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Exploratorium Exhibit Developer Diane Whitmore's Guide to San Francisco


Diane Whitmore, San Francisco Exploratorium
Hi, I'm Jenna!

Jenna Scatena is an independent journalist based in Istanbul and San Francisco. Her stories have appeared in AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, Delta Sky, San Francisco Chronicle, O the Oprah magazine, and Vogue, among others. She is a correspondent for Travel + Leisure and a contributing writer for Conde Nast Traveler. Previously she served as the travel editor at Sunset and San Francisco magazines. Her travel essays have been anthologized in The Best Women's Travel Writing Vol. 9 and Vol. 11 (Travelers' Tales) and An Innocent Abroad (Lonely Planet).

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Hi, I'm Jenna!

Jenna Scatena is an independent journalist based in Istanbul and San Francisco. Her stories have appeared in AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, Delta Sky, San Francisco Chronicle, O the Oprah magazine, and Vogue, among others. She is a correspondent for Travel + Leisure and a contributing writer for Conde Nast Traveler. Previously she served as the travel editor at Sunset and San Francisco magazines. Her travel essays have been anthologized in The Best Women's Travel Writing Vol. 9 and Vol. 11 (Travelers' Tales) and An Innocent Abroad (Lonely Planet).

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Diane Whitmore has one of the coolest jobs in San Francisco. As an Exhibit Developer at the city’s famed Exploratorium, she spends her time making and maintaining the museum’s interactive exhibits, drawing inspiration from research, serendipity, and personal observations.

“I come up with ideas from the world around me,” she says. “I get curious about something, then see if I can mock it up as a prototype in our machine shop.”

It all started back in 1992, when Diane moved to San Francisco for art school to become a sculptor. Now, after working at the Exploratorium for 24 years, she’s found veritable sculptures in her exhibits and a home in San Francisco. Read on for her top tips, Bay Area expertise, and more.

At the Exploratorium

The Exploratorium's giant mirror exhibit. (Photo credit: Stephen Lam)
The Exploratorium's giant mirror exhibit. | Photo Credit: Stephen Lam

Favorite exhibit: The Giant Mirror

Whether you’re with kids or not, you won’t want to miss the curved Giant Mirror, which was originally part of an old flight simulator. Its concave spherical shape focuses incoming light to a point, creating playful optical illusions. “It’s bizarre and feels like augmented reality, but it’s just a giant mirror,” Whitmore says. “It feels like you’re walking through the looking glass.”

Set on Pier 15, the Exploratorium features hands-on exhibits that teach visitors about science, art, and human perception. (Photo credit: Stephen Lam)
Set on Pier 15, the Exploratorium features hands-on exhibits that teach visitors about science, art, and human perception. | Photo Credit: Stephen Lam

Advice for families: Don't overplan

The Exploratorium has more than 650 hands-on exhibits, and zero “Don’t Touch” signs, so it certainly qualifies as a kid-friendly spot. “I tell people to let kids drive here, and just follow them around. It’s natural to want to explain things to them, but they have their own approach to the exhibits, and you might learn from them if you give them the chance,” she says. Let your kid, or your inner kid, roam free and interact with the mind-bending exhibits.

Around San Francisco

Neighborhood to explore: Outer Richmond

Although she’s been in the city for a long time, Diane is still finding new spots that become fast favorites. “I’m just discovering the Outer Richmond and I love it. There’s so much history and culture there.”

This foggy neighborhood is located on San Francisco’s westernmost crust. A grid of long neighborhood blocks are lined with Russian bakeries, Chinese restaurants, and Irish bars, reflecting its diverse heritage. It has two main outdoor areas, too: Baker Beach, which overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge, and the scenic Lands End Trail, tracing where the continent meets the Pacific.

