San Francisco’s Exploratorium is more than a museum—it’s one giant laboratory. Perched on the downtown waterfront at Pier 15, the Exploratorium brings together science, art, and human perception through interactive, science-based experiences. The Exploratorium is wholly hands-on, with nearly every surface designed to be touched, played on, and engaged with.
The Exploratorium, comprising six main galleries on a single floor facing the San Francisco Bay, houses a series of interactive exhibits and touch-me activities that invite—as the name suggests—exploration. From the Tactile Dome to the Tinkering Studio, the Exploratorium invites visitors of all ages to engage with the exhibits to explore the natural world and every individual’s perception of it. Featured themes include the living world, human emotions, and the senses of sight and hearing.
You can buy tickets at the Exploratorium or save time with advance-purchase skip-the-line tickets for the specific date of your visit. The museum is a stop on the hop-on hop-off bus, and entry is included with the San Francisco Go Card, Explorer Pass, and CityPass.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Exploratorium is a must for families with children. Young kids and adults who are young at heart will delight in the freedom to play.
Some exhibits, including the popular San Francisco fog and wind and tide exhibits, are outside. Wear layered clothing and shoes that can get wet.
While the Exploratorium is oriented toward science and exploration for children, the Thursday evening events such as the Tactile Dome and After Dark attract an adult crowd.
First-time visitors are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to do. Plan an early arrival to experience as much as possible.
The on-site restaurant, Seaglass, is very popular. Dine after 1pm to avoid the longest lines.
The Exploratorium is fully accessible to wheelchairs and strollers; loaner wheelchairs are available for free at the information desk.
How to Get There
The Exploratorium is served by MUNI’s E and F streetcars. Bus lines 10 and 12 stop a few blocks over, and the Embarcadero BART station is about a 15-minute walk away. If you must drive, there is a paid parking lot at Embarcadero and Green Street, and limited street parking along the Embarcadero before 3pm.
When to Get There
The Exploratorium is open daily from 10am to 5pm; in summer (generally July through August) it’s open 6pm to 10pm Thursday for those 18 and older, and 5pm to 9pm Friday for all ages. It’s an incredibly popular place, and on weekdays it’s often bustling with school and camp groups; late afternoons tend to be quieter.
From the Palace of Fine Arts to Pier 15
The brain child of Frank Oppenheimer, the Exploratorium originally opened in 1969 at the Palace of Fine Arts, the former site of California’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Oppenheimer’s passion for teaching with hands-on activities and experiences helped transform science education. Working closely with artists, educators, and developers, this first-of-its-kind science museum invited visitors to use more than their eyes to learn. The Exploratorium moved to its new location on the Embarcadero’s Pier 15 in 2013.