As I mentioned, I was in San Francisco last fall and staying at the Westin St. Francis partly to see the new Exploratorium. It is my favorite museum and the reason I became a scientist. I thought the original location in the Palace of Fine Arts was awesome — a little grungy on the inside, classy on the outside — and was disappointed when I heard they were moving to the more touristy Embarcadero.
Fortunately it’s not as bad as I feared. The new location is actually very nice, and they have the space to add several new exhibits in addition to nearly all of my old favorites. There were hundreds of screaming kids running around having fun. And a 30-year-old guy. Megan says I’m her practice child before we have kids of our own.
Of course, I had to get a drink at the water fountain just inside the entrance.
The new Exploratorium has an entire section devoted to human psychology and social sciences. While my preference is for hard science, I actually did complete a second major in psychology. These exhibits generally did a great job of explaining basic concepts of how humans perceive themselves and interact with others …in the classic, interactive way the Exploratorium is known for. There are few science museums where you see kids waiting in line to use an exhibit as if it were a carnival ride.
Toward the back (out to the end of the pier on which the Exploratorium sits), there are more exhibits on physics, and eventually biology. This wall was particularly awesome. Megan took some notes for a new school her firm is designing, and I think I’ll probably install something similar for my kids.
There’s even a crafts studio where you can build your own small devices. If you need something special, a vending machine functions as a mini RadioShack, dispensing switches, lights, glue, and other parts.
There were also some live animal exhibits, not really for experimental purposes but just to show the kinds of animals used in science. I had the fortunate distinction of experience working with all of these — yeast, fruit flies, Arabidopsis (the plant), mice, and so on. If I ever need a job, maybe I should look into working here.
But wait, there’s more! When you reach the big windows at the end, turn around and take the stairs up to the mezzanine, where a bridge connects you to the Bay Observatory. There you can learn more about the history and science of the San Francisco Bay.
One of my favorite exhibits here was a year-long survey of tidal patterns. Each plastic sheet is one day, showing that the tides change not just within days but also between them.
Turning around, we were treated to a great view of the sunset over downtown.
Try to arrive earlier than we did. Several of the exhibits are located outside in this courtyard. Some of them are interactive, requiring you to pedal or push buttons. Others are static. This is probably the most educational jungle gym ever.
If you’re visiting San Francisco and looking to take your children someplace fun — or if you’re just a particularly curious adult — I definitely recommend stopping by the Exploratorium. It easily beats most other attractions in the city.