If you’re looking for a Bay Area destination that will delight, inform, engage and captivate your kids, or perhaps the kid in you, then head down to the Exploratorium on Piers 15 and 17 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. The New York Times called this unique museum/learning center the most important science museum opened since the mid-20th century. If that endorsement doesn’t set the hook, consider that the Times described this facility as "a mad scientist’s penny arcade, a scientific funhouse, and an experimental laboratory all rolled into one."

For the last couple of decades, researchers who are investigating the science of learning have been working alongside exhibit designers to enhance free-choice learning in museums, public aquaria, science centers and other institutions. Suffice it to say that exhibits in San Francisco’s Exploratorium offer some of the most interesting and innovative approaches to this type of learning. Guests at this and other cutting-edge facilities learn more about science and scientific principles in a few minutes than they can in a week of traditional classroom instruction. More important, they are much more likely to retain what they have learned, as the focus is fun, not rote memorization.

The Exploratorium was founded in 1969 by noted physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer, who wanted to create a museum where the exhibits were interactive, not encased in glass or cordoned off from the public. It was located at the Palace of Fine Arts until April of 2013, when it moved to the Embarcadero. Today, this facility offers more than 600 interactive exhibits organized into several different galleries, including:

  • The Central Gallery, where guests learn about and experiment with sound and hearing, light and vision, motion and spatial perception.
  • The West Gallery, where guests can experiment with thoughts, feelings and social behavior.
  • The East Gallery, which houses a variety of exhibits about biology and living systems.
  • The South Gallery, which focuses on tinkering, with an emphasis on electricity and magnetism.
  • The Outdoor Gallery, where guests encounter new ways to see and process the world around them, including how their choices positively or negatively impact the environment.
  • The Bay Observatory Gallery, where guests learn about the environment in and around San Francisco Bay.

There is plenty of parking nearby (for a price,) but you’re much better off walking, bicycling or taking public transportation to the Exploratorium. This facility is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with bonus hours for adults 18 and older from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday evenings. The Exploratorium is closed on Mondays and most major holidays. Ticket prices range from $25 for adults to $19 for kids age 6 to 19. Children 5 and under are admitted for free. For more information about the Exploratorium, please visit the facility’s site at http://www.exploratorium.edu/.

View Larger Map