The Exploratorium is regarded as the world’s foremost interactive science museum, designed to make natural phenomena and the world around us both exciting and understandable. A pioneer in exhibit design and global leader in informal learning, the Exploratorium has been described as a mad scientist's penny arcade, a scientific funhouse, and an experimental laboratory all rolled into one. Hundreds of hands-on exhibits inspire the curiosity and creativity of visitors of all ages.
At a Glance
- Opened April 17, 2013: a 330,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor space at Pier 15 on the San Francisco waterfront, providing 3 times more overall space than the original Palace of Fine Arts location
- More than 600 indoor and outdoor exhibits created by staff scientists and artists, 25% of which are brand new
- 1.5 acres of free, outdoor space feature a public plaza, promenade, striking views, outdoor exhibits, a bayside restaurant, a plaza-side café, food carts and the Exploratorium Store with interactive exhibits
- Pier 17, part of the Pier 15/17 campus, provides back-of-house space with room for future expansion
- The new Exploratorium will be a must-see destination along San Francisco’s Embarcadero
The Exploratorium at Pier 15 – Inside and Out
The indoor and outdoor spaces are divided into six main galleries:
- Bernard and Barbro Osher West Gallery – Human Behavior:
- Curated by senior artist Pamela Winfrey and social psychologist Hugh McDonald, Ph.D., Principal Investigator of the NSF-funded Science of Sharing project, this gallery focuses on the art and science of human behavior
- This provocative space encourages people to play with perception; investigate memory, emotion, and judgment; and experiment with how we cooperate, compete, and share, as in the following exhibits:
- Poker Face: an exhibit that allows people to explore how we use facial expressions and behaviors to interpret the intentions of others
- Tactile Dome: Coming Summer 2013, an updated version of the classic exhibit where visitors spelunk through abundantly textured passages in total darkness using only their sense of touch
- Tornado: lets visitors dance and spin with a vibrant and ever-changing column of fog, promoting experimentation with air currents and social interaction and observation
- Bechtel Central Gallery – Seeing & Listening:
- This familiar “core” of the Exploratorium, expanding with many new exhibits, is curated by Thomas Humphrey, Ph.D., and Richard Brown, Ph.D. It serves as a public laboratory for investigation into physics and human perception, including light and sound with exhibits such as:
- Sound Bite: Discover how you don’t need your ears to listen—use your jawbone instead when you listen like a snake
- Bright Black: Find out why we can’t always believe what we see through an exhibit that will convince you that an object is white before you discover that it is almost black
- East Gallery – Living Systems:
- Led by Kristina Yu, Ph.D. and Jennifer Frazier, Ph.D., the expanded Life Sciences section is a rarity in the museum world. It’s a working laboratory where visitors can experience the beauty and complexity of life through interactive investigations of living organisms, from an examination of life indigenous to the bay water, to mouse stem cell research, to movement of the tides. In this gallery visitors:
- Get a close-up view of the living critters that live in the waters underneath the museum
- Control research grade scientific microscopes that have been ‘hacked’ to give visitors control
- Understand the power of microscopic plankton, which produce almost half the oxygen we breathe, why their numbers rise and fall with the seasons, and why they dance their ballet towards blue light
- South Gallery – Maker Culture in The Tinkering Studio™:
- South Gallery is the public workshop area where visitors can engage in learning by making directly adjacent to where Exploratorium exhibits are built
- Founded by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, The Tinkering Studio™ is where museum visitors can build, make, hack, create, invent and experiment
- Past activities have included: sewing electrical circuits, mechanical teddy bear toy dissection and turning 100 square feet of pegboard into the world's largest marble machine. See gallery overview for list of surprising exhibits found in the South Gallery.
- Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery and Terrace – Observing the Landscape:
- An all-glass gallery (and terrace) that becomes a transparent lens to both the waterfront and the cityscape, providing visitors an opportunity to observe the science of the bay, the landscape and the human impact that has shaped the Bay Area
- Led by Senior Artist Susan Schwartzenberg with Sebastian Martin, Ph.D., exhibits, instruments and artworks for observing give visitors a 360-degree view of the natural and built worlds
- Multi-layered exhibits focus on what visitors can see through the windows in real time – the movement of the sun, tides and currents, cargo ships, people and historical perspectives on the landscape. Exhibits include:
- Oculus: a circular opening in the ceiling that turns the entire gallery into a timepiece. Markings show seasons and solstices, and track the sun's position across the sky
- Visualizing the Bay: a 3D topographic map of the Bay Area with a wide-range of data sets projected on its surface show the forces that shape our landscape—from earthquakes to fog banks, from income distribution to life expectancy
- Fisher Bay Observatory Terrace: This space offers outdoor exhibits that engage with the environment.
- Wired Pier: Led by Director of NOAA Partnership Mary Miller, the Wired Pier includes more than a dozen sensors on and around Pier 15 that stream real-time data about the surrounding environment — quality of air and bay water, weather, tides and pollution — into the Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery, compiling it into interactive visualizations
- NOAA research vessels will periodically berth at the end of Pier 15 and use the working biological labs featured in the museum to bring current science to the public
- Outdoor Gallery:
- For the first time ever the Exploratorium has outdoor learning exhibits, curated by Senior Artist Shawn Lani and associate curator Eric Dimond, and developed by the Outdoor team.
- The Outdoor Gallery, which includes ticketed space and 1.5 acres of free space, beckons visitors to investigate exhibits about water, fog, wind, rain, daily cycles of the sun and more
- The Bay View Walk invites the public to stroll around the entire site. It includes two connecting bridges, the Outdoor Gallery, food carts, and a civic plaza, where outdoor events and cultural programming are held.
- Net-Zero Energy Goal:
Also of note
- Bowes Education Center
- The Bowes Education Center revolutionizes the way the Exploratorium reaches all teachers and learners of science, including school teachers, administrators and children, after-school professionals, scientists, science journalists, university professionals, and even parents and other adults.
- The new Center multiplies the Exploratorium’s impact, with new, configurable classrooms and seminar spaces, state-of-the-art technology and programming capability, and significantly greater participant capacity than ever before.
- The Center features more than two times the space for classrooms and four times the number of meeting rooms as the former site at the Palace of Fine Arts. It triples the capacity for teacher professional development.
- Learning-specific spaces in the new Exploratorium building are not confined to one floor or location, but are spread over both floors to foster connectivity and collaboration with all staff, exhibits and programming in the museum.
- Expanded Focus on the Arts and New Center for Art & Inquiry:
- More than 40 new art projects are on view at opening
- Works include Fog Bridge, a large-scale, immersive outdoor fog installation on a 150 ft. long pedestrian bridge by Japanese interdisciplinary artist Fujiko Nakaya; and Aeolian Harp by Doug Hollis, which captures the wind dynamics of the site
- Other works include a fold-out guide to the atmosphere, an opening in the pier over the bay that visually and sonically comes alive at night, a giant Douglas Fir tree tipped on its side, and a library on Bay history
- Newly established Center for Art & Inquiry and its Director Marina McDougall, will expand the museum’s focus on art as a medium for exploration, inquiry and discovery
- New programmatic emphasis on the arts at re-opening is made possible by a generous grant from Sakurako and William Fisher
- Click here to see the complete Exploratorium Arts Press Kit
- Coming Summer 2013:
- Kanbar Forum, a 200-seat cabaret-style multi-use space, with a state of the art Constellation acoustic system by Meyer Sound, for demonstrations, talks, films and performances by artists, scientists and educators, with cash bar
- Tactile Dome, an updated version of the classic exhibit where visitors spelunk through abundantly textured passages in total darkness using only their sense of touch
- Dolby Atrium:
- Opposite the museum’s main entrance, this space provides a usually sunny convening and meeting area for families and others
- Historic Bulkhead:
- This two-story structure provides a second entrance to the Exploratorium
- Includes the Kanbar Forum; the Exploratorium Store; the seismic joint café; and educational spaces
- The bulkhead lobby is a free public area, and features a Bay History Walk to educate visitors about the history of Pier 15, San Francisco’s maritime history and the building’s real time energy generation data
- Curiosity Catering, comprised of award-winning food service group Bon Appétit Management Company and acclaimed San Francisco chef Loretta Keller of COCO500 collaborate to create and prepare seasonable and sustainable cuisine for visitors
- The seismic joint café serves crowd-pleasing takeaway fare on the west end of Pier 15 near the Embarcadero
- The 200-seat SEAGLASS Restaurant in the Bay Observatory building caters to a wide range of palates and offer stunning views of the bay and Bay Bridge
- Exploratorium Store
- Exhibits and products intermingle
- Products are organized by concept, phenomena or story, creating a store experience that is an extension of the visitors’ museum experience
- Purchases support the Exploratorium’s educational programming
- Click here to read more about the Exploratorium Store
Hours of Operation & New Evening Hours
Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm; Wednesday evenings until 10pm; After Dark, Thursday evening adults only (ages 18 and up) 6-10pm.
