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Monday 4 August 2014

Wells Fargo History Museum

When my parents were recently visiting from Australia we spent quite a lot of time playing tourist in San Francisco. On more than one occasion we found ourselves walking past the Wells Fargo Museum on Montgomery Street and we were all keen to go in and check it out. However we kept walking past at times when it was closed!

On the last full day that my parents were with us we found the time to fit in a visit to the Wells Fargo History Museum (during opening hours even!) and we were not disappointed. There are lots of fun, hands on exhibits relating to the history of banking and San Francisco, and, best of all, entry is free. 

We were drawn to the museum by the authentic Concord stagecoach on display in the window. The girls were pretty excited about seeing the stagecoach up close but what they really wanted to do was climb up into it which, of course, is not allowed. 

The girls were in luck with their wish to climb into a stagecoach though. There is another stagecoach, or at least part of one, that visitors are encouraged to climb in and take a seat. This stagecoach does not have wheels but rather sits on boards. It can be rocked up and down to make it feel like you're travelling in a stagecoach. The girls absolutely loved this and roped Papa into rocking the stagecoach as they pretended to travel through the countryside. This stagecoach also features a screen playing footage of the landscape going by (to really make it feel like we were moving!) and a short documentary about the history of  the stagecoach. The girls also had a go at sitting in the driver's seat and using the reins.

The hands on fun didn't stop at the stage coach. The girls were intrigued to try out a few gadgets from "ye olde days". First up they punched codes into fake bank cheques (I still can't bring myself to spell it "checks") using a check punch (ok, I spelled it that way there!).

Another "gadget" from the olden days that had the girls excited was a game of Pong! Ok, so that one's not quite so old. The girls couldn't quite work out how to control the dial and press the button at the right time but they had fun. In fact, after playing this they wanted to get a game of Pong for home! Admittedly, the girls didn't let me get close enough to the console to read the sign and find out the relevance of Pong in the museum - and I forgot to go back and check afterwards! From what I've read online it seems that Atari (the maker of Pong) were a Wells Fargo customer in the 1970s. Whatever the reason, it was fun!

Before heading upstairs to the mezzanine level we ventured into the actual Wells Fargo bank that the museum is attached to. Here there is another stagecoach on display and Lola's most favourite heart in all of San Francisco. You may recall from older posts that we're quite partial to the heart sculptures dotted throughout San Francisco. You can see some of them here and here. This one combines two of Lola's favourite things: hearts and pennies. Ok,so they're not actually pennies (or even real coins), but as far as Lola is concerned all coins are pennies and she's obsessed with finding them!

Upstairs on the mezzanine level there was more hands on fun with old technology and a view over the museum floor below.

Two antique candlestick phones from the early 20th century provided loads of fun with the girls making calls to each other. Although, as you'll see below they could easily hear each other without the use of the earpiece anyway! Talking into an old phone is way more fun that just having a conversation face to face. Lola is convinced that we need one of these at home now. Well, we don't have a home phone so maybe one of these would come in handy. Hello, operator?

The girls tapped out messages to each other using morse code. Or rather, they tapped out mumbo jumbo to each other in morse code! Ava tried her best to follow along with an instruction sheet but the dots and dashes all kind of merged into one big tapping frenzy!


As much fun as the old telephones and telegraph machines were there was one other item up on the mezzanine level that the girls just could not get enough of. The horse and stagecoach ride! When the girls first saw the ride they came running over to me asking for quarters. Considering that the museum is free we all figured that there would be a small charge for the ride. Well, we were wrong. It's free too. And given that we were the only people on the mezzanine level at the time the girls got to have lots of turns. They both enjoyed the ride - even if Lola does look a little terrified in the second photo. Trust me, it didn't move as fast as her expression would suggest!  

The Wells Fargo History Museum is a wonderful place to spend an hour or so. The museum was recently renovated so it's a bright, airy and modern space. And the staff there are just the best! So friendly and helpful. Great space, fantastic exhibits and friendly staff - not things you usually find at free museums. I did mention before that it's free, right? It's free! 

My girls absolutely loved the hands on exhibits and my parents were interested to learn quite a lot about San Francisco's history, particularly the Gold Rush era. Oh yeah, there's plenty of gold on display there too! Between following the girls around with my camera and feeding Mathilde I didn't get much of a chance to look at all of the exhibits. But you know what? The girls had such a great time there and Kim is super keen to check it out too (he was at work when we visited the museum) so we'll definitely be back some time soon. 

Wells Fargo History Museum is located at 420 Montgomery Street, San Francisco. It is open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm (closed on bank holidays). And it's free!  

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