Lonely Planet review
Is there a science to skateboarding? Do toilets really flush counterclockwise in Australia? Find answers to questions you wished you'd learned in school, at San Francisco's thrilling hands-on science museum. Combining science with art, and investigating human perception, the Exploratorium nudges you to question how you perceive the world around you. As thrilling as the exhibits is the setting: a nine-acre, glass-walled pier jutting straight into San Francisco Bay, with large outdoor portions you can explore free of charge, twenty-four hours a day.
Covering a whopping 330,000 sq feet of indoor-outdoor space, galleries focus on color, sound, light and motion, stimulating learning by inviting participation. Never didactic, always engaging, the over-600 exhibits have buttons to push, cranks to ratchet, and dials to adjust, all tinkered together by artists and scientists at the in-house building shop (which you can peer into). Try on a punk hairdo, courtesy of the static-electricity station. Turn your body into the gnomon of a sun-dial. Slide, climb and feel your way – in total darkness – through the labyrinth of the thrilling Tactile Dome (reservations and separate ticket required).
Frank Oppenheimer founded the Exploratorium in 1969. He'd been a physicist on the atom bomb, was blackballed during the McCarthy era, then later reemerged as a high-school teacher, eschewing secret scientific study in favor of public education. The Exploratorium is his lasting legacy, with the mission to incorporate technology with human values.
In 2013 the Exploratorium moved from the Marina to Pier 15, a brand-new solar-powered space, built in concert with scientific agencies, including NOAA, which hard-wired the entire pier with sensors delivering real-time data on weather, wind, tides, and the bay. See the data flow in at your final stop, the Observatory Gallery, a glass-enclosed lookout where you can make your own observations about sea, land and sky.