$25 for adults, with lower rates for SF Bay Area residents, youth, seniors, students, teachers and the disabled. After Dark, Thursday evening adults-only tickets from 6-10pm are $15; $10 for members. To purchase tickets online go to www.exploratorium.edu/visit/tickets. The Tactile Dome, newly built for our new home, will open Summer 2013. For more information visit www.exploratorium.edu/visit/tactile-dome or call (415) 528-4444.
Free Access Program
In addition to free access for field trips from San Francisco Title I schools (courtesy of PG&E), the Exploratorium is free to everyone five days each year effective Fall 2013. Free Days are: Groundhog Day (February 2); Pi Day (March 14); Mothers’ Day (2nd Sunday in May); Engineering Day (last Sunday in September); and Founder’s Day (2nd Sunday in October). The Exploratorium works with local libraries and community groups to provide additional free access.
Memberships start at $60 and offer priority access, special events, discounts and more. See all the benefits by visiting /membership.
- Muni’s F-line, San Francisco’s historic streetcars that travel on the Embarcadero, stops in front of the new Exploratorium at the Embarcadero and Green St. In summer 2013, a temporary E-line will also operate
- Major bus lines 2, 6, 14, 21, 31 and metro rail lines J, K, L, M, T, N stop within walking distance. Bus lines 1, 10, 12, 41 and 38 also stop in the vicinity
- Embarcadero BART and MUNI station and ferry terminals at the Ferry Building are a 10-minute walk away
- There is an hourly lot across the street and many more spaces within a 5–10 minute walk to the museum. Exploratorium visitors can also park at The Embarcadero Center parking lot for a specially discounted flat rate of $10 dollars on weekdays from 4pm – midnight and all day on weekends. To receive this discounted rate, visitors must have a validation sticker provided by the Exploratorium.
- Visitors can bicycle and park at bike racks on site for the public
- For further information on nearby parking visit www.exploratorium.edu/visit
Facility Rentals: The Exploratorium is now taking reservations for private events. The Exploratorium at Pier 15 can accommodate seated parties of up to 280 guests with one focal point or 1,600 throughout the building, and receptions for up to 4,000 guests. For more information please contact the Museum Rentals department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 528-4500.
Corporate Partnership Program
The Exploratorium has a robust corporate partnership program that allows companies to partner with us in new ways. Our goal is to advance global scientific literacy. Learn how your organization can be an integral part of this groundbreaking movement. The Exploratorium is proud to have the following corporate partners at Opening:
- PG&E, Premier Opening Partner and Lead Sustainability Partner
- Chevron, Premier Opening Partner
- Genentech, Premier Opening Partner
- SunPower, Supporting Partner
- Wells Fargo, Supporting Partner
- KGO-TV, Premier Media Partner
- San Francisco Chronicle, Premier Media Partner
- San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, Premier Media Partner
Exploratorium address: Pier 15, San Francisco, CA 94111
Public Contact: 415-528-4444, email@example.com
Go back to the Exploratorium @ Pier 15 Press Kit table of contents