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Today was Jeff’s day. I planned the majority of the twenty days of our adventure out west. I’m the one who loves the planning aspect of these road trips and he trusts me to select the sights and activities that our family will enjoy the most. He did, however, have one choice: to visit The Exploritorium, a hands-on science museum in San Francisco.

San Francisco is also home to Jeff’s uncle David and his family so we were thrilled that David and cousin Sara were available to meet up with us since we had not seen them in many years.

We were staying in the city less than two miles away from The Exploritorium, which is located on a pier near the historic Ferry Building. Opening time wasn’t until 10:00 and, since our body clocks were still only able halfway acclimated to California time, we had quite a long morning to fill before the doors opened and arranged a location to meet Uncle David and Sara for breakfast nearby.

After assessing the multitude of parking options, we chose to park at the Embarcadero Center across from the Ferry Building which would be nearly a straight shot down Clay Street from our hotel. Google Maps suggested we use the Broadway Tunnel instead as it bypasses many intersections but we easterners have a slight fear of being underground in earthquake country! I only mention these mundane route decisions because our final decision to drive down Clay Street ended up being one of the most terrifying moments of the trip for me! The high viewpoints, cliffside trails, and other vertigo-inducing activities were no problem, but I think there are still fingernail marks in the car door handle from that drive down Clay Street! San Francisco streets are steep!

A common scene on the Wild West Road Trip: cereal, oatmeal, and bananas for breakfast in our hotel room.

Does it get any more “San Francisco” than this?!

We made it to the waterfront intact and joined David and Sara at a local farm to table cafe, Frog Hollow Farm Cafe, where we enjoyed the most delicious cinnamon scones and the best fresh-squeezed orange juice I’ve ever tasted. I grew up with fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice but those California oranges are far superior! The boys ate brownies for breakfast because, hey, we’re on vacation!

We had a great time catching up on the sunny outdoor patio at the pier and all of us walked down to The Exploritorium as opening time neared. David and Sara played with us in the exhibit hall for an hour before they had to get to work and school.

One of the boys’ favorite exhibits was the tornado machine. There a similar machine at the Life and Science Museum in Durham, but it never works properly so it was fun to see how the machine is supposed to work! The boys could run through this one and the vapor vortex would reform immediately. It was quite amazing!

At the storytelling station, Jasper and Jeff both left riveting chapters … in their own unique ways. Jasper’s says, “I am on vacation. I do not live here. I am having fun here. I love you. Jasper.” He included the outline of California (quite impressed, I must say!), a smiley face (of course), a play button (because that makes sense), and a self-portrait.

We ate lunch on-site at the Seaglass Cafe, fresh sushi rolls for mom and dad, and Neiman Ranch hot dogs for the boys. Our table at the windows featured a glorious view of the bay and we enjoyed this quiet space before returning to the chaotic exhibit hall for the remainder of the afternoon.

One highlight was the Monochromatic Room, a small room only lit by a single wavelength light which is translated as yellow, making everything the room appear to be a living sepia photograph. Flashlights are provided to shine white light on various colorful objects in the room, revealing their true colors.

Jeff and Gavin spent time in the tinkering lab where they build scribbling machines out of scrap pieces. Jasper was too young for this exhibit, so he made a robot stop-motion film at the adjacent animation station. Ironically, it was days later that we found the same robot toy in another gift shop so he was able to bring home a souvenir from his favorite activity at the Exploritorium, though not purchased there!

We also enjoyed examining the intricate toothpick sculpture, Rolling Through the Bay by Scott Weaver. Assembled with over 100,000 toothpicks, it features numerous San Francisco landmarks and the longer you look, the more you find.

As the day was nearing an end and the tinkering room was clearing out, Jasper and I were able to join in on the scribbler fun.

We left about a half hour before the 5:00 closing time, returned to the Ferry Building for some gifts to bring back home, and fetched our car to leave the city. We would spend the night in Santa Cruz nearly 90 miles to the south on the ocean. The most direct route would be to take the 280 south nearly to San Jose and across the mountains on route 17 to the coast. Alternatively, we could hop on route 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) and hug the coast all the way down. That route has nearly identical mileage but the slower speed limit could potentially result in a longer drive. I had mapped out both routes and left the choice up to the day’s traffic report. As we battled periods of stop and go traffic leaving the city at rush hour on a Friday evening, our choice was clear!

As soon as we passed through Pacifica and saw the ocean out the window, we left traffic woes behind and had an absolutely lovely scenic driveway down the coast to Santa Cruz. We ate treats purchased at the Ferry Building in the car and, without many food options along this particular stretch of the PCH, were content to wait until our destination for dinner.

We were checked into our motel across the street from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk by 7:30, ate sandwiches in the room, and got to sleep, ready for a big day ahead. Someone was a little excited and started celebrating early, too!

San Francisco Exploritorium