A chef prepares a Japanese horse mackerel sashimi at Coco's Ramen.
A chef prepares a Japanese horse mackerel sashimi at Coco's Ramen. | Photo Credit: Stephen Lam

Favorite SF meal: Coco's Ramen

In her neighborhood of Bernal Heights, Diane touts Coco's Ramen and Izakaya as having some of the best sushi in the city. Here, you can watch skilled chef Atsu uncoil a radish with a knife to a veneer-like thinness, or see him prepare his own take on traditional nigiri and rolls. “He's always inventing something new,” Diane says, “and he's so dedicated. Once he told me that he sharpens knives for a hobby!”

Festival to plan a trip around: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

“Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a local San Francisco family’s gift to the universe. It’s—yes, free!—and happens every year, on the sunniest weekend in October. It’s not actually strictly bluegrass, so you’ll find lots of music varieties being performed here.”

Donated to the city by the late philanthropist Warren Hellman, Hardly Strictly draws thousands to Golden Gate Park every first October weekend. Time for your visit around it to experience some of the warmest weather of the year and see the park’s meadows and eucalyptus groves filled with live music.

Glen Canyon Park
This hilly park is an underrated San Francisco spot. | Photo Credit: Stephen Lam

How to get outside: Glen Canyon Park

“I love discovering San Francisco’s parks—there are so many of them. Glen Canyon Park is one of my all-time favorites because it’s in the middle of the city, but it feels like you’re in the country.”

Visit this underrated park to explore its 70-acre-long canyon filled with steep, winding trails, dramatic rock formations, inspiring views, and a recreation center with tennis courts. Come in spring, and you might catch a wildflower bloom.

Can’t-miss treats: Marla Bakery

“Everything is good at Marla Bakery on Balboa Street,” Diane says. This homespun bakery serves pastries and California dishes using local ingredients. “I used to live with one of the owners, who always filled our bread drawer with tasty surprises!” The pain au chocolat with candied orange and Fried Chicken Friday dinner are local favorites best enjoyed on Marla’s residential-style patio.

San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood
San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood. | Photo Credit: Anthony Cruz

Ideal family-friendly outing: Exploring Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the US, as well as one of Diane’s favorite spots. “One of my earliest San Francisco memories was walking around Chinatown as a kid and seeing all the different shops and people,” she says. “It’s a centrally located destination that I still haven’t forgotten.”

If it’s your first time, start at the Dragon's Gate, and walk down iconic Grant Street, which is lined with herbalists, souvenir shops, Chinese bakeries, karaoke bars, and dim sum joints. You can also see how fortune cookies are made at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

Bernal Heights Summit offers a 360-degree panorama of San Francisco.
Bernal Heights Summit offers a 360-degree panorama of San Francisco. | Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Where to unwind: Bernal Hill

“I live in Bernal Heights, and like to walk up the hill early in the morning, while people are walking their dogs.” Bernal Heights Summit offers a 360-degree panorama of San Francisco, with views that extend all the way to the East Bay. There’s a swing at the top of the hill, and if you go early enough, no one else is there.

"It’s just the most gorgeous view I can think of.” This hill is home to short meandering trails, benches, and diverse flora and fauna, including 40 bird species, lupine, mint, and red fescue.

Favorite day trip: A bike ride to the Marin Headlands

“I love to ride my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. If I’m ambitious, I’ll bike up Hawk Hill and look back at the city from this viewpoint and admire how small San Francisco is.” It’s easy to rent bikes to pedal across the Golden Gate Bridge and up the Marin Headlands—otherwise you an also just bike into Sausalito and take a scenic ferry ride back to San Francisco. Either way, don’t forget your layers.

Check out the Exploratorium

See Diane's exhibits and more


Exploratorium General Admission Ticket

Exploratorium General Admission Ticket

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Engage your senses and delve into a world of discovery at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. With a fantastic location on Pier 15 overlooking San Francisco Bay, the museum offers hundreds of interactive exhibits for the whole family. Explore the amazing realms of physics, anatomy, human perception, and Earth’s ecosystems through inquiry-based displays that delight and inform visitors of all ages.
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  • 2 to 5 hours
  • iconEnglish
  • Free Cancellation
From
$39.95
From
$39.95

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