Exploring San Francisco’s New-and-Improved Exploratorium

Exploring. At a place made for it.

Exploring. At a place made for it.

It took explorer Sir Edmund Hillary two years of trying before he became the first climber to summit Mount Everest in 1953.

Judging from our family’s recent visit to the Exploratorium in its new digs in San Francisco, it could take us just as long to explore all there is to see at our home city’s most exciting science museum.

I went with the girls and my parents (we usually call them Grammy and Grampy Power). We visited last week, exactly one week after the facility opened in Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. All told, we spent the better part of three hours there. During that time, we didn’t even get to see one third of the museum.

Granted, part of this was because we were moving at toddler speed; that is to say, we lingered at every exhibit for at least five minutes so little R could get a sense of what it was, what it did, and whether it was going to scare the bejeezus out of her.

But, really, our experience proves a much simpler truth: This museum is HUGE.

In other words, if you’re visiting with your kids a) allow a full day and swing by the café for lunch and b) don’t be a Clark Griswold about seeing everything because it’s virtually impossible.

As is the case with most museums, certain exhibits likely will resonate with different kids differently. L, who turns four at the end of May, *loved* all of the magnetic stuff—she spent 20 minutes building washer bridges between two powerful magnets and another 20 at a different magnet exhibit, making afros out of magnetized sand. R, on the other hand, who just celebrated her 19-month birthday, showed little to no interest in the magnets, and preferred getting creative with wooden blocks (see that picture, with Grampy Power, above).

That said, both of my kids loved the “Listening” exhibits; the Villano family went all Von Trapp and spent an extended jam session in the xylophone room that had onlookers (horrified or) in stitches.

Another favorite among the pint-sized members of our family: The “fog bridge” outside the museum, a public sculpture that replicates the sensation of walking through an active fog bank.

My only complaint about the new Exploratorium: The place needs more changing tables.

Yes, every women’s room had at least one. The men’s rooms, however, were another story. I understand the age-old assumptions about traditional gender roles. But, scientists, it’s San Francisco! And in the name of Frank Oppenheimer, we dads like to change a few nappies every once in a while, too.

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