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The NEW Exploratorium: Strategies for a Great Day

Updated on January 2, 2014

Kids know what to see first in that huge museum.

This page tells what KIDS should do first when they get to the New San Francisco Exploratorium.

Our trip started one Sunday morning when Mom announced that my sister and I were going to the Exploratorium. "What kind of museum is it, Mom?"

" The kind where you build things and move things and jump on things and look inside things. You'll love it."

We got into the minivan. Mom had packed apples, crackers, and sandwiches, so we could picnic on the outside balcony at the museum and watch the ships, sailboats, and ferries go under the Bay bridges. Cool. Mom said they called the second floor balcony the "Bay Observatory Gallery" on the floor map. She said it was not well marked because the museum wanted us to pay a huge amount for the restaurant food. whatever.


Mom was looking for quarters. - She kept mumbling something about it being Sunday.

"Mom! Look! That crazy guy with the hat is jumping up and down with a sign and yelling at us to park right there for only 20 bucks! I think he is dancing for us. Hey he has a big ring stuck in his lip, and his ear and his NOSE! ...Does that hurt Mom?"

"Don't worry girls. We are going to park for FREE on a side street by a meter."

That was when Mom started talking to the parking meter, mumbling stuff about

"being the most expensive city on earth blah blah blah." My sister and I wanted to put 32 quarters in that meter, one at a time. Mom looked around the corner and found numbered meters with a credit card machine. "Same price, less quarters." She said it was still cheaper than the jumping man with the ring in his lip.

We only had 4 hours, so we had to walk fast.


Membership Rates/ Purchasing Tickets - Why did Mom purchase tickets online?

There wasn't a line that Sunday when we walked in with our Mom. Sometimes people had to line up and wait a long time to buy a ticket.

Mom said the daily admission rates are $25 adults, $19 youth. Kids 5 and under are free. There are discounts for Bay Area residents and teachers.

If you were going to come back again and again and again, and your kids were over 5 years old, you could buy a membership.

"Family Explorers":

$150 (1 yr.) / $260 (2 yrs.)

All basic benefits, plus:

Free admission for two adults named on card and up to four children under 18.

To purchase tickets, click on the photo for the link to the Exploratorium.


Where did we go first? - This place was tall and big and full of stuff.

Mom kept dragging us past these really cool things. She was trying to find the "West Gallery". She asked about a "hanging table with a spirograph". I just wanted to stop and do stuff right now. Mom said we had to get a ticket to draw a picture with markers or we wouldn't get a turn.


I wanted to make a huge spirograph picture and take it home! - No more tickets?

Phew. Mom dragged us to this part of the museum first. It was a little tricky. After walking in, we doubled back to the "West Gallery". All the galleries were marked on the floor map.

When we arrived, we got an appointment card with a time marked on it. The card said we had to come back at 11:30. There were 20 minute time slots for every family. In 20 minutes, you could use 3 colored markers to make one huge design-FOR FREE! Boy I wish we had time to use all of those colors. I could tell the adults wanted to make pretty pictures too. Everyone gathered around that exhibit all quiet, watching the beautiful designs appear on the swinging table. Every drawing was a totally different design. All of them were just beautiful. We hung my picture up on my bedroom wall when we got home.

My Photo.

"Hey. That table moves under the marker!" - "Look! The table is hanging from the ceiling."

The drinking fountain was on a toilet! - I wasn't thirsty anymore.

As soon as we walked in we saw the bathrooms. I was thirsty after that long ride. Then i saw it. A toilet. Not a regular toilet. This one was right in the middle of hall. I looked closer and it was a drinking fountain. You had to lean over the toilet to get a drink of water!


The pink slinky kept going.

Made cool designs on the spinning sand table.

There was one big sand table where everyone worked together with tools to make designs in the soft sand. There were also three smaller tables where you could work alone. These tables were always crowded. We got to use them as the museum was closing. The tables were in the main gallery right where you walked in.


I wanted to make more sand designs. - All of these kids (and moms and dads) were waiting for a turn.

I could have spent the whole day at that sand table.

ding. clang. bong. ding. ding. - I made my own musical pinball machine with tubes and things.

Shooting balls up this pinball machine was really cool. We moved all the parts and pieces so the balls would make beautiful music on the way back down. We met some nice kids. Everyone seemed to work together.


Flying Cups - We used these HUGE super sharp scissors!

Yep. The Exploratorium didn't have kid scissors, so mom kept saying "Be Careful!". I could tell she was debating whether or not we should be using those big adult scissors to cut our cups. She said next time she would stick some kid scissors in her purse.

This place was called the "Tinker Studio." Not like "Tinkerbell", but like tinkering and making stuff. These tables had air shooting like a fan, blowing to the ceiling. First we cut up snow cone cups with those huge, sharp scissors. Then we brought the cut-up cups to the air table and watched them spin, twirl, pop, and SHOOT up towards the ceiling.

We could have stayed here all day too.

Scissors for Kids

Mom said she used blunt silver kid scissors in elementary school. Her knuckles got sore from rubbing against the handle. Every pair had glue sticking to the hinges.

These kid scissors would be great for cutting paper cups that fly through the air at the Exploratorium. They are sharp and safe.

Card Tricks!

The people working at the Exploratorium were so nice. We watched the card tricks for so long that they finally showed us how the tricks worked. Mom dragged us away from his table too.

Rope Dancing

Some people called this a "rope squirter" or a "rope thrower". This guy called it a "pasta thrower". (My mom buys her pasta in a plastic bag, so it never looks like this.) That rope was shooting out of a machine in a circle- but if we stuck our hands in, the shape of the rope changed. It looked like it was alive.

