If you want to visit the Exploratorium and you're in San Francisco on the first Wednesday of the month then you're in luck as admission is free that day. They do ask for a donation seeing as the day is free but they don't push hard for one.
The Exploratorium is full to the brim with different things to touch and play with that aim to teach people basic scientific principles. Obviously, it's mainly aimed at kids and on the free day I attended the place was packed with different groups all getting what they could for free.
The best thing about the Exploratorium is definitely how hands on everything is. The worst part is that the really cool stuff is usually taken, and you feel bad making kids wait while you play with it. One example of this was the water-drop photography that I never got to play with as it was always busy with more than one set of people waiting to use it. Basically, it was a super high-speed camera that captured the image of a drop of water just as it fell.
Dare to drink toilet water? The water is clean, and the toilet has never been used yet most people still don't want to drink...
At present The Exploratorium is housed in the Palace of Fine Arts but it is moving to Piers 15/17 down at the Embarcadero area in Spring 2013. It will be more convenient to visit from the city but it will mean that a lot of people don't see the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts because they're visiting. The Palace of Fine Arts is a lovely building, with columns and a rotunda that used to house fine art (hence the name) and was built for the Panama- Pacific International Exposition in 1915.
As you can see, it's worth coming to The Exploratorium just to see that. It's also brings a nice mix of the old and the new to the enterprise. The space is really well used and the whole place feels sort of larger-than-life. Inside, kids will learn about basic scientific principles while hopefully having a good time. In one exhibit you make a robot dance using mirrors.
There are lots of exhibits that trick your brain in similar ways. There are quite a few with colour - the monochromatic room was another popular one that I didn't get to play in. The basic principles of colour are on show. Younger children will probably enjoy the playing but not really retain or understand a lot of the science. Slightly older children will retain more from a visit I think.
Differing amounts of air pressure make cool grooves in the sand
Other experiments looked at the brain's responses to suggestion. One used iron coils to show what we expect when we touch something that is usually hot. They used conflicting sensations to trick the brain.
If you have young ones and aren't sure what to do with them when in San Francisco, or if you're living in San Francisco and looking for a good school holiday activity, then The Exploratorium should definitely be a place you consider.