The Exploratorium is opening on Wednesday at Pier 15. The new $300 million location, a restored pier, is three times the size of the old one, and it’s a state-of-the-art green building, outfitted with solar panels and a heating and cooling system that uses water from San Francisco Bay.

So what should you know before you visit?

Well, first of all, you might want to buy tickets in advance. The museum opens its doors at 10 a.m., and pre-sale tickets are already selling out (although on opening day the museum staff will be doing science demos for people standing in line to get in.)

On the other hand, you don’t have to buy tickets to experience the Exploratorium. There are outdoor exhibits on the pier that are free and open to the public.

There’s a lot of new stuff. And familiar favorites. The Exploratorium is taking advantage of its new location on the Bay. One gallery, called the Bay Observatory, is full of exhibits about the tides, weather, water and air — you get the picture. The Exploratorium is working with partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to collect data and share the results with scientists and, of course, museum visitors. Another new gallery focuses on human behavior and social interaction.

But don’t worry, the tornado and the zebra fish are still there. And there’s a new tactile dome to explore.

It’s still the Exploratorium. The machine shop, where museum staff tinker with new exhibits, is still in the center of the space. “Even in this move, we will never be complete, we will never be finished,” Exploratorium Executive Director Dennis Bartels said on KQED’s Forum.

Exhibits director Tom Rockwell told me there was never any plan to lose the experimental, warehouse-y feel of the old space.

“One of the key jobs has been not to lose the funkiness,” he said. “Inventors don’t worry so much about whether the cabinetry all looks perfect. We actually care about leaving the footprints of the maker. It keeps the focus on what really matters, which is the process of investigation.”

Exploratorium scientific content developer Sebastian Martin and an interactive map of the Bay Area in the Bay Observatory.

Exploratorium scientific content developer Sebastian Martin and an interactive map of the Bay Area in the Bay Observatory. (Courtesy of the Exploratorium)

 

Exploratorium Pier 15_Marc L'Italien_June 2010

A sketch of Pier 15 by lead designer Marc L’Italien of architecture firm EHDD. (Courtesy of Marc L’Italien)

 

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The East Gallery focuses on biology and ecology. (Courtesy of the Exploratorium)

 

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Pier 15 used to be a commercial pier and it holds onto that character, including signs painted on the wall by previous tenants. Jenny Oh/KQED

This Week in Northern California segment reported by PBS NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels and produced by Monica Lam.

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