We spent the weekend in the Bay Area visiting family.  Yesterday Jana needed the day to study, so I took the kids into the city for a day at the Exploratorium.  As I’ve mentioned before, by joining the Natural History Museum you benefit from the “passport program”  promoted by the Association of Science-Technology Centers.  It allows you free entry into any participating science museum over 90 miles away, and for those of us in Humboldt that’s every other participating center.  The participants include the Exploratorium, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and about 300 other participating centers, including the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding.  In the Bay Area there are four or five participating centers and your membership can pay for itself in a day.

The California Academy of Sciences used to participate, but they just completed a five year reconstruction and they need money.  They’re selling their capacity of tickets every day.  Generally speaking, the ASTC participants benefit from the program.  The benefit attracts potential members.  Your costs don’t increase all that much due to increased attendance due to the program, and maybe the members of distant centers will buy something from the gift shops or spend money in their overpriced cafeterias/restaurants.  CAS has sold tickets to capacity nearly every day since they reopened apparently and so they would stand to lose some money.  Therefor they don’t participate with ASTC, nor apparently does it participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums reciprocity program (if you join the Sequoia Park Zoo your membership will get you into the San Francisco Zoo, the Oakland Zoo, and the Monterey Aquarium).

I had intended to take the kids to CAS, but I went to the site to learn that they strongly advise buying tickets in advance as they frequently sell out.  I noticed that the passport system was not listed as a membership benefit.  I then went to the ASTC site to find that they are no longer included on the reciprocation list.  I called over, but only got a machine.  Entrance prices are 25 bucks for an adult and 15 for each kid.  The thought of driving over and shelling out 55 dollars for the opportunity to elbow people in order for my kids to catch glimpses of the exhibits just didn’t appeal to me.  I’ll wait until the hype dies down a bit, and maybe when they’re no longer selling tickets to capacity they’ll rejoin one of the reciprocity programs.

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So we went to the Exploratorium.  It’s about the 20th time I’ve taken Asher there and at least the 10th time I’ve taken Lilith, but they never tire of it.  There’s so much there and now they’re actually reaching ages where they will actually focus on the lessons the exhibits have to offer and not just the physical sensations – though my daughter still spent about 45 minutes at the magnets with the black iron powder.  I enjoyed some of those exhibits when I was a kid and they still appeal to me.  The kids watched a young volunteer dissect a cow’s eyeball.

My four-year-old daughter got separated from me at one point, but didn’t panic.  She didn’t follow my prior instructions either, and instead walked around to find me.  She was happy as a clam, and I assume she would have gone to the information desk eventually.

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One change from my childhood – the cafeteria now serves organic-free range-natural fare.  My son got his usual Nieman Marcus Ranch hot dog, my daughter got her usual penne with surprisingly flavorful marinara sauce, and I slammed down some chicken wings over rice with a spicey lime cilantro sauce.  All good, and all predictably overpriced due to monopoly and probably exhorbitant rent, although given the constant lines all day you’d think economies of scale would allow for cheaper prices.  The Nieman Marcus hot dog was $4.50, as bad as any baseball park although probably better for my son.  The SF museums have all brought in, probably by some madate from Mt. Olympus downtown, California culture preferred food.  Ironically, across the bay in Berkeley, the cafeteria at the Lawrence Hall of Science offers the usual mystery meat sandwiches with small bags of Laura Scudders offering intead of the more expensive (and better tasting) Kettle Brand, although they did offer some yummy oatmeal cookies from a local bakery the last time I was there.

According to the CAS website, they have a “full service restaurant” which probably has prices through the roof.  At least the Monterey Bay Aquarium has both restaurant and buffet cafeteria options, although the food in both is top rate (no Laura Scudders).  I think the CAS management is a little out of touch, and I wonder how well it’ll do once the initial hype has subsided.  As a kid I went there three or four times per year.  I doubt we’d do that at the current prices.

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My mother was reminscing about the time in which both the CAS and SF Zoo were free (I remember when the Sequoia Park Zoo was free).  Now you get nickled and dimed (or worse) at every turn of public offerings.  So when we left the Exploratorium yesterday I decided to introduce my kids to Fort Point, which was free when I was a kid.  I hadn’t been there in years, but guess what?  It’s still free!  Something fun and educational in this world is still free, besides the beach and the sunset!

It’s still as striking as it was, with the vaulted brick architecture (which the tour guide claims inspired the design of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I find that questionable given that there are plenty of bridges which proceed both the fort and bridge with “vaulting” appearances), the views of the ocean and bay.  We don’t have as much to show for history as the east coast, but this building has plenty of history.  It became obsolete almost as soon as it was built of course, but it remained a military outpost off and on until World War II when they put some anti-aircraft guns on top of it to protect the bay from the Japanese.  I think that was probably for public show to encourage the feeling of security as had the Japanese made it that far they probably would have reduced the building to rubble in minutes.

The place has been maintained nicely, with some fascinating historical exhibits in  the old quarters.  My daughter actually got scared as we passed through a dark hallway on the western portion of the second floor, but both kids loved the top floor where you can feel the salt air wind and enjoy gorgeous views in all directions while listening to the rumbling of the vehicles on the bridge above.  You can see splatterings of red paint from the bridge on the floor and wall of the fort, and my son asked why they didn’t put tarps down when repainting the bridge each time.  Excellent question.

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By the way, it’s six bucks to cross the bridge now.  Thirty bucks a week if you commute for a job!  That’s almost a day’s pay if you’re earning minimum wage.

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In looking for a photo of the Palace of Fine Arts (where the Exploratorium is located) I came across this photo taken in 1919 at Wikipedia (through the above link).  If anybody asks why the Marina District is so dangerous during earthquakes, I think I’ll dig up this photo.

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