It's small for a museum -- just a couple of rooms that, put together, may not even make one decent-sized family room.
So I'm not sure we expected much walking into the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia. I wasn't even sure if the place was big enough to hold a sign with the entire name. I figured a tour would take about 15 minutes, tops.
An hour and $30 worth of PEZ dispensers later, my wife, three kids and I were posing for pictures in front of the world's biggest PEZ dispenser.
The PEZ museum is one of the most delightful places in the Bay Area to take kids, partially because of those expectations and partially because of what's inside: one of every PEZ dispenser ever made and an owner with a bit of a twinkle in his eye who tells you he's not in this for the money.
"PEZ, to me, is almost the perfect childhood toy," said Gary Doss, who opened his museum in a Burlingame storefront 18 years ago. "It's a toy that gives you candy."
Hard to argue with that kind of logic.
Doss owned a computer store in the same space two decades ago when he went to an antique show and discovered some old PEZ dispensers. He started buying them and bringing them to work to display. Suddenly more people were coming in to see his collection than to have computers fixed.
"I said, 'What a silly thing to collect.' And, 20 years later, it's still silly," he said.
Silliness hasn't stopped Doss from making a living selling PEZ dispensers and giving tours of his museum, which not only holds PEZ-related memorabilia, but also Lego figures, antique toys and a wickedly wonderful "Bad Toys" display, showing off various toys that have been banned over the years (including a 1951 "Atomic Energy Lab," with which kids could do their own experiments with four jars of real -- real! -- radioactive material).
As I wondered how Doss could possibly live off a PEZ museum, a steady stream of families came and went. Everybody gets a guided tour at the PEZ museum, which includes an explanation of the name (PEZ comes from an Austrian company that initially made only peppermint candy, or "Pfefferminze." Take the first, middle and nearly last letter and you get "PEZ."). You'll also see old PEZ dispensing machines, and learn that early PEZ dispensers didn't have heads and that every U.S. president from Teddy Roosevelt on has been depicted as a PEZ dispenser.
There are PEZ dispensers that cost 99 cents and one from the 1950s worth $350. Doss also owns the world's largest PEZ dispenser, as confirmed by Guinness World Records. It's an 85-pound snowman that's almost 8 feet tall and can hold 6,480 PEZ.
And there would be no eBay without PEZ dispensers, according to Doss, who tells the story of Pierre Omidyar, a Silicon Valley man who started a website for his wife to buy, sell and trade PEZ dispensers that eventually became eBay. (The story has been disputed on various websites, which doesn't deter Doss from telling it anyway.)
There is a PEZ dispenser for everyone. While my kids picked out various Disney figures and whatnot, I found one featuring the Death Star from "Star Wars." I couldn't see any reason why that shouldn't go home with us.
"It's fun to eat candy out of a planet-killer," Doss said, ringing me up.
IF YOU GO
The Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia: Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 214 California Drive, Burlingame. 650-347-2301, www.burlingamepezmuseum.com. Admission: $3 for adults, $1 for kids (4-12) and seniors (older than 65), free for kids under 4. Free for everyone the first Thursday of every month.
Parents need to know: There's not a lot of space inside, so it might be a good idea to carry smaller children instead of trying to bring in strollers. The museum may not be worth a long drive by itself, but it's an excellent place to stop while driving to and from San Francisco or another destination nearby.
Nearby eats: Christie's Restaurant across the street is a popular local diner. The food is good and reasonably inexpensive, with a menu featuring plenty of breakfast and burger-fry combinations, plus hot sandwiches and salads. Nearby are a number of other American, Asian and Mexican restaurants.
-- Tony Hicks