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Since 1969, San Francisco’s Exploratorium has been an icon for the inquisitive and a beacon for brainstormers. Known for being one of the world’s top science education centers, The Exploratorium has enthralled millions of visitors over the decades with its hands-on exhibits exploring biology, physics, human interaction and the environment.
Founded by famed physicist Frank Oppenheimer, The Exploratorium had been located on the grounds of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts — an idyllic location with a reflecting pond, swans, walking trails and parks.
But last spring, The Exploratorium pulled stakes and moved kit and caboodle to San Francisco’s historic waterfront. Sure, any time a top attraction relocates and/or remodels, it generates a substantial buzz, but why leave such a beautiful location?
“We moved to the waterfront to be more centrally located and to be on public transportation lines,” explained Leslie Patterson, public information officer for The Exploratorium. “While the Palace of Fine Arts property was a beautiful location, frankly, it was pretty difficult for tourists and locals to get to.”
It’s hard to argue with the accessibility of new site. The Exploratorium’s nine-acre campus spreads out between Piers 15 and 17, between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf.
“Now, visitors can bike, walk, take the ferry, and ride BART, buses and muni,” Patterson said.
150 new exhibits
To further spur interest, 150 of its 600 exhibits are new. It divides its offerings among an Outdoor Gallery, Bay Observatory, the East Gallery’s collection of living systems, Central Gallery’s seeing and listening exhibits, South Gallery for working with hands, and the West Gallery for experiments with thoughts, feelings, and social behavior. The options for visitors are a little overwhelming.
“We expanded most broadly in our social behavior exhibits and activities on the water,” she said.
A few exhibit highlights:
Bay Windows is about sediments in the bay by spinning disks filled with samples of mud, sand and gravel gathered from dive regions of the San Francisco Bay.
Remote Rains — Working with NOAA - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers, storm profiles are portrayed through a rain chamber. Here visitors get a tangible taste of past storms, and the exhibit recreates the amount, size and frequency of the raindrops.
Black Males holds a trans-media conversation among black men across many levels of American society. Members of the black community respond to a question and answer format to share their beliefs and values.
Seasons of Plankton explores how the microscopic life in San Francisco Bay is constantly evolving, and how important it is to our planet. “Polar bears are cute and worth caring about, but the change in levels of the world’s plankton is REALLY worth caring about, since that’s where are planet gets most of its oxygen,” said Patterson.
“We also have sensors in the water and in the air around our facility and on our site to monitor the carbon dioxide,” she said. “If we get too much CO2, we get acidification, which means that shellfish can’t form their shells. We’re trying to translate what we learn into visual and interactive opportunities so that people can learn about their world without it getting dumbed down.”
The Science of Skateboarding
One of The Exploratorium’s community outreach projects is the Science of skateboarding exhibit outside on the pier. The staff reached out to underserved youth in the Mission District’ Jamestown Community Center to help create an authentic skateboarding exhibit that delves into the physics, engineering, mechanics, technology and mathematics related to the sport. The exhibit includes:
- Finding the skateboard’s center of gravity
- Particle Accelerator sensation from skating in a pool
- The mechanics of turning trucks
- How to do an “Ollie” and other features
On a related front, the new facility also allows The Exploratorium to accommodate more instructors into its teacher development program. “Until recently, we’ve had to turn two-thirds of teacher applicants away, but now we’ve been able to triple the capacity.” Voted the #1 science center in the world, it has influenced entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, teachers, students, children, museum professionals, reaching nearly 180 million people annually from around the globe.
According to its website, the museum received the National Science Foundation’s Public Service to Science Award in 2011, the first time a science museum has been honored.
Does surfing call to mind hip youngsters with sun-bleached hair and too much time on their hands? Or big-wave daredevils with an apparently malfunctioning fear factor? Actually, much like mid-life professionals on Harleys, a surprising number of surfers take up the sport long after they’ve left their wild years behind.
If the thought of hanging 10 has always appealed to you, Southern California’s more than 300 miles of sunny coastline make the perfect place to bring that dream to life. Anyone who’s reasonably fit and can confidently swim in the ocean can learn to surf. Schools up and down the coast offer instruction for surfers of all ages and abilities, and the wave options range from mildly thrilling to seriously intense.
