When it comes to congratulating yourself, a pat on the back can seem forced and impersonal. Thankfully, a trip to the Exploratorium will let you give your upside-down clone a high-five. One of its most popular exhibits is a gigantic concave mirror, originally crafted as part of a space-shuttle flight simulator. The surface broadcasts a magnified but completely flipped version of your body—one that appears to float in space as you walk towards it.
The mirror illustrates that at this museum, ideas aren't invisible. You can touch, smell, and even taste them as you move through 600 exhibits, all of which push science out of the textbook and into the tactile realm. Given this, it seems inaccurate to call the Exploratorium a museum; its galleries are better described as ever-evolving laboratories where visitors truly do explore concepts from biology to magnetism. Senior Scientist Paul Doherty summed up this hands-on approach during an interview on PBS Newshour, saying, "We know we have a good exhibit when the person laughs and turns around and says to anybody passing, 'Hey, look at this.'"
The interactive stations occupy a sprawling, solar-powered building at Pier 15. The Exploratorium reopened here in April of 2013, following a 44-year stint in the Palace of Fine Arts. Now, there's more room for play in the warehouse-like environment. Exhibits range from the deceptively simple—a slinky on a treadmill, for example—to the grandiose and elaborate. Manmade geysers shoot water into the air while, in another corner, phosphor screens freeze human shadows. At the Everyone Is You & Me station, fiddling with light combines your reflection with that of the person sitting across from you, allowing you to blend your faces into one without bribing a caricature artist. A game of No Peek Pong requires hearing but no sight, as the ball's pitch indicates its nearness to the paddle. And, there are wonders to discover outside, such as a 27-foot Aeolian harp played by the wind.
Though it'd be tough to drag one of the microscopes at the Microscope Imaging Station away from its moorings, you needn't leave the Exploratorium empty-handed. Its Tinkering Studio supplies materials and instructions for pieces that marry art with science. Outline a pair of ethereal wings behind your photo with light painting, or connect old telephone wires and an LED to make a glowing circuit necklace, which also functions as a beacon if you become lost in your closet.