Meet Randy | The Family Travel Guy

Travel Blog + Travel Agency

The Exploratorium in San Francisco

Weekend in San Francisco
Family Friendly Attractions - Part 3

In Part 1 of Family Friendly Attractions in San Francisco we went to the California Academy of Sciences: Spend a Day at the California Academy of Sciences

In Part 2 of Family Friendly Attractions in San Francisco we visited the San Francisco Zoo: Exploring the San Francisco Zoo

Next up on our weekend itinerary was a Sunday morning visit to the San Francisco Exploratorium.

The San Francisco Exploratorium is a museum of science, art and human perception that is designed to intrigue visitors of all ages curiosity.  I like to think of the Exploratorium as a giant playground showcasing interactive educational fun at its very best.     

I remember visiting the Exploratorium as a kid at its old location near the Palace of Fine Arts, but the Exploratorium now has a new waterfront location on Pier 15 on the Embarcadero.  It is approximately halfway between the Ferry Building and Pier 39, making it a great stop between the two iconic locations.  The new Exploratorium is huge and features over 650 interactive exhibits.  It also has nice views of the San Francisco Bay and the of Bay Bridge on the second level of the building.

Guide to the Main Exploration Areas:
The new exploratorium is very large and there are tons of exhibits and things to-do.  At first glance, when walking in to the gallery, it can be overwhelming on where to start.  Or having that feeling where you start somewhere and feel like you may miss out on something you really wanted to see.  

You could easily spend all day exploring the different exhibits, but if experiencing the Exploratorium with kids you know you only have a 2 to 3 hour window before your kids will exhaust themselves.  With that sometimes being the case, it always helps to have a guide on where to start and how all the different areas are broken down.  

Based on the map the Exploratorium provides you, the different areas of the museum can be broken down as follows:  
  • West Gallery: Human Phenomena (1 on the Exploratorium Map)
    • Awaken your curiosity with open-ended exploration

  • South Gallery: Tinkering (2 on the Exploratorium Map)
    • Think with your hands and explore your creativity

  • Central Gallery: Seeing & Listening (3 on the Exploratorium Map)
    • Experiment with light, sound, vision and hearing

  • East Gallery: Living Systems (4 on the Exploratorium Map)
    • Explore life from DNA and cells to organisms and ecosystems

  • North Gallery: Outdoor Exhibits (5 on the Exploratorium Map)
    • Exhibits that explore winds, tides, and natural phenomena (water, fog, wind, rain and the sun)

  • Bay Observatory Gallery on the 2nd Floor: Observing Landscapes (6 on the Exploratorium Map)
    • Learn about the history, geography and ecology of the Bay Area. There are also great views of the bay from the second floor.

Tips on Maximizing your Experience Here:
Ticket options for visiting the Exploratorium include the following three options: 

Option 1:
Buy online directly at the Exploratorium website, i.e. at retail prices:

Adult - $29
Child (4-12) - $19
Youth (13-17) - $24
3 and under - Free

If you are only planning on visiting only the  Exploratorium, then the above option is likely your best bet.  However, if you are planning on visiting other big attractions in San Francisco, i.e., the California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, taking a Boat Cruise, the de Young Museum or any other attractions in the city, I recommend using one of the options I describe below in Option 2 to save at minimum 20% and up to 50% depending on what attractions you plan on seeing.

Option 2: Buy Online if Planning on Going to Multiple Attractions
<Disclosure: The following two options I discuss below contain affiliate links and I may receive an affiliate commission if you click on a link and end up making a purchase.  I only recommend products/services that I personally use and believe are worth using.  Please refer to the site Privacy Policy for further information.>

For my recent trip to San francisco, I looked at both the Go City Card and CityPass and the various options they had available for attractions in San Francisco.  For this trip, I decided to go with the Go City Card, as I only planned on going to a few attractions with my family, which included the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and the Aquarium of the Bay.  Both options are good and choosing between the the Go City Card and CityPass will depend on what attractions you plan on visiting, the amount of time you plan on spending in San Francisco and the price you want to pay.  

Go City Card by Smart Destinations:
The Go City Card for San Francisco can be purchased as an 'all-inclusive pass', an 'explorer pass' or a 'build your own pass' and offers 30+ attractions in San Francisco.

The all-inclusive pass comes in 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7 day options and for a flat price allows you to visit as many attractions as you can in the time period.  The explorer pass allows you to visit any 4 attractions for one low price.  You can learn more by visiting their website. 

The San Francisco CityPass offers a booklet of admission tickets to the 5 must see attractions in the city and is also offered in other major cities.  You can learn more by visiting their website. 

As I described above and after researching the two options extensively, I ended up building my own pass with the Go City Card for San Francisco and was able to save 20% off of the total purchase price for all the tickets, as shown below:

Option 3:
You could also buy your tickets on site at the ticketing windows at each attraction, but you'll end up paying full retail price and depending on when you get there, you can expect long lines. 

Other Useful Tips:
  • There are two locations to grab food onsite:
    • Seaglass Restaurant offers a variety of food options, including sushi, salads, sandwiches, pizza and other hot items.
    • The Seismic Joint Cafe near the front of the Exploratorium offers quick snacks, a coffee bar and baked goods.
  • Souvenirs, clothing, games, books and other items are available at the Exploratorium shops in the museum itself and at the store at the front of the museum.  There are lots of unique items here that you will likely not find elsewhere.
  • The Exploratorium is not only a museum for kids and visitors of all ages will enjoy themselves here.  There are even some exhibits that toddlers will love involving color, bubbles, lights and mirrors.