(credit: Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
One of the things that makes a great science exhibit deserving of that tag is its enduring appeal for everyone. Go with a kindergartener or a grandmother and you’ll see just what we mean. Better yet, muster up a multigenerational group to multiply the fun of learning that these venues deliver. As Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” And have fun!
Pier 15, The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111
Choose from dozens of exhibits widely placed throughout the galleries where floors are streaked with prism effects as mid-morning sunshine is reflected by glass discs in the ceiling overhead. “Nice job, buddy!” says a boy who’s proud of his teammate as they strategize over digital challenges that teach perception skills. Further along, the sweet smell of sawdust lingers in The Tinkering Studio, where a group of summer campers sit beneath a chandelier made of recycled coat hangers, busily making “Cardboard Automata” under the guidance of an Explainer. A girl is studying magnified plankton extracted from the bay while toddlers are attracted to a white wall that produces colored shadows when they approach it. A father and son experiment with their own reflections on the giant curved mirror that tricks our brains, one of the most popular exhibits at the Exploratorium. Come with lots of time to get lost in learning; the depth and breadth are mind-boggling.
California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
It’s more like taking a ride through space than being tucked into a cinema seat. Have you attended a show inside the darkened Morrison Planetarium with its 75-foot diameter screen? This is the world’s largest all digital planetarium inside a massive dome at the museum’s center. Get into the cyclic mood by downloading the online pocket almanac before you go, then ask for your free, timed planetarium admission ticket upon arrival. After the show, you’re sure to understand more about the heavens, although we’re all still in the dark about the invisible glue that holds this universe together. Save time for a shake in the earthquake simulator, a view of coral reef divers in the underground aquarium and the flight of the butterflies in the rain forest.
707 W. Hornet Ave.
Alameda, CA 94501
Seas and skies come together aboard the USS Hornet, which twice performed as the recovery ship for space capsule landings, Apollo 11 and Apollo 12. This aircraft carrier is a National Historic Landmark with an impressive 20th century pedigree, having also served in World War II. Walk all four decks, see real jet aircraft and helicopters that flew in the 50s and after, in Vietnam and in the Gulf, plus the SH-3H Sea King helicopter which appeared in “Apollo 13.” Don’t miss the five-minute ride in the flight avionics simulator that you might enjoy so much, you’ll want to extend the experience to double the time. And, you can.
Discovery Days at AT&T Park
24 Willie Mays Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94107
The 4th Annual Bay Area Science Festival takes place over 10 days beginning October 23, 2014. Organized by UCSF celebrating its 150th anniversary and sponsored by Chevron, 50 events from Santa Rosa to San Jose are mostly family-oriented and free of charge. More than 70,000 attend each year. On Saturday, November 1, 2014, expect WIllie Mays Plaza to be overrun by robots when the gorgeous ballpark and waterfront are turned into a giant outdoor science museum containing 150 free hands-on exhibits staged with such partners as UC Berkeley, Stanford, Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, The Tech, Livermore Labs, Oracle, Genentech and NASA. The full festival events schedule is released after Labor Day.
Hiller Aviation Museum
601 Skyway Road
San Carlos, CA 94070
A former pilot talks you through a real 1971 Boeing 747’s cockpit control panel where it’s parked on the runway, complete with its first class section and a Blue Angels cockpit that’s open to visitors. Open seven days a week right off Highway 101, anyone who loves flying objects has found their must-go exhibit where a massive hall contains 40 planes, helicopters and a flight sim zone. For more about planes, did you know that the rental car shuttle bus at Oakland International can drop you at Old North Field where aviation history comes alive at Oakland Aviation Museum? The younger set can have an interactive takeoff experience and listen to real control tower broadcasts. Best of all are Open Cockpit Days when visitors get a chance to climb up and sit in a Korean War MiG-15 and tour the Solent Flying Boat from the movie “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.”