Looking for something to do on your day off? Why not spend some time enjoying science from a different perspective! Science museums are a fun way to discover other areas of science, interact with fundamental experiments, and learn about the history of science and its pupils. When research takes a turn into the dregs, I’ve found that heading out to go on a mini-science expedition is a great way to rejuvenate my excitement for my line of work and light up that child-like wonder at the world around us. Sometimes in research, we get so lost in the minute details of the trees that we need a moment to step back and look at that amazing forest. Fortunately, the Bay Area is bursting at the seams with opportunities to wander out into the woods.
So, without further ado, I present to you my top 5 list of Bay Area adventures for the scientifically-inclined.
1. Exploratorium, San Francisco
The Exploratorium offers a great hands-on experience, to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Collections are extensive and include everything from microbes to the human body to psychology, Newtonian physics, the properties of light and sound, you name it. Demonstrations are frequent and, with its multi-leveled building, one can easily get lost in the experience of interacting with science face to face. The exhibits are playful and clever; the tactile experience is not one to miss. Put plainly, the Exploratorium has consistently sparked my curiosity and filled me with delight with all of their informative, puzzle-solving, thought-provoking features. Though a popular location, I’ve yet to find the Exploratorium stiflingly crowded. For those who would appreciate a more private and mature experience, adult events (After Dark) occur Thursday evenings. After Dark feature special themed demonstrations and ticket holders are able to wander throughout the premises until 10 PM.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 5PM with After Dark events (18+) Thursdays from 6 – 10 PM
Cost: $20 (Bay Area Residents), $15 for After Dark
2. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
Located in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is a must-see. Complete with a multilevel aquarium (my favorite), four-story rainforest biodome, planetarium, natural history museum, and living roof, CAS is absolutely heart-stopping. Excitingly, several exhibits and shows feature wildlife and natural features native to California. Visitors are also given the opportunity to hear a number of talks about various creatures living at the academy, join scientists in their Project Lab to get a behind-the-scenes look at CAS, watch penguin feedings and coral reef dives, and join in on interactive interviews with academy scientists. Several exhibits, including the shows at the planetarium, are updated every few months, so there is always something new to see! Moreover, on Thursdays, the academy throws NightLife events, often featuring musical guests, for the 21+ crowd. Each week, different special guests come to mingle with ticket holders and private after-hours tours of the academy are available.
Hours: Monday - Saturday 9:30 AM – 5 PM, Sundays 11 AM – 5 PM, NightLife events (21+) 6 – 10 PM
Cost: $29.95 (student summer price), $12 NightLife
3. Berkeley Natural History Museums, Berkeley
Berkeley is host to several world-class natural history venues, including the Essig Museum of Entomology, UC Museum of Paleontology, and the UC Botanical Gardens. Typically closed to visitors, the following are open to the public on CalDay:
- Essig Museum of Entomology
- UC Museum of Paleontology
- Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
- University and Jepson Herbaria
The Essig Museum is also open on Darwin Day, offering a fun way to celebrate the revolutionary biologist. While at the museums, visitors have the opportunity to see several displays, hear presentations by museum scientists, view live arthropods, see fossil collections, learn about the herbaria and local wildflowers, and get hands-on experiences with animals like snakes, frogs, lizards, and salamanders. The Museum of Paleontology also has a modest, year-round public exhibit of several specimens located in the first and second floors of the Valley Life Sciences Building. I quite enjoyed reading about the fossils and found the placards exceptionally education. It’s worth the visit even if it’s just to see the free-standing T. rex. For upcoming events and talks, click here. Berkeley’s natural history department is quite impressive and home to some of the world’s most extensive collections—not something to miss!
If you are looking for something else to do locally in the CalDay interim, look no further than the UC Botanical Gardens. Just a short bus ride away from campus, the gardens offer year round tours of their 34-acre grounds. The gardens boast incredible diversity of fauna sourced over six continents. Open 9 AM – 5 PM daily and at a nominal entrance fee of $10 (free for current UC Berkeley students and staff), it is well-worth the trip!
Hours: Seasonal, open to the public on CalDay
4. Computer History Museum, Mountain View
For those readers willing to go for a bit of a drive and possessing a love for technology, the Computer History Museum is a must-see. Here, visitors can learn about computer history dating back to ancient times, listen to stories from computer pioneers, learn about Watson and cognitive computing at the original Jeopardy! stage where he debuted, and check out the Babbage Engine. “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing” is a fairly recent exhibit with nearly 20 mini-exhibits, each featuring their own ionic object from computing history. With interactive, multi-media displays, this is the perfect opportunity to explore the rich and compelling history of devices so important to our daily, and scientific, lives. If you happen to be stuck in Berkeley, fear not! The museum has an extensive collection of complementary online exhibits for you to enjoy from the comforts of home.
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM
Cost: $12 (student general admission)
5. NASA Ames Research & Visitor Center, Mountain View
While you’re in Mountain View, taking a trip over to Ames is highly recommended. Check out their assortment of space gear, technology and rocks while learning what NASA has been up to recently. Several staff-led presentations, including tours of the Solar System and updates on Curiosity, are offered. Looking for a more realistic experience? Take a ride in the Shuttle Cockpit Simulator or watch an educational short film in the Immersive Theater. Current exhibits include Living and Working in Space, where visitors can learn about microgravity research, and several space exploration artifacts, including Mercury Redstone 1A (MR-1A) and SOFIA. Ticketholders can also hear about the Keppler Mission and the many potential new planets discovered. New exhibits are consistently in the works so there is always something new and up-to-date to explore.
Hours: Tuesday – Friday 10 AM – 4 PM, Saturday -Sunday 12 – 4 PM
Got any other favorite science spots? Let us know in the comments below!