With space exploration becoming mainstream and a growing emphasis on STEAM education, there couldn’t have been a better time for the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland to reopen its doors. Currently, the center is open to the public on weekends, with extended holiday hours during the month of December.
Advanced ticket purchase is recommended. Click here to plan your visit.
Most daytime space and science exhibits are generally designed for children of reading age, but the re-imagined Chabot center offers an immersive experience that makes it fun for children of all ages, not to mention quite intriguing for us adults too!
What’s New at Oakland’s Chabot Space & Science Center
With new art murals, fresh paint, new signs, upgrades to furniture & layout, and innovative exhibits, the much-anticipated relaunch of the Chabot Space and Science Center was certainly worth the wait.
The newest addition, the NASA Experience, is a unique hands-on exhibition showcasing items publicly displayed for the first time along with real stories from NASA’s Ames Research Center. Though it’s located in the middle of the building, we were determined to head there first.
My daughter was delighted to work on creating some prototypes with the help of Chabot volunteers. She first did an easy paper airplane and watched it soar in a wind tunnel, and then built an Astrobee (space robot) and watched her creation propel across an air hockey table. And, of course, she had to dig her hands into the sand station.
I loved watching my child take on the role of a little scientist! Our favorite activity was designing a Mars rover model and testing it out in the new outdoor courtyard. This area itself is a nice place to engage with other families from a safe distance.
Plan your visit to Chabot Space & Science
Start with Planetarium showtimes
There is a lot to take in at Chabot, so I recommend anchoring your visit around a planetarium show since they run about every 1-2 hours. If you can time it right, arrive and explore Chabot settling into the theater. The front desk has a daily schedule of shows. They recommend showing up 15 minutes ahead to get seated, however, we found seats available five minutes before showtime.
In years past, we’ve seen a few of the shows; my daughter’s favorite is Lunaverse. It is not scary (some of the shows can be a bit intense with the panoramic-style theater, and loud music). The story is about a child’s conversation with the moon. The handout says it’s 20 minutes, but really, they start 5 mins late and the show is 15 minutes. Perfect for wiggly littles. The planetarium shows are included with admission and are first-come, first-serve.
Other Exhibit Highlights at Chabot Space and Science
- Project Create: Besides the many (awesome) space exhibits, Chabot offers a new exhibit called Project Create. From Chabot: “it’s a tinkering space that encourages you to explore, experiment and build (and take apart) using your hands and a few handy tools.” Our visit in November featured the Mars Habitat Building, where the theme was to build protective structures with the very popular fort-building sticks. My kids enjoyed running and hiding under the “habitats” that were already designed. I also saw other kids enthusiastically working with the circuitry tools in this area.
- Observation Deck: Just outside the Astronomy Hall is the Observation Deck. This open area is great for children to stretch their very active legs, have some snacks on the tables, enjoy the views, and learn a little more from the exhibits on deck. Ever wonder what’s inside those giant domes on the deck? They are giant, “research-level” telescopes! And the FREE telescope viewings are back on Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 pm-10:30 pm (weather permitting).
- Labs and Activities: As you walk through the halls of all three floors, you will find plenty of exhibits with fun facts, interactive stations for hands-on science and engineering experiments, arts and crafts activities, and other mind-inspiring setups.
Pro tip: Wear something space-related to add to the fun. I proudly wore my crescent-shaped earrings and constellation necklace, my son wore his solar system pants, and my daughter wore a Saturn shirt. I spotted a number of little ones with space suits and science-themed tee shirts.
Things I love about Chabot Space and Science Center
- Though I was nervous the Discovery Lab was replaced (it was all my kids ever wanted to do at Chabot), the new exhibits and activities are well designed to ensure that children of all ages will find something to pique their interest (we did have to split up for part of our visit since both kids were fascinated by different areas).
- Chabot has some really cool events for adults too. I once attended their Halloween Hallow’s Eve Costume Party. It started, I repeat, started at 9 pm! And I stayed awake not only because they had espresso cocktails, but also because it was a blast! They had science-themed libations from Apothecary, tarot readings, aura readings, a dance floor, and great food. It was also the night of the rolling PG&E blackouts, so the party got extra spooky after midnight when the power went out.
- In an effort to go paperless, they offer a membership app, instead of a traditional card.
Driving to Chabot Space & Science Center
To get there, you will likely need to drive. However, it’s a lovely drive up through the winding roads in Redwood Regional Park. Trees grow over the roadways, and ancient towering Redwoods block out sunlight. Even the drive to reach Chabot feels like a journey into the past. A greener option would be to carpool with friends, if possible. Once you arrive, there is ample, free, covered parking. I see you minivan parents packing in all those kids, and all that gear in the elements. Thank you Chabot for not charging for parking!
Watch outs while visiting Chabot Space and Science Center
- While the building is an innovative green building, it is open and airy. It’s also about ten degrees cooler up in the Redwoods, so dress in layers.
- Even with reservations, as time progresses, it gets crowded, especially at the interactive workstations.
- While my daughter loved working on her art, the markers provided are not washable, and tend to rub off; we got ink stains everywhere!
Other considerations for visiting Chabot Space and Science
- Masks required. Sanitizers are available throughout.
- The gift shop has limited hours and inventory at the moment.
- Changing tables are in all restrooms!
- Expect to spend a few hours here so bring food (allowed), and they have a café should you need to buy snacks or small meals.
- There are no other restaurants nearby unless you drive out of Redwood Regional. So don’t plan to leave for lunch and re-enter. You can do this, I just wouldn’t recommend it.
- Roberts Regional Recreation Area is an epic playground and only a half-mile away should you want to get some fresh air after your visit to Chabot
- Joaquin Miller Park is also a great nearby option for some playground time (without paying for parking)
- There are so many wonderful hikes in this area should you want to get your fill of Redwoods pre or post-visit
- Oakland’s Temple Hill nearby is also a must-see for additional breathtaking views.
- Tickets can be purchased online or at the welcome desk. You can also reserve free tickets through your library’s Discover and Go program. I recently got an epic deal on a family membership and it’s been totally worth it.
Chabot Space & Science Center is a Gem in Oakland’s Redwoods
Buried deep inside Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park lies the magical Chabot Space & Science Center. Although it’s eerily quiet up there surrounded by all those trees, the building’s futuristic architecture brings a supernatural presence to the area. And the center itself provides loads of astronomical fun!
Still can’t get enough science? Visit Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science.
[Photos by Julia Gidwani for 510families, all rights reserved]