The Exploratorium

Isn’t that a great name for a children’s museum? What’s more, it really lives up to it. (My only criticism would be the very mediocre food – it doesn’t seem right to eat rubbish fish ‘n’ chips while staring at the sea ocean.)

Located on Pier 15 (on Embarcadero half-way between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building), The Exploratorium is packed with interactive exhibits split over six galleries. The entrance fee is quite steep ($29 for me and $19 for the Jam), particularly for those accustomed to free museums in London, but we barely saw (heard, touched, smelled etc) half of what was there.

We spent most of our time in the “Seeing and Listening’ gallery as the Jam dashed from one exhibit to another. We particularly enjoyed fixing our shadows on the wall, the monochromatic room and the Alice in Wonderland (my name) room:

My big boy
My big boy
My baby
My baby
For some reason, most people choose the ordinary drinking fountain just to the right...
For some reason, most people choose the ordinary drinking fountain just to the right…

We also enjoyed the “Tinkering’ and ‘Living Systems’ galleries. In the latter, the Jam thought the looped video of a decaying bird was another highlight. Despite being a little too young for many  of the exhibits in the ‘Human Phenomena’ area, he enjoyed the unusual drinking fountain:

We only had around fifteen minutes with the ‘Outdoor Exhibits’ – the Jam liked the echo tube – but there didn’t seem to be very much happening on the day we visited. We didn’t have time for the last gallery (‘Observing Landscapes’) but it seemed more adult-orientated anyway.

I would definitely recommend this place to anyone with kids (or big kids aka husbands) visiting San Francisco. It’s definitely worth the ticket price but make sure you allocate enough time to get your money’s worth!

National Maritime Museum

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but I had a great time with my two favourite boys. Here’s my attempt at a three-picture story, as suggested in this week’s WordPress photo challenge:

Those photos are just a glimpse of what you can get up to at the Maritime Museum, without paying for any of the special galleries or exhibitions. There’s a giant map which you can walk (or crawl) on and they provide some large model ships (and a submarine) for kids to push around as they explore. In the Children’s Gallery you can practise  Morse code with flashes or clicks, fire a cannon – the cannon is real but the firing is virtual – or take control of the cargo loading. Just outside there’s a phone to communicate with the captain from the engine room (or vice-versa) and a ship simulator where you can attempt to navigate into port. (In term-time these parts of the museum are sometimes closed for pre-booked school visits, so check availability if they’re the main attraction.) The are also a lot of non-interactive exhibits, which  the Jam quite liked but are more suitable for older children and adults.


Getting there – If you’re visiting on a weekday, there is a car park almost immediately across the road from the museum on the corner of Park Row. Another option would be to park at the Blackheath end of Greenwich Park and take a stroll down the hill through the park. Both car parks get very busy at the weekend but Greenwich is easily accessible by train or DLR and the stations are within 10 minutes walk of the museum.

Other facilities – The museum has good access for a pushchair and there are various buggy parks dotted around neat the interactive exhibits. The toilets have baby-changing facilities and there is a large cafe and a coffee bar onsite as well as the very nice Brasserie (which also has a children’s menu).

(For more of our adventures, click on ‘The London List’ at the top of the page.)

London Transport Museum

Way back in October, DH and I took the Jam to the London Transport Museum as a treat after his hospital appointment. He loves trains, buses and all other vehicles so although he was a little young for some of the educational stuff, he really enjoyed himself. At £15 per ticket for me and DH, it wasn’t cheap but those tickets do give us unlimited entry for 12 months – assuming we don’t lose them – and the Jam got in for free.

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On entry we were given a card describing a ‘trail’ through the museum and there are 12 checkpoints at which the Jam could punch his card – it’s a good way to make sure you don’t miss anything or end up going back on yourself. As well as models and information in a range of media, there are lots of real vehicles that visitors can sit in and explore (or pretend to drive) and a small interactive play area for children. As you can see from the photos, the Jam had a great time. I think DH rather enjoyed himself too…

Getting there – The museum is located in the corner of Covent Garden, but it only takes a few extra minutes to walk from Charing Cross rather than Covent Garden underground station, which isn’t particularly child-friendly and gets very busy. If you’re feeling bold however, it’s on the Piccadilly line.

Other facilities – The museum has good disabled access (which also helps with pushchairs) though boarding some of the vehicles wouldn’t be possible with a wheelchair. There is a cloakroom where you can leave a pushchair or pram and the toilets have baby-changing facilities. There is shop and two cafes on site plus all the shops, bars and restaurants of Covent Garden just outside.

(For more of our adventures, click on ‘The London List’ at the top of the page.)

London List

One of the less obvious rubbish things about CHD (or any serious medical condition) is that it makes you realise the importance of living life to the full but simultaneously prevents you from doing so. The Jam’s long-term prognosis is rather gloomy, and though we are confident that by the time we get there, medical science will have developed in ways we can’t yet imagine, we’re still keen to make the most of now. We want to show him all the amazing things in the world, but he can’t fly – at least, not until after the next big operation – so many places are out of reach.

However, I’ve recently realised that complaining that we can’t see the world is just self-pity if we don’t make the most of what’s on our doorstep. There are so many brilliant things to do in (and around) London, some famous (and expensive) and some hidden gems too. Recently we had a sight-seeing trip with Dad, and a few months ago the Jam was delighted by a simple walk down the South Bank and the chance to sing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ while jumping up and down on London Bridge. Last summer we went to the Science Museum with SiL and we’ve built sandcastles on the beach in various locations. We’ve visited the Sea Life Aquarium and watched ‘In the Night Garden Live’ at the Millennium Dome O2 Arena.

Earlier this week had a great day at London Zoo with DH, though I only managed a few photos:

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I already have a few more places in mind for future days out:

  1. The London Eye – Dad (who’s terrified of heights) has repeatedly promised to take the Jam on it!
  2. The Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs.
  3. A boat ride on the Thames, maybe the Duck Tour.
  4. Hamleys – technically free, but obviously won’t be!
  5. The Cutty Sark – we’ve seen the outside but not done the tour yet.

What do you think? There’s so much more to do and I’d love to hear your suggestions.