San Francisco's New Exploratorium:
We Can't Get Enough!

By Kathy Chin Leong

NorbaySept13-1.jpgDid you get your annual family membership yet? It may be the best $150 you will have  ever spent.  For those with young children or big kids, I would highly recommend not just one, but several visits to the new Exploratorium for many reasons.  First, considering there are 600 whopping exhibits, you will quickly realize you cannot do it all in one day.  The two-level Exploratorium is so vast that it takes multiple visits to thoroughly see and play with everything.  Second, the location is superb as it is walking distance to other pier attractions such as the Ferry Building and close to an assortment of trinkety shops and boutique restaurants.  Third, the view of the bay is astonishing, and on a clear day with the sky so blue and water so pristine, one could not be any happier. 

On a recent Sunday afternoon, we descended on the facility with our kids, nephews, niece, grandma and uncle.  All ten of us, complete with baby stroller and the assorted bottles of milk that go with it, converged on the museum and paid $15 parking to get as close to the site as possible. Do factor that in when you visit or park further away if you want to pay less. 

One of the best things about participating in these exhibits is seeing the reactions on people's faces. As we spun and poked, matched blocks and stretched our bodies, there were plenty of smiles and giggles from other guests, which tells me that the developers and scientists were quite intentional and clever when they came up with these hands-on games.  

Here are our favorite things:

*The human sweeper clock: In the West Gallery, you see a film of a living clock. Upon closer inspection you see that the hands are made of garbage sweepers who are sweeping in unison to form this living artwork.

*The Yawn Booth: Sitting in front of a tv screen that shows nothing but people yawning makes you want to yawn too.  Grandma laughed and yawned at the same time. 

*The Shh exhibit: In the Central Gallery, folks are lining up to have some fun.  In this exhibit, you practice walking on little stones through a short tunnel while making as little sound as possible.  A quiet meter measures your noise level.

*The Two-Faced booth: In this exhibit, you look into a screen, freeze the photo, and then see your face split in half and pasted together in a single image. Hilarious.  We all appeared pretty silly and took our cell phones out to take blackmail pictures.

* The Chladni Singing Machine: You sing into a microphone using different pitches, and you see the sand in a box reverberating into different patterns based on the tenor of your voice.  Others were too embarrassed to try it, but I took the plunge to sing Happy Birthday into the mike. 

* The Giant  Mirror:  I cannot explain it, but there's a giant mirror 12 feet across, eight feet high in the Central Gallery exhibit hall, and you see yourself upside down and feel you can touch your hands to the ones in the mirror as if you have a twin in this other-worldly experience.  

* The Giant chair:  This was at the last museum too. I just love this gigantic chair that is about 8 feet high and requires you to climb up to sit in it. Everyone feels like a Lillieputian in Gulliver's Travels when sitting on it. Parents are constantly taking pictures of their kids, too.  This also is next to a regular chair and a small one half that size. Visualize Goldilock and the Three Bears.

* The Turntable:  A spinning turntable invites folks to roll metal discs onto it to see who can keep their disc standing up on its edge. It is a lot of fun and takes precision.  We were here for a long time with the kids because they didn't want to leave.

After a few wild hours with only exploring the bottom floor, we were exhausted, and it was time for eats. The Seaglass Restaurant with views of the water is an excellent locale with fresh dishes including pizza, roasted chicken, tacos, sushi, and desserts with my fave: tasty chocolate chip cookies.   Gourmet Mexican, Asian, Italian, and American fare reflect the diversity of the Bay Area.  

Well, that's a sample of our full and exhaustive day at the Exploratorium. To the self-professed non-techies and non-geeks, I say science can be super cool and intensely fun, and I guess that's the point of this unique space.  Each gallery has a clear emphasis on different science areas: biology, light, sound, thoughts and feelings, wind and tides, and weather and natural earth forces.  Two museum shops are also packed with fun trinkets so kids and adults can take home a souvenir or two or three.

If you haven't gone yet, visit early and pace yourself accordingly. Chances are, you will probably run out of energy before the kids will.

When You Go: 
Pier 15
San Francisco
Hours: Closed Mondays, open T, Th, F,S, Sun: 10-5.  W: 10-10; Th. nights 6-10 p.m. adults only. 

Adults $15
Youth 6-17, seniors over 65, People with disabilities  $19
Kids five and under FREE
California Public School Teachers FREE

$60 one year for one person/$100 two years
$95 one year for one person, plus guest
$150 one year for family, two adults with up to four children.

Kathy Chin Leong is a Bay Area resident and loves this new museum!

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