum & Zoo is a place where children and their caregivers come to explore, discover, create and play. Through hands-on science exhibits and a diverse community of live animals, your child's natural scientist will be nurtured.

The Zoo is home to more than 50 species of animals—about 200 specimens in all.  Many of them are brought to schools as part of our Science Outreach program. Some of our animals include, rabbits, raccoons, meerkats, flamingos, parrots, fresh water fish, invertebrates, and a giant tortoise!

In an addition to an amazing zoo, the Junior Museum offers numerous science programs for schools, community groups, and families, including summer camps, and birthday parties.


Founded in 1934 by Josephine O’Hara in a local elementary school, the Junior Museum & Zoo was the first children’s museum west of the Mississippi.  Since the beginning, we have worked hard to be a local leader in children’s science education. 

Every couple of years, our Exhibits team introduces a new interactive science exhibit that is developed and designed in-house. The exhibit pictured below, Clean Green Energy Machines, introduces children and their families to renewable forms of energy like water, solar, wind, and kid-power. The other current exhibit, Buzzzz, features the amazing lives of insects and spiders. 

In 1969, we added a zoo that features more than 50 animals, including bobcats, bats, snakes, hedgehogs, ducks, ferrets, and raccoons.  Our small but diverse collection of wildlife helps children develop a deeper understanding of the natural world and the relationships between people and animals. A favorite since 1969—children love the Rainbow Bridge which crosses the duck pond.

In June of 2018, we moved to our temporary home in Cubberley Community Center to build a brand new facility at Rinconada Park. We can't wait to move into our beautiful new and permanent home, and open our doors to you in 2021!

JMZ Building Project

Building aerial view  

Proposed Project

The proposed project for the JMZ includes a new museum and education building, new outdoor zoo with a netted enclosure, upgraded parking lot, and a series of improvements to the perimeter of the site.  This design was developed in keeping with the Rinconada Park Long-Range Plan for the surrounding park, parking lot, and adjacent public facilities.

Blueprint of new Rinconada site

Parking Lot Redesign

The existing parking lot adjacent to the JMZ,and the existing parking lot between the Lucie Stern Community Center and Girl Scout House (GSH), will be reconfigured to improve traffic flow, maximize parking spaces, improve landscaping and lighting, and improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. The existing building-side GSH parking space will be maintained, and the exterior bird bath is anticipated to be relocated to near the Boy Scout space in Lucie Stern. The current demonstration garden on the west side of the GSH will be relocated to the park side of Walter Hays Elementary School.

On the Middlefield Road sides of the parking lot, one of the vehicle entry points will be eliminated, and a bus stop will be added adjacent to the new JMZ. The reconfigured parking lots will connect, allowing for efficient through flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic to the Museum, Park, and many surrounding facilities. 

Specific components of the redesigned parking lot include:

  • Dedicated bike and pedestrian entrance at the intersection of Kellogg and Middlefield Roads (separated from vehicular entrance), raised pedestrian pathways through the parking lot with direct connections to park pathways;
  • Safe pedestrian pathway, defined by colored concrete, through parking lot leading to JMZ entry plaza;
  • New, single vehicular entrance mid-block on Middlefield Road and new vehicular entrance onto Hopkins;
  • Fire truck and bus access-only pathways through parking lot, with dedicated driveway onto Hopkins;
  • Two-way circulation pathways through parking lot with dedicated drop-off and loading zone near JMZ entrance and park arrival plaza;
  • Efficient storm water treatment system: pervious paving, shallow treatment area, and connection to storm drainage line in utility corridor;
  • 50% shading requirement met by existing and new tree installations;
  • New bicycle parking structures, including racks at the entrance to JMZ and the park;
  • New long-term bicycle storage for staff; and,
  • A pedestrian promenade located in front of the JMZ that connects Middlefield Road and Rinconada Park with free science exhibits and experiences, called Science Play on the Promenade.


