From the spectacular and grandiose—such as far-reaching telescopes that penetrate the cosmos and bring back crystal-clear views of the stars—to the most curious minutiae—think "space toilets" like those used by astronauts on the International Space Station—Chabot Space & Science Center captures the science, mystery, and grandeur of outer space in an interactive and educational setting.
The big picture comes courtesy of the observatory's three high-powered telescopes, which grant Chabot with its domed silhouette and provide visitors a privileged view of the stars during daytime and evening viewings. Things narrow in scope once you enter the museum, where interactive exhibits zero in on the smaller curiosities of space and Earth's relationship to it. The aforementioned space toilet is a part of the Beyond Blastoff exhibit, where spacesuits, space gear, and space food paint a picture of an astronaut's day-to-day life. One Giant Leap: A Moon Odyssey gives visitors another taste of space exploration, this time by putting them behind the controls of the original Mercury space capsule, then puts them face to face with a 3.3-billion-year-old moon rock collected during the Apollo 15 mission. Weather becomes more than something to curse at for canceling the ball game or flooding a meteorologist's basement once visitors enter Bill Nye's Climate Lab. There, kids tasked with saving the Earth from storms and melting ice sheets are too busy developing top-secret energy-saving devices to realize they might be learning something.
Chabot Space & Science Center also features shows such as LaserMania, a classic-rock-fueled spectacle where light and sound—a 360-degree cocoon of cutting-edge laser lights set to music by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and U2, specifically—team up for an explosive sensory experience.
In the 1940’s, the Boeing School of Aeronautics hangar at Oakland International Airport’s North Field housed some of the company’s brightest aeronautical engineers. Their work produced several early Boeing planes, including the Thorp T-3 and T-5, both of which are now on display thanks to the hangar’s current resident, the Oakland Aviation Museum.
Most of the museum’s exhibits focus on celebrating local aviation history, such as The American Legion’s involvement in the Bay Area and the history of native Californian and Medal of Honor awardee General James “Jimmy” Doolittle. However, the museum’s collection of aircraft features a broader mix, including a replica of the Wright Brothers’ EX Vin Fiz, a TAV-8A Herrier that can take off and land vertically, and the Short Solent III flying boat that was used in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
More interactive sites include flight simulators, a kid’s area, a research library, and occasional Open Cockpit Days that let visitors climb into the cockpit of a real Korean fighter jet and turn the radio up really loud. The knowledgeable staff operates the museum with the goal of both educating visitors about aviation’s proud history on the West Coast and throughout the U.S., as well as to inspire visitors by linking aviation’s past to the future of aeronautical invention.
The Museum of Children's Arts was originally founded in 1989 around the idea that creative, curious children build stronger communities. MOCHA continues to serve East Bay schools and neighborhoods today, teaching children as young as 18 months to channel creative energy while developing self-confidence and critical-thinking skills.
MOCHA's mission is most apparent during open-studio times, which allow parents and children to work together and experiment with painting or creating traditional folk art. A teaching artist is on hand to provide guidance, assistance, and lectures on the differences between Rococo and Impressionistic landscapes. Although these hands-on experiences are an integral part of the museum, MOCHA also invites visitors to peruse its community-inspired exhibitions, such as its displays of original pieces created by students of the Oakland Unified School District.
Most presidents don't have yachts these days. Perhaps they're content with schooners, Air Force Ones, and secret teleporters. But Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a yacht that he treasured to his dying day. The USS Potomac isn't the type of seacraft that ferries playboys sipping mimosas and listening to Hall and Oates. It's a former Coast Guard cutter Electra boasting 416 tons of inertia designed for up to 30 knots of cruising speed; it's intended for authoritarian command. When the Squire of Hyde Park held the reins, the 165-foot vessel played host to political meetings, the very first visit of the British monarchy, and fishing trips, and it even served as a decoy while FDR and Churchill crafted the Atlantic Charter between games of Marco Polo. But when he passed, his sweet ship suffered decades of neglect. But when he passed, his sweet ship suffered decades of neglect. Thanks to Elvis Presley, and his mother's fondness of FDR, the ship was rescued and given to Danny Thomas as a fund raiser for St. Jude's Hospital.
From good works to bad...the Potomac wound up busted by the DEA for running drugs between Mexico and San Francisco Bay, and it was impounded at Treasure Island where she sank. Later the Potomac, in gnarly condition, sat on the Oakland Estuary mud flats for 12 more years. Rotting and rusted the once "Queen of the Potomac" was finally rescued and restored between 1983 and 1995.
Now docked at Jack London Square where landlubbers savor dockside tours, the floating testament to the New Deal maker also departs on chartered cruises and history tours. The expert docents give the full dossier on the FDR, his buoyant baby, and the history of San Francisco Bay as tour-goers soak in the sights and high seas.
A group of teachers and parents founded Habitot Children's Museum in 1998 with one specific mission in mind: to foster children up to 6 years old by encouraging their creativity and natural curiosity. Today, the 4,000-square-foot museum backs up this mission with research—gleaned from studies by scientists, psychologists, and educators—positing that healthy play spurs social skills, creative thinking, and problem solving, laying the foundation for kids to succeed later in life and imprison boogeymen in their booby-trapped closet tomorrow.
At Habitot, kids find such opportunities at small-scale exhibits and themed play areas throughout the museum. Aspiring firefighters steer a small-scale truck, race through a pretend burning building, and maneuver the hose and nozzle from a fire hydrant, all while donning coats, boots, and helmets. Young explorers press buttons, turn dials, and issue commands for pretend space launches inside a 13-foot model rocket ship or navigate a vertical floor-to-ceiling maze designed to mimic worm tunnels. At the waterworks table and pumping station, young engineers manipulate water using buckets, funnels, waterwheels, and pitchers to help them understand H2O’s unique properties, such as how it keeps boats afloat on the arms of a thousand mermen. (At different times throughout the year, the staff transforms this area with a different theme; at times it’s been a car wash, a marine-science lab, or the racing grounds for a rubber-ducky regatta.) Visitors can tap into their inner Van Goghs at the art studio, where they play with soft clays and go nuts on a paintable wall. Habitot also hosts year-round children's camps with themes such as beaches, transportation, space, castles, and science.
Established in 1968 in honor of Ernest Orlando Lawrence, UC-Berkeley's first Nobel laureate, The Lawrence Hall of Science aims to inspire the scientists and innovators of the future. Their hands-on exhibits allow children and adults to see and touch a fascinating variety of displays and projects. The animated, interactive Science On a Sphere globe, for example, uses actual scientific data to depict the expanding wave patterns of tsunamis and the massive storms triggered by thoughtless butterflies. To learn more about seismic activity, guests head to the Forces That Shape the Bay outdoor park to ride an earthquake simulator. Kids can climb atop a life-size model whale or through the double helix of a huge DNA sculpture, or work with students from the Berkeley Engineers and Mentors program to design and build a prototype in the Ingenuity Lab.
The museum also sparks imaginations with an interactive planetarium and 3-D theater. Its affiliation with the university makes it an ideal spot for educational camps and classes, as well as community events, including robotics competitions.