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The Exploratorium Is Closed, But Our Outdoor Exhibits Are Here to Explore

The Exploratorium Is Closed, But Our Outdoor Exhibits Are Here to Explore

While the COVID pandemic has closed the indoor exhibits at the Exploratorium, you can still get your fix of interactive exhibits at the Exploratorium’s waterfront location. As you walk down the Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and Pier 39 take a right on the public pathway at the south side of Pier 15. Walk down a bit and look behind you and notice the concrete sea wall built more than a century ago to support commerce and allow landfill behind it. You can see it looks a bit crumbly and old. This vital piece of infrastructure, holding back the bay from downtown San Francisco, is vulnerable to both earthquakes and sea level rise and is the focus of a rebuilding effort over the next decade.

A crumbling seawall under the Embarcadero is all the protects downtown San Francisco just beyond.
The crumbling seawall between Piers 9 and 15 (Photo: Mary Miller/Exploratorium)

As you walk along pier, check out the small railing signs for some cool and whimsical observations. Farther along are the Bay Windows outdoor exhibit, five rotating disks with sediment collected from the bay that make beautiful swirling patterns when you spin them.


Nearby you can play with the Bay Bridge Model before you walk to the end of the pier and check out the amazing view of the real thing and, beyond it, the cranes and busy commercial port of Oakland.

An interactive model of a suspension bridge with a view of the Bay Bridge behind it.
Interactive Bridge Model at the end of Pier 15 (Photo: Amy Snyder/Exploratorium)

As you walk along the east end of the pier, look at the upper side of the building for faded signs of the shipping companies that once operated out of Pier 15. Farther along, in between Piers 15 and 17, look up and you’ll see the 27-foot Aeolian Harp created by artist Doug Hollis. If there’s an afternoon breeze, you can hear the harp strings sing and moan. As you make your way down Pier 17 back to the Embarcadero, you’ll pass two bridges between the piers. In the lagoon in front of the second bridge is the CO2 buoy on loan to us from NOAA. Just past the bridge are two exhibits on the waterline you can see just above the water. Sun Swarm created by artist Chris Bell is a collection of mirrors that sway and sparkle like sunlight glinting on the water. Nearby is the Color of Water exhibit that explains how the various browns and greens of the bay are an indicator of what lies beneath the surface.

Colored tiles from green to brown match the color of Bay water under different conditions
Color of Water Exhibit at Pier 17 (Photo: Amy Snyder/Exploratorium)

Linger in the plaza between the two piers for a few minutes for a listening experience. With a friend, separate and sit in each of the twin parabolic listening vessels created by artist Doug Hollis. Experiment with how quietly you can talk to each other across the 80-foot distance as you make your plans for the rest of your Bay Day challenge. We hope you enjoy your outdoor Exploratorium experience and we look forward to welcoming you back inside as soon as we can.

Sit in the giant parabolic sculpture to talk to your friends across the Exploratorium's plaza.
Listening vessel in front of the Exploratorium (Photo: Amy Snyder/Exploratorium)