The center's monthly Lunar Lounge parties give visitors a chance to mingle in the halls at night while listening to an upbeat band and munching on catered food. The party eventually moves into the center's planetarium, where they show "SonicVision," a colorful homage to modern rock hits.
What kids like: Chabot Space & Science Center offers several halls' worth of exhibits, from a primer on planets to an in-depth look at life as a space explorer. It keeps them open for the duration of Lunar Lounge. Many of the exhibits, such as "Destination Universe," are interactive, giving kids the chance to press this and poke that. When the kids tire of the exhibits, take them up to the center's three telescopes where night sky viewing can reveal craters on the moon, a binary star or Saturn's rings.
What parents like: Keep up with what's new in astronomy while sipping $3 microbrews from Buffalo Bill's Brewery in Hayward. Lunar Lounge offers a laid-back look at the center without the daily crowds. Even adults want to know how the astronauts, er, "go" in space, and Chabot has the answer within its newest exhibit "Beyond Blastoff: Surviving in Space," which features a real space toilet.
Peek inside an actual Soyuz space capsule, or try your hand at a simulated space training machine. You may not recognize all the songs in "SonicVision" but you will get a chance to see next-generation digital graphics in comfy reclined seats.
And if you liked that: Chabot Space & Science Center is open most days, and stays open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Also on Friday and Saturday nights is Chabot's free telescope viewing, a tradition for the center for more than 100 years. If the sky is clear, look at stars, planets and the moon through one or all of the center's three massive telescopes: Leah, Rachel and Nellie. Members of the Eastbay Astronomical Society usually show up on Friday and Saturday nights, too, offering glimpses of stellar wonders through their personal telescopes.
Before the party: The Oakland hills are filled with Oakland city and East Bay Regional parks, where families can enjoy hours of hiking through redwood trees and even stumble across families of deer.
If hiking is not your thing, go to the center before Lunar Lounge Express and buy a ticket to a show inside the Tien Megadome Theater. Subjects of the shows on the 70-foot screen range from dinosaurs and sea creatures to the human body.
-- Laura Casey,