Bay Area

Taking Flight at the Hiller Aviation Museum

Monday May 16, 2016

A couple weeks ago, we got a chance to visit the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos. It instantly become one of our favorite Bay Area museums.

Located just off Highway 101 next to San Carlos Airport, the museum has over 24,700 square feet of gallery space, not including the two-story, first class cabin and cockpit of a Boeing 747 parked in a courtyard.

On our visit, our preschooler immediately ran for the courtyard to watch the active airfield outside. Her entire goal for the outing was to watch airplanes take off and land. The museum provides a raised platform, encircled by a fence, just for this purpose. (Upstairs, in the museum, you get the same view but can also listen to air traffic control, if that’s more your thing.)



While I think she may have had actual commercial airplanes in mind, the small private aircraft we saw were just the right size and excitement for her. A small private jet company even operates out of San Carlos Airport, so she even got to see a few “big” airplanes take of too. Pilots trafficking around the tarmac would wave and smile at her before turning onto the runway. It doesn’t get much cooler for a three year old.

From there, it’s a quick jump to the aforementioned Boeing 747. There’s even that spiral staircase separating first class. It’s pretty awesome.




We climbed the steps and ran over to the cockpit. If you’re a kid, you’ll be delighted by the hundreds of buttons and knobs to press, flip, and turn. If you’re an adult, you’ll likely just stare, head cocked in disbelief, wondering how anyone could possibly keep all of this straight. And then, screw that, you’ll probably jump for the controls, decide you’re Rey, and live out your Millenium-Falcon-in-hot-pursuit dreams. (Or maybe you’re more Denzel Washington in “Flight.” Your choice.)




Someone actually informative and knowledgeable broke into our fever dream and informed us we were fiddling with the air conditioning circuits and told us the in-flight engineer actually sits in the rear chair on the right. We watched him leave, then Dave yelled out for coordinates while Bean took over controls.




The museum’s main gallery space houses over 50 aircraft, arranged as walk through the history of flight. From the early flying machines of the 1800’s to Boeing spy planes and jets of the 1980’s and 90’s.You can also sit in a Blue Angels cockpit, which is eeetsy beeetsy, bless those people.

The aircraft included a Grumman HU-16 Albatross (seen below) that served as a military jet before being recommissioned as a passenger airliner (steps allow you to look inside, to see how the finer 1% fly.)




For kids with no patience for this part of museum-going, the museum provides a kid play area right in the gallery, so you can walk around and look while your kids play.

The Hiller Aviation Museum also has many interactive exhibits, which is what really won us over. In one corner, you can practice flying a drone. Along another wall, museum staff will help you build a battery-powered vehicle. There is also a formal flight simulator, manned with a staff member who actually knows how to fly.

The gift shop is also wonderful. From inflatable clouds to decorate your kid’s room, to children’s size flight and space suits, to models of the universe, it’s nearly impossible to walk through without wanting to buy something. We left with a small model airplane and temporary tattoos.

This would be a terrific stop for any kids or adults into airplanes or flying. We had a blast.

And now, for the first time ever, Bean has a response for what she’d like to be when she grows up: a pilot.





Hiller Aviation Museum
601 Skyway Road, San Carlos, CA 94070
Open 7 days/week, 10am-5pm
$15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $10 for kids (5-17), kids 4 and under are free
The Museum hosts food trucks every Wednesday 11am-2pm

The Museum hosts events throughout every month, in addition to hosting camps for kids. Look forward to Helifest, a festival celebrating helicopters, on June 4th.

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