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Exploring The Exploratorium in San Francisco: 2023 Guide

July 7, 2023 By CityPASS

If you thought a trip to a science museum was a boring way to spend the afternoon, think again. The Exploratorium in San Francisco is a place where science, technology, and art meld to create an experience unlike any you’ve ever had at a museum before.

The Exploratorium has a stunning location on Pier 15 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco Bay. While strolling the entire pier is a must, a trip to the Exploratorium in San Francisco is a family-friendly adventure that will pique the curiosity of visitors of all ages.

What is the Exploratorium?

The Exploratorium breaks the boundaries regarding what a museum "typically" is. Part indoors, part outdoors, highly interactive, and very exploratory, the Exploratorium dives into many exciting topics that help form our world and how we perceive it.

It opened in 1969 as the brainchild of educator and physicist Frank Oppenheimer. The Exploratorium aims to help visitors better understand the world around them. In addition to exhibits, visitors can experience the Exploratorium through webcasts, its website, and special events.

Additionally, the San Francisco science Exploratorium works alongside several local community organizations. The aim is to provide educational activities in science to underserved children and their families. It’s also home to XTech, a science program that organizes after-school STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities for middle and high school children.

What are the Most Popular Exhibits to Visit?

Since it opened, the Exploratorium has created more than 1,000 interactive exhibits, 600 of which are open to the public at any given time. With so much to see and do, it’s easy to spend the whole day marveling at the experimental exhibits and all the exciting activities for museum visitors to try.

Before you buy your Exploratorium San Francisco tickets, here are some of the most popular fan favorites you should know about.

Tactile Dome

The Tactile Dome is the Exploratorium’s largest interactive exhibit. It plunges visitors into total darkness as they progress through chambers filled with objects of varying textures, many of which seem familiar. Visitors are encouraged to run, walk, crawl, or move however they like to make it to the end. To make it through, you must rely on your sense of touch to help you figure out the objects within your grasp.

As this is a very popular exhibit, you should call ahead to secure a reservation. Fun fact: The Tactile Dome was created by August Coppola, the father of Nicholas Cage.

Giant Mirror

Fans of optical illusions will love the Giant Mirror, a spherical mirror that was actually built to be part of a flight simulator. A tiny flaw in the mirror made it unusable for the simulator, so it's now on loan to the Exploratorium from the Smithsonian Museum.

The spherical shape brings all the light to a focal point about five feet from its surface. Where you stand in relation to this focal point can reveal several optical illusions that will challenge what you know about human perception.

Wave Organ

One of the outdoor Exploratorium exhibits, the Wave Organ turns basic science into music for the public to enjoy. Activated by waves crashing against the jetty, the Wave Organ has 25 organ pipes that emit subtle sounds. Visitors have to connect with the environment to hear the song of the waves as it blends perfectly with its setting on San Francisco Bay.

Tip: if you want to hear the best sounds, visit the Wave Organ at high tide when the waves are at their peak!

Colored Shadows

At the Exploratorium, not all shadows are dark and mysterious. The Colored Shadows exhibit features red, blue, and green lights that shine onto a screen that looks white to the eye. These colors create shadows of different colors because of how the cones in your eyes pick them up. You’ll see shadows in a range of bright colors, including magenta, cyan, yellow, and more. You can block different lights to play with the color combinations, resulting in beautiful shadows dancing across the screen.

Explainer Demonstrations

One interesting feature at the Exploratorium is the High School Explainers Program. The youngest employees at the museum, these students help with operations, lead demonstrations, and interact with visitors at different exhibits. In fact, the Explainers are often the first people visitors have contact with at the Exploratorium. Many are interested in science, learning, and building new skills. This program is so popular that more than 3,500 students have filled paid positions since it began in 1969.

Events and Programs at the Exploratorium

Unlike many other museums, you don’t need to wait for special community days or festivals to experience something unique at the Exploratorium. Here are some of the most popular special events to keep on your radar when planning your trip.

After Dark

If you don’t have time to visit during regular Exploratorium hours, don’t worry. Every Thursday evening, adults can check out Exploratorium After Dark. Besides the hundreds of exhibits to explore, you can grab a drink, dance to music from a DJ set, and meet many other inquisitive minds with similar interests. You must be over 18 to enter, so this could be a fun activity to try as a truly unique date night.

Special Exhibitions

While there’s already so much to see and do at the Exploratorium, this museum also regularly features special activities and exhibitions on its calendar that are for a limited time only.

Are you looking for something for the whole family? Try storytime science or a cool audiovisual exhibit. Facing a rainy Saturday? Stop by for a Saturday Cinema session. There’s always something going on at the Exploratorium, so be sure to check out the calendar before you visit.

Why Exploring the Exploratorium is a Must in 2023

With so much to see and do here, you’re probably wondering how much it costs to visit the Exploratorium. Well, forget about Exploratorium ticket prices and make things easy by purchasing a San Francisco CityPASS® ticket!

Buying a CityPASS® ticket can save you up to at four of San Francisco’s top things to do, including this one. Buying a CityPASS® ticket lets you save more and do more, so it’s the easiest choice you’ll make when visiting San Francisco.

San Francisco Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in San Francisco, we recommend finding lodging near San Francisco's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Header Image Courtesy of Exploratorium

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