The Exploratorium
in San Francisco

The Exploratorium is currently closed and expects to open in the spring 2021.

Come and visit the Exploratorium! This popular San Francisco attraction has a new home at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, walking distance from Fisherman's Wharf.

Exploratorium at night, exhibits at night
The Exploratorium At Night

It's much larger and grander than the old Exploratorium, and the equipment is more professional-looking, but it's still a fun place to play while learning.

drawing of the new Exploratorium on the Embarcadero
The New Exploratorium

There are hundred of displays and gadgets to investigate, each one illustrating a different scientific principle.

Gadgets at the Exploratorium

This is truly a hands-on experience; visitors are encouraged to dive in, and pull, push, twirl and move stuff around to see what happens, and then to figure out why it happened. Adults seem to enjoy the museum as much as children!

Woman creating colorful shadows, Exploratorium

Some of My Favorites...


The Distorted Room (strange and shifting perspectives, a bit like the Mystery Spot illusions).

Distorted room at the Exploratorium

Infrared Imaging: wonderfully weird images of hot and cold areas.

Three people displayed as heat images

The Mosquito Magnet. Are you the one the mosquitoes go after? You know who you are! Stick your hand in and find out.

Glass sphere with mosquitos inside

Games of cooperation vs. competition. Will you get a drink of water or a squirt in the face? Play variations of the Prisoner's Dilemma with your friends and family.

The Tactile Dome

I haven't made it inside this yet. When it's busy, which it usually is, reservations are required, and it's an extra $15 fee, for the privilege of crawling and sliding through a series of rooms and mazes in the complete absence of light.

Tactile Dome exterior, Exploratorium
The Tactile Dome

The dome was designed and built by August Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola's brother.



Insider Tips:

  • Avoid weekends and school holidays, if possible. This is very popular and can get crowded and hectic.
  • If there are no kids in your group, go on adults only night (18+), every Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. You get to play, instead of watching others! A lot quieter, too.
  • Save money with discount passes like the San Francisco Explorer Pass, the Go San Francisco Card, or the City Sightseeing Mega Pass, if you'll be seeing other attractions as well.

Note: I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through some of the links on this page, at no extra cost to you. This helps me provide all the free information I post on this website.

The SF Passes that include the Exploratorium:


Skyline Sightseeing Mega Pass: choose 3, 4 or 5 attractions and activities from a list of 25 SF things to do. The Hop On Hop Off bus tour (optional) is on the list, too. Transportation, plus a city tour, plus the attractions. From $67.99. $2 off to book online.

Go San Francisco Card: 1, 2, 3 or 5 day pass for admission to 27 SF attractions and tours. $69.

SF Explorer Pass: you have 30 days to use the pass to see four attractions, from a list of 20. $69.


History of the Exploratorium

The Exploratorium was created by Frank Oppenheimer, brother of Robert Oppenheimer, both of whom were physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project in the 1940's.

The Exploratorium opened in 1969, providing a hands-on science experience designed to encourage curiosity about the physical world. It had a home in the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District for many years, and moved to its present location at Pier 15 in 2014.

sf piers 11 to 19, 1934
SF Pier 15 (3rd from left) in 1934 (image courtesy of the San Francisco History Center,
San Francisco Public Library)

Summer Hours (May 26-Sept 3)

Daily 10 am to 5 pm.
Fridays (July 6-Aug 31), 10 am to 9:00 pm.
Thursday evenings, 6 to 10 pm. Ages 18 and over only.

Winter Hours (Sept 4-May 25)

Tuesday-Sunday 10 am to 5 pm.
Thursday evenings, 6 to 10 pm. Ages 18 and over only.

Main store (on the Embarcadero)
Daily 10 am to 5:30 pm.

Prices

Adults: $29.95
Seniors and 13-17 year olds: $24.95
Kids (4-12): $19.95
After Dark Thursdays (Age 18+): $19.95
Tactile Dome: $15

Tip: If you buy tickets online, you can go directly in without standing in the ticket-purchase line (either print them out, or use the PDF on your mobile phone). Plus, you're guaranteed admission that day if they fill up. .

Getting to the Exploratorium

The new location for the Exploratorium is Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, along the SF waterfront.

Public Transportation: the F-Line street car runs along the Embarcadero; Green Street is the stop for the Exploratorium.

If you are coming in on BART, get off at Embarcadero Station and come up to Market Street to catch the F-line streetcar. Actually, it's probably easier to walk it from there - about 10 minutes; head towards the Ferry Building, then left to Pier 15.

