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Perched on Pier 15 in San Francisco, the Exploratorium is the science museum for people who think they don’t like science. Almost every exhibit is hands on and interactive, and the subjects range from physics to botany and everything in between.
Whether you have an infant or you’re a member of the AARP, there’s something fun for everyone at the Exploratorium. And, since it’s just a few hours away from Fresno, it’s a great day trip or weekend adventure.
Want more information about this magical place? I took my kids last weekend and I’m back to report on the experience.
Hours and location
I will admit I’m not the best at physics. And mathematics has been the cause of several questionable grades in my college days. The Exploratorium is stuffed with exhibits that address both of these studies (and more), and yet I didn’t feel trapped or horrible while there. In fact, I felt intrigued, and even took the time to read up on “pi,” that kooky, never-ending number we sometimes confuse with dessert. It was also the first museum I’ve had to drag my kids out of. They actually did not want to leave, despite the fact it was lunch time and we were all hungry.
The Exploratorium (like most museums) is closed on Mondays. Since it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, we chose to go on a Sunday and miss the traffic. If you decide to get there when it opens at 10, be sure to eat a large breakfast and snack in the car. Hot dogs in the museum café are $9.
Located on Pier 15 at Embarcadero and Green Street, you can easily find parking nearby for about $20. If you’re interested in a discount code for parking, click here to grab it and find a map of the parking options. There is also an F-Market and Wharves Streetcar stop in front, and it’s possible to take B.A.R.T. to the Embarcadero exit and walk a half a mile or so over to the Exploratorium.
Combining science and art
In 2013, the Exploratorium made its new home at Pier 15 after about 50 years at the Palace of Fine Arts. If you haven’t been since the move, there are new exhibitions that were built specifically for the new location. And, you can catch gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge and the bay while you muck around with science exhibits.
Speaking of, if you think science is just about science, you’d be wrong. The exhibits highlight the common threads between the arts and sciences. In fact, the Exploratorium often welcomes artists for residencies. One of my kids’ favorite art displays was by Scott Weaver. His toothpick sculpture was breathtaking, not just because of the size and man-hours involved, but because of its delicacy and the fact you can run ping pong balls through it like an oversized marble run.
Even the art of tinkering is given respect at the Exploratorium. The museum was founded by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969 and since its opening, there has always been a view of works in progress. You can still peek into the room where new exhibits are being developed. This is a brilliant move, because my kids saw the workshop and immediately wanted a job there. (Luckily, there’s a tinkering studio where kids can build creations of their own.)
The exhibits are grouped by categories ranging from Human Behavior to Living Systems. One of my favorite parts was the Science of Seeing, maybe because it involved a lot of rainbows, or maybe because it had the giant bubble exhibit I remembered from my childhood visit.
The Exploratorium is kind of dark, which is necessary for many of the exhibits to work properly. Walking into rainbows from darkness was a great sensory experience and, as a bonus, I got to learn how colors are made. The exhibit takes the rainbows and unicorn trend to the next level, with glowing gasses from the table of elements to an interactive sun painting by Bob Miller.
The East Gallery houses botanical and zoological fun, such as the cow eye dissection that was taking place. A favorite exhibit of ours was the dancing plankton exhibit where you could attract plankton to different lights and watch them dance around it.
Since this part of the Exploratorium is towards the back, I was incredibly hungry (despite the cow eye dissection) and wanted to leave for lunch, which was harder than I anticipated. The kids ran from one exhibit to the next announcing they just wanted to see one more thing. Secretly, it made me happy, because science is pretty cool.
Of course, when you exit the building there are still exhibits galore outdoors. I didn’t feel too bad dragging my kids past them with a promise of a trolley ride. We had purchased season passes, after all, and we are already talking about our return visit.
If you want to squeeze everything into one day, I tip my hat to you. Just writing this post was difficult because of the sheer quantity of information. Overall, it’s definitely a spot to check out on your next adventure.
Tickets are $29.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids, but public school teachers are free. Because admission is a bit pricey, it makes sense to purchase a Family Season Pass for $149. You can buy tickets online here in advance. Check out season pass pricing here.
Tuesday–Sunday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Thursday evening (ages 18+): 6:00–10:00 p.m.
Monday: Closed except select Monday holidays