Many schools promise that you’ll ride a wave on your first day, but it’s not to rush things. You should practice on dry land until you master the pop-up, which takes you from the prone position to your feet in one fluid movement. Without this essential skill, you may never get off your belly, unless it’s to flip headfirst over your board into the ocean. So ignore the smirks and your flaming face, and repeat this move over and over and over again on the beach until you can pop up and position yourself correctly on your board without thinking. When you’re actually catching a wave, you’ll have other things on your mind.
Short of being a superhuman athlete, you’ll catch your first waves inside the break, close to shore. Practice on these whitewater rollers until you can stand up and ride time after time. Yes, you will feel ridiculous again, but this too shall pass.
The busy season for Southern California surf schools begins in May, after the winter swell backs off, though you can arrange private lessons at any time of the year. The still chilly Pacific warms up as the summer progresses, with ocean temperatures reaching into the 70s by August and even higher from September through November. Still, a light wetsuit can extend the time you can comfortably remain in the water. May and June might call for a 3/2 full wetsuit, while a light 1 mm shortie can work fine from July into the fall. You can rent suits at most area surf shops, along with surfboards. And surf schools often provide all the necessary gear with your lessons.
Beginners can launch introductory surf odysseys from towns up and down the coast. If you’re the DIY-type, look for forgiving waves for your first efforts at San Onofre State Park in San Clemente; at Santa Monica; north of the pier in Huntington Beach; at El Porto in El Segundo; along the Encinitas-to-Cardiff stretch of Pacific Coast Highway 101; and at La Jolla Shores in San Diego. But seriously, consider taking lessons. Trained instructors can explain technique in easy-to-follow steps. Plus, they’ll dial you into the important surf etiquette so you can feel confident in the lineup by yourself.
With hundreds of surf schools and camps operating in Southern California, the hardest part about getting started may be choosing an instructor. A tiny sample of surf schools includes the Santa Monica-based Surf Academy, which offers single and multi-day private and group lessons for women, children and 50+ adults in locations throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties. Corky Carroll’s Surf School, a family-owned and operated business, can introduce you to the sport at Bolsa Chica near Huntington Beach, then schedule follow-up lessons at their surf camp in Nosara, Costa Rica. Highly rated on Yelp, the San Diego Surf School south of La Jolla can get the whole family in on the action with group or private lessons. And in Encinitas, Southern California’s representative on the “National Geographic” list of World’s 20 Best Surf Towns, Leucadia Surf School teaches beginners at Moonlight Beach, regarded as having the best beginner waves in the San Diego region.
One warning: Like most adrenaline-charged sports, surfing can be addictive. You may find yourself repeatedly forgoing the trip to see family in favor of a surf vacation. Perhaps you could entice them to join you in Southern California, where, after getting your feet wet at surf school, you can all pay a visit to Mickey and his buddies at Disneyland, take a ride through Jurassic Park at Universal Studios Hollywood, and get up close and personal with killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego; all three attractions are included in Southern California CityPASS.
If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Rockefeller Center lately, you may have noticed something new that’s just about impossible not to notice – nine collosal human-shaped stone figures by the Swiss-born, New York-based artist Ugo Rondinone. The 16-to-20-foot tall figures, weighing up to 30,000 pounds each, are on view as part of Rondinone's public art exhibit Human Nature, which opened April 23 at Rockefeller Center and will be there through June 7.
Human Nature is a stark contrast to its highly developed architectural surroundings in Midtown Manhattan. The irregular surfaces of the stone are left bare, while the human figure is represented as a simple but imposting composition, defined by its towering legs, massive torso and boulder-like head.
To create these nine unique figures, the artist quarried massive bluestone slabs, leaving their surfaces as they were found: heavy and course, scored by quartz veins, and marked by wind, weather and erosion. The stones were then rough-cut into blocks and stacked on top of each other to resemble the most recognizable features of the human form.
These mythical yet commanding figures currently reside in the plaza where the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is displayed each December; visitors are free to walk beneath and among the post-and-lintel structures formed by their massive legs and shoulders.
You can read more about the exhibit here.
Ugo Rondinone: Human Nature is presented by Nespresso and organized by Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer. Additional support is provided by Pro Helvetia.
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