Tag - San Francisco

The Exploratorium
Apples and Haunted Houses
Touring San Francisco

The Exploratorium

We finally made it to The Exploratorium. My first experience with this (or any) hands-on museum was when I first started college. My good friend Ben took me and my roommate, and maybe Philip. Ben had worked there in high school and he showed us all the best exhibits. Everything there is good, actually, which explains why a group of college students would even be interested. During the time I lived in San Francisco, I went to the Exploratorium at least once a year.

The children loved it! They dashed from exhibit to exhibit, trying to get experiments to work. Most of them required little or no help from a parent, beyond reading the instructions for the early reader among us. We couldn’t get all the experiments to work and some turned out differently than we thought they would. Others we totally rocked. But that’s all part of the fun!

At the bubble tables you try to create the biggest bubble you can. Bip tried to pull a bubble over his head, but it didn’t work.

Then we watched other kids doing it and realized that he needed to move faster. And then he got it!

Funny chairs!  This would have been a fun picture of all my boys, but Boo was off with his cousin.  I had no idea where he was.

This room was dark and had lights moving across the floor in various patterns. The only point of this was to interact with the light however you felt like. Pipsqueak loved this! He chased the lights, stepped on them, attempted to hop over them. He even rolled on them.

If you go:
The Exploratorium is located on the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts, so make sure you allow time to walk around outside and check it out, too.

They have a small cafe for food and a place to sit down. Food isn’t allowed outside that area. They’ve also got lockers available for a fee if you have stuff to stow.

Don’t forget, they are closed on Mondays!


Our next stop on our tour of San Francisco was Alcatraz. I’d been twice before – first with my parents sometime in the early 80s when the tour was guided, and second with Philip while we were in college and by then the tour was a self-guided audio tour. Both times we just showed up at the pier and bought tickets for the next available tour, usually the very next one leaving.

All that has changed. We bought tickets a week earlier and it was a good thing! Apparently tickets sell out well in advance and perhaps the only thing that saved us was the fact that most California schools hadn’t let out for summer yet.

You’ve got to get to the pier early but they’ve got some displays to read. You can also check out this scale model.  Our traveling monster, Estrella, liked it very much!

Estrella imagines herself as Godzilla attacking Alcatraz.

Eventually we got to board the boat. (Here’s a tip, don’t bother queuing up early unless you’re cold and want to get on the boat for the warmth. Just wait for the line to go down, then board at your leisure.)

The boat ride is windy. Wear a jacket.

The audio tour is excellent! It has you moving around the prison, looking into cells or at displays that help tell the story. The sound effects and background noises really add to the atmosphere. I highly recommend it!

These are isolation cells. The audio tour has you go in one and close your eyes while a former inmate describes what is was like to live in total darkness.

A display showing a bar spreader constructed by an inmate and used for one of the escape attempts.

Prisoners were allowed to pursue some hobbies, like paint by numbers or crochet.

If you go:
Buy tickets online well in advance. This is the official site: Alcatraz Tickets. You can buy both the ferry ride and audio tour tickets together. There is limited street parking, so be prepared to walk or just get someone to drop you off or take the bus.

Wear comfortable shoes and bring a jacket, even in summer.

Eat before you get on the ferry because there is no food allowed on the island. We were gone for 3 hours!

I wouldn’t recommend this tour for toddlers. I don’t think they allow strollers and there is a lot of walking! Plus, everyone is wearing head phones and listening to the tour. A small child would get bored and restless very quickly.

Apples and Haunted Houses

Our second day in San Francisco, we traveled down to Cupertino to visit Phil’s brother who works for Apple.  Yes, that Apple.

First we needed badges because you can’t just wander aimlessly around Apple Headquarters without an escort or a reason.  We each typed in our name and the company we work for.  Much hilarity ensued as the children decided who their employers would be.

Then we wandered around and ended up at the cafeteria for lunch.  All I can say is…wow!  They sure are living large there with a big assortment of cooked to order meals, custom pizzas, smoothies, and fruit.  We wrapped our time there taking pictures in front of the address sign, proudly displaying our free apples.

Fruit.  Not electronics.

And since we were pretty much right down the street, we also went to the Winchester Mystery House.  I have no pictures of this event because they weren’t allowed.  I have no idea why. No military discount, either.  And definitely no free apples.  But the kids thought it was really, really cool (as did the grown ups), so it was time well spent.

Touring San Francisco

Not San Fran.  Not Frisco.  San Francisco.  Or The City.

Phil’s brother John drove us around in their brother Donald’s minivan.  I think Donald paid him because it has been 20 years since we’ve driven in The City and he didn’t trust either of us.  No matter.  We spent the day doing tourist things in The City.  We started off at the Palace of Fine Arts where none of the adults could correctly remember which event the whole thing was built for. (The 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition)

We walked all the way around, admiring the architecture, heading for the Exploratorium.  We got there…and it is closed on Mondays – which I *totally* remembered, after the fact.  So we walked back to the car and headed to the Golden Gate Bridge, but their little parking lot was completely filled, so we headed to Fort Point.

Fort Point is this Civil War era Army post built to help to protect the bay.  We walked all around and pointed out the cool features like the sally port and the spiral staircases built to allow right-handed sword fighters defending from above to have the advantage.

My friend Shanti took her ship under the bridge just a couple of weeks earlier.  Boo thought that this would have been the perfect vantage point to wave to her and his friends from his tiger cruise.  

We saw some shark bait surfers.

Then we drove down Lombard St.  We had a traveling monster with us, so we took her picture.  Because it was San Francisco, nobody was at all surprised to see a monster with a star tattoo popping out of the bushes.

Then we went to Mel’s Drive-In for lunch.  Boo had this huge hamburger.

The kids’ meals came in these cool car boxes.  Estrella, the monster, grabbed the fries and took off cruising down Geary Blvd.  Nobody seemed surprised at that, either.

Next time: We visit Apple HQ and get free samples.

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