From Fisherman's Wharf, you can catch the F-line trolley along the Embarcadero. Or walk, about 12 minutes from Pier 39.

Hop On Hop Off Buses

The double-decker, hop on hop off buses also stop right near the Exploratorium. See Hop On Hop Off tours for more info and booking.

Parking Suggestions

There is a parking lot directly across the street from the Exploratorium. Pricey, but convenient. They charge $10 for the Thursday Night Exploratorium visit, but it's not on the sign. They also have daytime discounts for Exploratorium visitors; see below under parking discounts.

exploratoium paking lot
Lot across from the Exploratorium

There are quite a few parking garages and lots in this area. I've listed the best ones on my page on Embarcadero parking, and put them on a map.

Note: San Francisco is experiencing an epidemic of car break-ins at the moment, so it's best not to leave any valuables in the car, and nothing in view, no bags or jackets even. It's maddening: my apologies!

Parking discounts: The Exploratorium has an arrangement with the parking lot across from Pier 15 and the garage at Pier 19 ½. Use the code 12340000 to get the discount, either with the parking attendant or when paying at the kiosk. See their parking page for details.

Book a parking space. If you're driving to the Exploratorium with kids in the car (or not) and looking for convenience, you may want to give the Spot Hero parking app a shot.

The Spot Hero app lets you check for parking garages and lots near the museum and reserve guaranteed parking ahead of time.

And if you're looking for street parking, the Spot Angels app can be very helpful.



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COVID-19 Status: at midnight on Monday, March 16, San Francisco was placed under a "shelter-in-place order.

All residents were ordered to stay home, except for necessary trips to grocery stores and essential medical visits, and solo outdoor activities like hiking.

The city had been gradually reopening of many businesses and activities, but in December, came under a strict, stay-at-home directive, due to a sudden increase in infection and hospitalization rates.

Since then, Covid numbers have dropped significantly.

Big changes coming June 15 (assuming the Covid numbers stay down). California is scheduled to fully reopen, meaning all business sectors will reopen to full or almost full capacity, including concerts, stadium sports and festivals.

Most recently, March 23, 2021, SF has moved to a somewhat less restrictive status.

Public transportation options have been cut back. See SF transit for more info.

See COVID rules for current SF status.

Mask rules: everyone in SF is required to wear a mask when they are outside and within 30 feet of other people.

Masks must be worn in stores and places of business and people not within the same household must stay 6 feet apart.

SF Curfew has been ended.

What is open? Muir Woods, the Botanic Gardens, Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Garden, Pier 39, SF beaches, Golden Gate Bridge, and Twin Peaks (car access on Portola, main parking lot open) are all open.

Parking lots for SF beaches, Twin Peaks, and the Golden Gate Bridge are open. But the Welcome Center lot and Merchant Road lot at the bridge are closed.

Restaurants can now be open to 50% capacity for indoor and outdoor dining, and many restaurants are open for take-out or delivery.

Bars that serve food can serve customers indoors.

Businesses can allow customers inside, on a limited basis (grocery stores 50%).

The SF Zoo is open again.

Alcatraz is open. Day Tour tickets only. See Alcatraz.

Hair salons, and open air tour buses and boat cruises can now operate.

Indoor museums are open, including the CA Academy of Sciences.

Travel to SF: non-essential travel to SF is discouraged but the quarantine requirements are no longer in effect.

Hotels are accepting reservations, up to 25% capacity, but travelers are urged to limit contact with others in the hotel.

Exploratorium: still closed.

Playgrounds: open.

Indoor swimming pools are open to 25% capacity.

Schools: many private schools are open. SF public schools will start in person learning for elementary students April 12. Older grades: negotiations are ongoing. Hopefully will open for fall classes.

Limited opening: indoor gyms to 25% capacity and indoor movie theaters to 50%.

Indoor concerts, live theater, and sporting events, are scheduled to open April 12 at 35% capacity. Proof of vaccination or negative Covid test will be required. See more info on indoor events.

Some venues are waiting until June 15 because capacity limits don't work for those businesses.

Napa and Sonoma county wineries are open.

For a handy list of what's open or closed in SF, plus info on what's open in other cities and counties of California, see California reopening schedules.

See coronavirus news in the SF Chronicle for details and updates.

See SF closures timeline.

Most recent Bay Area stay home order.

Also see site and parking lot closures for the National Park Service (Alcatraz, Muir Woods, etc.)

Plus helpful info on which parks and hiking trails are open in the Bay Area.

And to check the air quality (fires) in SF and the Bay Area, see airnow.gov and the SF Chronicle map showing current tests.




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