Exploratorium Museum of Science

A short MUNI bus ride from just about all points in the city, the Exploratorium is a wonderful activity for kids in San Francisco. Located conveniently at Pier 15, the Exploratorium is a hands-on science mecca for preschoolers through teens.

Exploratorium san francisco

We love how this cavernous building is set up to encourage kids (and their parents) to really let loose: explore its exhibits in any order, for any length of time. It’s set up in sections by field of science (life science on the second floor loft, magnetics and engineering next to it, cognitive science and ‘thinking and feeling’ at the back, etc) but each exhibit stands alone. More than simply hands-on, almost all the exhibits challenge families to work with a partner or in teams, conducting experiments or field testing (aka challenging) their hypothesis.We especially loved the ‘sound and hearing’ section, where we took a auditory journey with a blind man through a BART station.

We spent three hours in the Exploratorium, which I thought would be enough, but I had to drag everyone out (including my husband) in order to keep our evening plans. Younger kids may need less time (the scope of the museum may feel daunting to some), but if you have school-aged kids, plan to be here a long while! The museum is very well contained (really just one huge room), so we felt comfortable letting the older kids roam at will.

Tip: One of the museum’s most popular exhibits, the Tactile Dome is experienced by scheduled appointment (and separate ticket) only. To grab a time slot (set throughout the day), plan to be at the museum in the morning, or order tickets online in advance (the ticket price is slightly more than regular admission, but includes admission to the rest of the museum as well). We visited in the afternoon, and by the time we arrived at 1 pm, the earliest Tactile Dome time available was 6:30…too late for our schedule.

Of note: In case you own an older guide book, the Exploratorium is now located at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. While this location is certainly be more convenient for tourists visiting the Fisherman’s Wharf area, I encourage visitors to still take the time to see the lovely Presidio area of San Francisco.

palace of fine arts

Date last visited:

May 2012

Distance from the interstate:

Located (currently) in the Presidio, just moments from the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway 101.

Admission prices:

Adults are $15, youth (13-17) are $12, and children (4-12) are $10. As with most San Francisco attractions, the best deal for visiting the Exploratorium is to use a CityPASS or Go San Francisco Card card. Free admission the first Wednesday of each month!

Hours of operation:

10 am to 5 pm Tuesday-Sunday (closed most Mondays)

Dining options:

A large, open cafe with snacks, drinks, and light meals is located on the main floor and is lit by nice skylights and provides seating where parents can see most of the action. Otherwise, picnics can be taken outside on the Palace of Fine Arts grounds or nearby duck pond.

Directions:

The Exploratorium is located at 3601 Lyon Street in the Presidio. It will soon move to Pier 15. For now, from Park Presidio, follow the signs for the Highway 101 Detour. Then turn right on Geary Boulevard, left on Van Ness Boulevard, left on Lombard Street, and right on Lyon Street.

About the author

Amy Whitley

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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