Building and Outdoor Zoo

The project includes the demolition of the existing 9,000 square foot (sf), one and a half story museum building, and construction of a new one-story building with 15,085 sf of museum and educational programming space in the same location as the existing building. The new building will have a gabled roof form with a lower ridge at 18 feet tall, and a higher ridge at 27 feet tall.  Amenities will include two indoor classrooms, one outdoor classroom, a program staging area, a general storage area, a small exhibit maintenance shop, indoor exhibits, and restroom facilities.  The building footprint (building site coverage, measured at grade) of the existing museum is 8,500 sf; the building footprint of the proposed new JMZ building is 15,085 sf. 

The proposed new zoo will include an open-air netted enclosure and with a supporting outdoor animal management area.   The new 17,278 sf, 36-foot tall netted enclosure will be accessible from the museum building.  The netted enclosure, referred to as Loose in the Zoo will feature existing and new animal exhibits, as well as enhanced landscaping features.  The netting will allow exhibition birds to fly about the enclosure.   An outdoor zoo animal management area east of Loose in the Zoo will have a low ceiling of netting.

The existing zoo and supporting animal management area is 13,800 sf, 8,800 sf of which sits within the park boundary.  An area of 13,920 sf of the new exterior zoo will be located within the park boundary.  The net increase in outdoor zoo space will be 3,615 sf overall, with a net increase of 5,120 sf net within the park boundary.

An outdoor classroom and multi-purpose space of 1,611 sf will be adjacent to the promenade and the zoo. 

The main JMZ entrance plaza will lead into the lobby and reception area of the building.  New walkways will provide safe pedestrian connections with the museum building, the parking lot, Middlefield Road, and Rinconada Park.   

Building entry view

Tree house diagram  

Phase 2 Zoo Building

The project also includes a proposed two-story 3,600 sf building adjacent to the zoo with a ridge height of 25 feet. This will have a classroom on the first floor and an insectarium exhibit on the second floor. It is anticipated that the Phase Two project will be reviewed separately in the near future as an Architectural Review application.  The massing and material of the Phase Two building will be similar to the main building with a simple gabled roof form. The design for Phase Two is currently conceptual, as fundraising for this portion of the project is not yet complete.

Together, Phase One and Phase Two will result in a net increase of 9,633 sf of indoor floor area and 4,415 sf of outdoor zoo area compared to the existing JMZ facility.  The overall lot coverage of the JMZ facility will increase by 12,748 sf.

About the Junior Museum & Zoo

As a children’s science center and zoo, the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo (JMZ) is a place where children and families explore, wonder and make discoveries about science and the natural world.   Our mission is to engage a child’s curiosity for science and nature through hands-on activities and interactions with live animals. At the JMZ, we encourage exploration, thereby building a foundation for understanding and a lifelong interest in science and nature.

For visiting children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, we provide multi-sensorial, kinesthetic and play-based exhibits, authentic artifacts, hands-on programs, and live animal encounters designed to connect children to early science concepts.   Our exhibit messaging is designed to cultivate interest in science, empathy for the natural world, and an interest in conservation issues and solutions.

For school-aged children, the museum offers hands-on science classes to approximately 18,000 students in about 60 local elementary schools, at the museum, and in local open space preserves. Through these programs, students gain concrete experience and practice with scientific methods and theory, and conservation practice.

The JMZ is a unique and highly valued resource for children.  Child development research shows that physical experiences offered here foster the development of abstract reasoning skills and improve learning.  Research also shows that engagement with zoo animals helps children develop empathy for the natural world and a willingness to support conservation of wildlife and wild places.

The JMZ’s intimate and approachable scale and consistent staffing has helped forge rich and long-term relationships with our community – relationships that have allowed us to broaden and deepen the impact of our work.

Reasons for Rebuilding

As the JMZ approaches its 84th year, it finds itself constrained by a facility that no longer reflects the needs of its visitors, collections, or operations.  Due to inadequate storage and support spaces, accreditation options for both the Museum and Zoo are unobtainable.   While the Educators continue to deliver outstanding educational programs, they are severely limited by lack of office, preparation, and storage spaces.   In addition, there are many accessibility and safety concerns with the existing facility and the surrounding site.

The Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum engaged the architectural firm of CAW Architects to work with a broad array of stakeholders to complete a facilities master plan in 2011 and 2012 evaluating program and operational needs, inadequacies of the existing facility, and options for renovation and new construction. 

During the master planning process the following objectives were developed:

 Visitor Experience

  • Tailor spaces for experiences to specific audience segments, including preschoolers and children with special needs;
  • Develop safe and effective ways to connect children with a diversity of live animals;
  • Develop classrooms that improve student engagement and learning impact;
  • Improve access, safety, toilets, and way finding;
  • Create opportunities for outdoor “play in nature” experiences; and,
  • Improve access from the JMZ to Rinconada Park amenities: Playground, Children’s Library, Children’s Theater, Stern Community Center, Art Center, and Walter Hays Elementary School.

 Living and Non-living Collections

  • Provide facilities that better support animal health and quarantine measures in order to meet Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) standards; and,
  • Improve care and storage areas for non-living collections – held by the Museum in the public trust—in order to meet American Alliance of Museums (AAM) standards.


  • Improve storage, access, and work areas to ensure staff safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of operations; and,
  • Implement green building practices.

Due to the limitations of the existing facility and infrastructure, the facility master planning process recommended complete demolition of the existing facility and replacement with a new facility that more adequately supports the educational mission and public program of the JMZ.  

If you would like to support/donate to the Junior Museum & Zoo initiative, visit the Friends of the JMZ page

This article was written in 2018.  The new Junior Museum & Zoo will open to the public in 2021.

Articles and Press


Junior Museum and Zoo's New Facility Breaks Ground
Once completed, popular attraction will increase accessibility for those with disabilities.

Palo Alto approves Junior Museum and Zoo expansion
After years of planning and fundraising, project gets green light from City Council.

Junior Museum and Zoo brings science to the classroom
Outreach program from Palo Alto institution targets low-income communities.

Natural development: Junior Museum & Zoo may get major redo
Museum will move temporarily to Cubberley while facility is rebuilt to nearly twice the size by mid-2020

The Peery Foundation and Local Community Raise $25 Million to Build a new Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo Junior
The Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo (JMZ) will be re-imagined and rebuilt, thanks to a $15 million matching grant from the Peery Foundation and $10 million in private donations from local donors.

The Social Learning Lab at Stanford University
The Social Learning Lab is interested in how children learn about the world and how they communicate what they now. The lab has been doing research at the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo since December 2014.


The JMZ Partners with the Packard Foundation
The Junior Museum & Zoo is proud to announce a partnership with the David & Lucile Packard Foundation to better serve children with physical or developmental disabilities.


Sign up for the Community Services Department’s eNewsletter!
Don’t miss out on the exciting events happening in the Palo Alto community, brought to you by the Community Services Department! A brand new e-newsletter is being launched in October to let you in on the latest news at Palo Alto’s Parks and Open Spaces, Golf Course, Art Center, Children’s Theatre, Junior Museum and Zoo, Mid-School Athletics, Recreation classes, and more!


Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE) Highlights the JMZ’s “Bill the Science Guy”
Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE) writes about the JMZ’s own Bill Gutoff, better known at Addison Elementary as “Bill the Science Guy.”


Blue Star Museum
The Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo Announces its Participation in Blue Star Museums


A Conversation with Dr. Alison Gopnik
Thoughts for parents from Dr. Alison Gopnik.


Gratitude for the Cosmic Miracle of A Newborn Child
Thoughts for parents from Dr. Alison Gopnik.


Peery Foundation Help Raise Funds for Junior Museum and Zoo
Matching-gift challenge will help rebuild the museum and zoo.


Palo Alto Zookeepers Recall Teaching Moments
Core value of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo.


Zoo to Debut Weaverbird House Exhibit
Weaverbird House Exhibit project coming to life with the help from our generous supporters.


AWOL Bald Eagle Lured Back to Zoo
Sequoia’s adventure.


Sequoia Returns To Palo Alto Zoo
Watch Sequoia on television.


Bald Eagle Plants Herself in Palo Alto
Learn more about Sequoia.