While visiting the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, I found it to be such a kid-friendly place that I missed having the grandkids along.

So last weekend I decided to take in another kid-friendly museum -- the Exploratorium -- and this time I'd bring the grandkids.

I have fond memories of this unique science museum. We used to go once or twice a year with our own kids, back when it was at the Palace of Fine Arts. They loved the fun-house mirrors, the echoing voices, the colorful lights and all the wonderful science experiments they could do themselves.

So after gathering up all four grandchildren, ages 3 to 8, we bought BART tickets and headed for the city. When we arrived, we made a slight detour and stopped by the Hornblower Cruise Yacht, anchored at Pier 3. My son works there, and I thought the grandkids would enjoy seeing his "floating office.

"Personally, I couldn't imagine sitting at his desk, looking out the window and watching the horizon move up and down -- all while trying to get some work done. I'd be rocked to sleep in a matter of minutes. (Of course, I often fall asleep at the computer, but I don't usually get seasick, too.)


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After acting like pirates for a while, we shoved on to Pier 15 and entered the Exploratorium. It wasn't long before the grandkids had their hands all over everything -- not easy considering there are more than 600 exhibits. Luckily, there were no "Do Not Touch" signs anywhere.

The building is divided into galleries -- Human Phenomena Gallery (thought, feelings and social interaction stuff); Tinkering Gallery (construction, contraptions and mechanical stuff); Seeing and Listening Gallery (light, sound and motion stuff); and Living Gallery (organisms, ecosystems and microscopic germy stuff).

While the kids "played with science," I headed to the Food Gallery, aka the Seaglass Restaurant, where overwhelmed parents can enjoy a gourmet menu and glass of wine, along with a beautiful view of the bay. The food fare includes fancy pizzas, organic salads, unusual sandwiches and fresh sushi (approved by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch List!), but the grandkids would have none of it unless it came in a prepackaged container (chips).

Next time, I'll bring peanut butter sandwiches -- no jelly, no crusts, no Panini, no organic. At that point I was tempted to order myself something from the wine and beer bar, but wasn't sure I'd make it home afterward.

We hit the museum store on the way out because it was the only way to get the grandkids away from the exhibits. After checking out all the options -- building your own robotic arm, growing a crystal garden, exploring the human eyeball, etc. -- the grandkids settled on a couple of "educational" toys (minirobots and water "snakes" -- aka water weenies).

Finally, it was time to head back to BART, where the grandkids had just as much fun riding on the train as they did at the museum. I suppose we could have saved a lot of money if we'd just done that for a couple of hours instead, but then they wouldn't have learned about aerodynamic lift, Brewster's angle, cosmic particles, ferromagnetism, gyroscopics and all that germy stuff.

Plus they got to touch everything.

Reach Penny Warner at www. pennywarner.com.

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