Lawrence Hall of Science
It's still spring break in many school districts around the US, so I thought I'd spend Travel Tuesday reminiscing about one of the cool places we visited over Spring Break. The Lawrence Hall of Science is a hands-on science museum on the UC Berkeley campus that draws kids from all over the Bay Area.
Even before you step into the museum, you know it's going to be a hands-on kind of place. Outside the entrance doors sits a life-sized whale sculpture that kids love to climb on. Right across it is a larger-than-life strand of DNA; kids treat it like a playground structure, clambering through the spirals or hanging from them.
Inside, kids are greeted with some cool contraptions like a wind machine that keeps beach balls suspended in the air, and some computer stations that serve as an introduction (or teaser) to whatever is currently in the Special Exhibit Hall.
We simply adored this pushpin station, but when we visited a few weeks ago, it was no longer there.
One of our favorite areas is the Design-Build-Test area, where kids can build wooden structures, vertical marble runs, cars, and other cool contraptions. Cal Engineering students are on hand to monitor and guide, but most kids do quite well on their own. My kids could probably spend all day building structure after structure with these giant wooden popsicle sticks!
The Special Exhibits Hall changes exhibits every so often. The current exhibit is called Xtreme BUGS (check out my review of Xtreme BUGS on Silicon Valley Mamas!), which featured life-sized bug displays with moving parts and sound effects. Past exhibits include simple machines, physics and motion (via skateboarding!), the human body, and more.
The back of the museum leads to an outdoor area (with a breathtaking view of Berkeley, the Bay, and San Francisco) that teaches kids about the forces that shape the land, like water, wind, moving plates, and erosion. Kids love using plastic plates to create dams and change the flow of the water in the outdoor pool.
The lower level has dozens of small stations showcasing optical illusions, brain teasers, puzzles, as well as a few dinosaur fossil exhibits. There's a planetarium and a 3-D theater that play several shows daily (admission fees to these shows are separate from regular museum entrance fees).
The museum has so many other things to explore, I can't list them all, mostly because we haven't gotten to all of them yet. Some other can't miss exhibits are the old-fashioned seismograph, animal encounter room, preschool play area, and of course the museum store, which is full of cool science toys and kits to take home. You can easily spend 4-5 hours here, so pack a lunch or buy food at the Cafe (which serves surprisingly good food that goes beyond the usual burgers, hot dogs and fries).