The scene in So I Married an Axe Murderer where Mike Myers and Nancy Travis are walking near a lagoon and she shouts at some sailors in Russian was filmed at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This is also where Claire Forlani and Sean Connery meet in The Rock. The structure is iconic and beautiful and attracts tourists and film crews alike, but the palace wasn’t made to last long. It was originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and was only meant to be temporary. The palace was so popular that it was saved from the demolition that claimed the expo’s other buildings. It was rebuilt in 1965 of materials stronger than the plaster and burlap that the original was constructed of, and today it is home to a theater and most importantly, the Exploratorium.
The Exploratorium is a warehouse-sized interactive science museum for adults and kids alike. I feel bad using the word “museum” to describe it because it is loud, bright and you are allowed to touch everything. But if I used the term “learning experience” it sounds too much like “teaching moment,” a polite euphemism for “failure.” So hands-on science museum it is. There are exhibits ranging from optics, electricity and earth science to math, music, and psychology. It is like being on the set of every Mr. Wizard show. The exhibits encourage self-directed learning of scientific phenomena that are part of everyday life. See a room devoid of color only to shine a flashlight and see the color appear. Listen to music in 7/4 time (Pink Floyd’s “Money”) and 5/4 time (Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five”) and notice the difference. Make giant smoke rings and stand inside a tornado. Not only is it fun for all ages, it is educational, too. The exhibit on how a compressor keeps my basement dry and beer my cold was very helpful.
The Exploratorium is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10-5 and the admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Allow about 2 hours for your visit.
Even if you don’t go to the Exploratorium, the facade of the Palace of Fine Arts is worth a visit.