The Chabot Space Centre

published on

My two sons and I wanted a day out while their wives took the Bart to a spa in San Francisco for some pampering. The heavy rain off the Pacific limited our options. We had to go somewhere indoors. The Chabot Space and Science Centre seemed like it might be interesting, and would have things for my small granddaughter to enjoy too.

The rain was spectacular, but not in a good way. Highway 13 from Rockridge was crammed with traffic, too close together in poor visibility and slippery roads. We made the exit without mishap and climbed up into the hills towards Skyline boulevard. The redwood forests here were lovely in the rain, but water was pouring down the slopes and across the road. Soon, it was obvious that we had climbed up into the thick cloud where everything seemed soaking wet.

Not surprisingly, the centre was quiet with few visitors. It soon became obvious that it is geared up for visits by school groups, with big spaces to spread out and although there was some interpretation through signs and videos, the place would have come alive with a good guide or set of activities. We wandered from room to room, peering at relics of the space age, including a hunk of moon rock. There were things to play with and explore, but little in the way of coherent narrative.

Sadly, the huge domes containing large telescopes were closed as the rain made the concrete terraces around them slippery and dangerous. I would have been fascinated to see them: huge machines custom-built to extreme precision are wonderful.

My granddaughter had a lot of fun in the section for small children, pushing building blocks together and crawling through tunnels: one of her favourite things. We all went into the planetarium to watch immersive and exciting films, but she was frightened by the scale and immediacy. I always regret when planetariums are not used to show the night sky. I can still remember the awe I felt, as a five year old, seeing a perfect night sky inside a building and having someone point out the constellations that I might see for myself. We enjoyed poking around the shop with its nerdy wares but ultimately came away a little disappointed. I liked the place, so high in the hills above Oakland and surrounded by Redwood Forest. I always enjoy looking at space suits and space junk left over from various missions, but it could have been so much more. On our visit it had not hit that difficult balance to strike between being a custodian of important artefacts and engaging people in learning.

We came down to earth with a bump, heading to Alameda for a late lunch at an in-N-out burger.