"Can we climb on THAT? Pleeaaase."

This was a play structure right outside the museum. We climbed through the holes and hung out precariously over the edge. More than one kid had to have their dad come to the rescue. A couple of toddlers even started crying. I think there was an age limit. Big kids only. We were o.k.- if it didn't get too crowded.

My Photo.

Fog Bridge - Where did everything go?

Well, my Mom actually did lose sight of my sister and had a "moment". She freaked out. The fog got dense quickly on the bridge. This was our last stop on the way out of the museum. The fog came in every hour.

Bart/ Muni Map of Embarcadero - Public Transportation or Bike

The museum suggested riding bikes or taking public transportation to be more green. There was no parking added to account for the museum visitors.

photo, link:

The building cleaned the water in the Bay. - Mom said the new building was "green"...but it looked white.

- The new Exploratorium was built on a pier that is 98 years old.

-Retrofitting of the pier cost 220 million dollars.

-The goal was to create a net-zero energy facility: "the concept of a Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB), one which produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year"- Whole Building Design Guide,

- Met LEED gold building requirements.

-Moved over 600 exhibits from the old museum.

-Moved 40 kinds of organisms like sea urchins, zebra fish, and termites.

-3 times the space of the old Exploratorium.

-largest net-zero museum in the U.S.

-solar panels were all over the roof!

-Bay water was circulated through the building to provide heat and cooling.

-Special glass limited heat gain and gives birds a place to hang out.

-High efficiency tankless electric water heaters saved money.

-The roof area store caught rainwater for toilet flushing. Unused roof water was filtered before going back into the bay.

-100% of the air ventilation came from outside.

-Lots of natural daylight and fabulous views.

-Great light switches saved money.

-Used many recycled materials during construction.

photo: cc,

Click on the link for a video about the construction.

Look at that pretty gold circle. What is a LEED certificate? - What standards are needed to qualify?

According to "LEED Requirements for Dummies", there are standards for buildings qualifying for LEED.

"A building earns points for meeting green building standards in six categories:

Sustainable site

Water conservation

Energy and atmosphere

Materials and resources

Indoor environmental quality

Green design innovations

The number of points a building earns determines its rating - Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum."

Click on the photo for a link to the Exploratorium plan to achieve the LEED Gold Standard.

Exploratorium Time Lapse Video

The Beautiful Exploratorium

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Old Exploratorium

I remember first walking into the old Exploratorium with my third and fourth grade class. I was a teacher, new to the Bay Area. We wound through the Palace of Fine Arts people watching, looking for the obscure entrance to the museum. We found it in the corner, behind trees and a bike rack.

As my class walked in to the cavernous museum, I thought of an airplane hanger. The ceilings were so high. I couldn't even see the back of the building. My memories of that day are jumbled- so many cool exhibits. There was an air tornado funnel we could mix up with our hands. A water fountain was perched on top of a toilet bowl. ( The bowl was spotless, but I still couldn't drink.) I remember a pendulum with markers. Beautiful colored prisms glowed on the back wall.

photo: cc,

Have you ever been to the old Exploratorium?

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What did you think? Would you go again? Any hints or advice? Please share your opinions.

Have you been to the New Exploratorium?

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Have you been to the city?


Have you been to San Francisco?

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Where is your all-time favorite science museum? - What was your favorite exhibit?

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I have been to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. I hadn't even heard of the Exploratorium, but now after reading your lens, I REALLY would like to go! Awesome lens! :)

    • Michelllle profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @Elyn MacInnis: Go Red Sox! : )

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      4 years ago from USA

      The Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 

      4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Boston. But this one sounds especially good!

    • Michelllle profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @EdTecher: Yes, I agree. But the Exploratorium is so different from the Air and Space museum- both are great.

    • Michelllle profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @GrammieOlivia: I went to an awesome science museum in Toronto when I was a kid.

    • Michelllle profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @Aladdins Cave: I would love to go. Have relatives near there. : )

    • girlfriendfactory profile image


      4 years ago

      I haven't taken my son yet and I'm so glad I read your lens first! We almost went about a month or two ago but ended up waiting (we live just on the other side of Sacramento in the foothills). Now I know what to do first!!!! Thanks so much for this awesome lens!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I've been to the old one tons of times (used to live near SF). I didn't know there was a new one until I clicked on this lens. Rrgh, now I really want to go there.

    • Aladdins Cave profile image

      Aladdins Cave 

      4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Science Centre NEMO, Amsterdam

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, Canada

    • Elaine Chen profile image

      Elaine Chen 

      4 years ago

      I enjoyed watching these videos presented here. Science museum really is great place for family to have fun and learn something new.

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 

      5 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      This is so neat! I have used some of the Exploratorium educational resources for programs with kids, but didn't realize it was a real place with all of these cool things to do. Thanks for sharing!

    • EdTecher profile image

      Heidi Reina 

      5 years ago from USA

      Smithsonian Air & Space in DC is my favorite, and Apollo to the Moon was my favorite exhibit. Can't wait to explore the Exploratorium!

    • Michelllle profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @reasonablerobby: Ok. I'll have to take my family to go visit the museums on your side of the world. : )

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      The Natural History Museum in London followed by the Space Centre just down the road from me in Leicester UK. Oh and I forgot to mention the Ironbridge museum in Shropshire - home of the industrial revolution. I was in San Francsico some years back the Exploratorium is a great reason to return.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      5 years ago

      I was blown away by the Exploratorium when I visited back in 1964. My brother-in-law was leaving for the Vietnam War the next day, so we drove up to meet him and his mom for a weekend together. The experience at this museum was overwhelming. i remember being so surprised by the colored shadows.


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