The Most Fun California Museum You've Never Heard of

Visiting the Museum of Banned Toys, Classic Toys and Pez in Burlingame
Scented Crayolas? No wonder kids started eating them. On display at the Banned Toy Museum. (Photo by Paul Iorio.)

Scented crayons for children. Someone at Crayola had that bright idea some decades ago -- until kids started munching on the candy-colored sticks.

And then there's Clackers, two balls on a string that crash together. Kids thought it was fun -- until the balls smashed like shrapnel when used as directed.

And let's not forget the Atomic Energy Lab for kids -- with materials that turned out to be actually radioactive.

All are banned (or recalled) toys. And all are on display at The Banned Toys Museum in Burlingame, California (which also includes a Classic Toys and Pez Museum). (For the record, the formal name of the main museum is The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia; the other two "museums" are more like displays in the main room.)

Clackers, dangerous when used as directed! [photo by Paul Iorio]

This gallery is the creation of one Gary Doss, who owns and runs the place.

"It took me 14 years to get an example of every Pez ever sold," Doss told me from behind the counter at the gift shop. "I've been a Pez collector for about 20 years."

Eight hundred different types of Pez dispensers have been made over the decades --and Doss has a sample of every single one of them.

"You saw the 'Seinfeld' episode?" I asked, referring to the famous episode about Pez.

"Of course," Doss said, laughing. In fact, on the wall in the next room is a TV Guide picture of Jerry Seinfeld with a Pez dispenser.

Pez-mania on display. (photo by Paul Iorio)

Less funny -- or darkly funny -- are the banned toys, a collection that was "tougher" to acquire. "It took about five years to assemble," says Doss.

Some of the banned toys recall nothing so much as Dan Aykroyd's hilarious bit on "Saturday Night Live" in the Seventies, trying to justify dangerous children's gadgets.

But this stuff is quite real. Sharp lawn darts that kids started throwing at more than the lawn. Balls that all-too-easily burst into flames.

The Atomic Energy Lab for kids. Nukes not included! (photo by Paul Iorio)
The contents of the Atomic Energy Lab -- which could cause kids to glow in the dark, sort of. (photo by Paul Iorio)


Not dangerous but recalled anyway, this cute little doll would say "Bite my butt" when its chain was pulled! (photo by Paul Iorio)

Elsewhere, in the classic toys section, each exhibit brings back a deep-seated memory from childhood -- if you're a baby boomer. Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Slinky, Nerfball, everything but Six Finger, it seems, are all on display with the original packaging.

In the classic toys section, the beloved Slinky. (photo by Paul Iorio)

"To qualify as a classic toy in our museum, it has to be over 50-years old and still has to be made today," says Doss.

Doss has enough exhibits for perhaps six rooms but jams everything, artfully, into two (the museum and the gift shop). It may well be the most densely-packed gallery in California.

Also in the classic section, the Nerfball. [photo by Paul Iorio]
And who can forget Play-Doh? (photo by Paul Iorio)

The museum is a half-hour train ride from San Francisco via CalTrain, right next door to the Burlingame stop. (The rail ride is also an easy way to glimpse the legendary Candlestick Park stadium, where the Beatles gave their last concert, before it is demolished this winter. Just look to the east when you're north of the airport.)

And when you get off the train in Burlingame, check out the train station (built 110-years ago), which now houses The Burlingame Historical Society museum, featuring lots of local retro photos and memorabilia.

And there are restaurants and a shopping district across the street on Burlingame Avenue.

(The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, 215 California
Drive, is open Tuesday through Saturday.

The Pez Corral! (photo by Paul Iorio)
A vintage Pez machine. (photo by Paul Iorio)
Wayy before DVDs, the View Master series. (photo by Paul Iorio)
A corner display. (photo by Paul Iorio)
This photo of Burlingame in the early 20th century hangs in the nearby Burlingame Historical Society museum. (photo by Paul Iorio)
The Pez Museum's sign on California Drive. (photo by Paul Iorio)