The Exploratorium San Francisco – Learn Science The Fun Way

The Exploratorium in San Francisco is a playful learning laboratory with more than 600 interactive exhibits that ignite curiosity and transform the way people learn. Since 1969, the Exploratorium has influenced generations of artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, teachers, children, and even other museum professionals.

Since its beginnings, the Exploratorium has pioneered innovative ways to make connections — working with researchers at the South Pole, NASA scientists studying the atmosphere of the sun, playgrounds designers, even Tibetan monks. It's a big museum and you'll want to make a day of it, especially if you're traveling with curious children.


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The Exploratorium Gallery Overview

The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium building on Pier 15 is long and narrow. Inside you'll five six galleries. In addition to the permanent exhibits (listed below), there are a bevy of special exhibits, workshops, films, special events, demonstrations, and experiments. Pi Day, celebrated on March 14, is a holiday that was invented at the Exploratorium to honor Einstein's birthday and the famous mathematical constant. The museum is free on this day.

1 – Osher West Gallery

The Osher West Gallery focuses on Human Phenomena. Experiment with thoughts, feelings, and social behaviour. Highlights include the science of sharing; the very popular tactile dome (invented in 1971 by Nicolas Cage's father) that takes your on an adventure in total darkness; and black box, a 800-square-foot gallery with special interactive media displays.

2 – South Gallery

South Gallery focus is Tinkering. Explore your creativity with hands-on activities. This gallery's highlight is Tinkerer's Clock, a twenty-two-foot-high clock with knobs to wind up wooden cartoon characters to see them perform their tasks.

3 – Bechtel Central Gallery

Bechtel Central Gallery focuses on Seeing & Listening with light, sound and vision exhibits. Gallery highlights are soap film painting, the giant mirror, and monochromatic room where you explore a colorless world.

4 – East Gallery

East Gallery is all about Living Systems. Explore DNA and cells that are found in organisms and ecosystems. Gallery highlights are plankton populations and a microscope imaging system where you can see stem cells, fruit flies and zebrafish under a microscope

5 – North Gallery

North Gallery features Outdoor Exhibits. Feel the wind, explore the tides and be wowed by natural phenomena. Gallery highlights are Aeolian harp, a 27-foot-tall harp that's strummed by the breeze; the rickshaw camera obscura, a pedal powered view of the city and remote rains where you can choose your private rain from mist, light drizzle to heavy showers.

6 – Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery

Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery and Terrace is about Observing Landscapes. Uncover the unique history, ecology and geography of the San Francisco Bay area. Gallery highlights are the environmental field station project and a large-scale relief map of the Bay

Don't miss the Bay Observatory Terraces on the upper level. Other popular destinations inside the Exploratorium San Francisco are the Life Sciences Lab, microscope imaging, time & motion, science of sharing, Black Box, Bay history wall, the Wattis Webcast studio, and the crossroads atrium with fun open-ended experiments and exhibits.

The Explainers

Tinkerer's Clock

Always reinventing, founder Frank Oppenheimer wanted to have enthusiastic guides called Explainers who would playfully encourage visitors to explore. Today High School Explainers work after school and on weekends to bring their lively personalities to the exhibits. There are also Field Trip Explainers who work during the day with school groups and offer help to visitors.


History of the Exploratorium

the Exploratorium

The Exploratorium opened in the fall of 1969. It was the perfect place and the perfect time to try out a new way of learning.

Let's set the stage of what was going on that year. Richard M. Nixon was president, and the Vietnam War divided the nation. Neil Armstrong had just taken the first walk on the moon, Andy Warhol was creating pop-art images of soup cans. In California, the Summer of Love was still lingering, and the hot tub was the newest craze. And seventy million children from the post-war baby boom were becoming teenagers and young adults. San Francisco was poised to be the nexus for social experimentation.

The Oppenheimer Connection

Frank Oppenheimer, then 57 years old, had many careers before he arrived to San Francisco and founded the Exploratorium. He was a renowned physicist, a university professor, and had worked with his brother, J. Robert Oppenheimer (you know, the father of the atomic bomb), on the Manhattan Project.

During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Frank had been barred from scientific research, so he moved to Colorado and became a cattle rancher. Before long, his passion for learning led him back to teaching and he began to share his worldview with students at the local high school. Frank was no ordinary science teacher. He filled his classroom with hands-on tools, materials, and experiments that became his trademark, and that would lead him to create the Exploratorium.

Frank's dream of transforming science education brought him to San Francisco. He put heart and soul into the project, working with artists, educators, and developers to develop leading-edge exhibits. In 1969, the Exploratorium opened its doors, and this the interactive museum of art, science, and human perception was based on the philosophy that science should be fun and accessible.

First set in a wing of the Palace of Fine Arts of San Francisco, Frank Oppenheimer was the initial director of the museum, and was personally involved in almost every aspect until his death in 1985.

In 1991, renowned French physicist Dr. Goery Delacote joined and served as Executive Director until 2005. Then, under Dr. Dennis Bartel's guidance, the museum began a new phase of growth, including an exciting move in 2013 to its new location on Pier 15 along the Embarcadero.


The Exploratorium San Francisco Resources


There are two casual eateries. the SeaGlass Restaurant is a casual, waterside dining spot with a changing menu, seated dining, with wine and beer and a great view. The Seismic Join Cafe offers baked goods, grab-and-go options, a coffee bar, and natural sodas.

Gift Stores

There's nothing better than perusing a museum's gift store, especially when it's filled with so many wonderful, zany, thought-provoking games, gadgets, puzzles, and toys.

At the Exploratorium there are two shopping options. The large main store is open to the public (without having to buy a ticket) and is found on the Embarcadero at Pier 15. Look for the hard-to-miss Triple Vortex interactive exhibit. This fixture converts into Scrapple, an interactive sound exhibit. Also hard to miss is the cherry-red Art-O-Mat vending machine that dispenses original artwork. The second, smaller store is within the museum.

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