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Event Planning Resources

Event Planning Resources


Floor Plan

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Approved Caterers

The approved caterers below offer a variety of menus and price ranges, as well as excellent food and exceptional service. The Exploratorium requires the use of approved caterers for all events. No outside caterers may be used. Each caterer listed below is familiar with our venue, policies, and procedures, and will carry our required insurance, health permits, and liquor liability insurance.

In House
Curiosity Catering

Betty Zlatchin Catering

Componere Fine Catering
510. 420.0900

Global Gourmet Catering

Jane Hammond Events

La Bonne Cuisine, Catering & Events

Ladies Who Lunch Catering and Events
415. 641.7415

McCalls Catering and Events

Melons Catering & Events Planning
(650) 583-1756

Paula LeDuc Fine Catering

Taste Catering

Union Street Catering
415.330-2420 x12


Event Policies


The Exploratorium is available for rental events when the museum is closed. This currently includes Friday through Wednesday evenings plus some daytime availability on Mondays.

The standard evening rental contract is 5:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., which includes the setup, event, and strike. Events may begin no earlier than 6:30 PM to allow for proper preparation and setup.

Spaces offered for your event

The Exploratorium at Pier 15 is made up of 4 major indoor galleries and the Forum, a flexible space with state-of-the-art AV that can be set up for anything from theater-style seating to cabaret seating or seated dinners. Each gallery is unique and varies in square footage and exhibit content, which offers many great options to craft the perfect event. Access to non-rented galleries is not available to hosts, guests, or vendors during the event.


Square Footage Seating Capacity Standing Capacity Exhibit Content
Bay Observatory Gallery & Terrace 3,500 indoor
2,500 outdoor
150 indoor
100 outdoor
250 indoor
190 outdoor
With expansive views of the bay and the city, the Observatory offers a second-floor viewing point where visitors can explore the geographic and social dimensions of our regional landscape.
East Gallery 7,000 Total: 200
Corridor: 110
Window View: 90
450 The East Gallery is a window onto life at different scales, from stem cells, familiar insects and plants to the entire San Francisco ecosystem.
Central Gallery 20,000 Total: 460
Seated with one focal point: 280
1,200 The Central Gallery is a laboratory for investigating light and sound and how we perceive these phenomena. This combination of physics with perception is a signature of the Exploratorium’s approach to learning.
West Gallery 16,000 Total: 300
Seated with one focal point: 90
1,000 The West Gallery is a stage on which to explore human psychology and socio-cultural phenomena. Topics range from internal cognitive experiences, such as attention and emotion, to more external social behaviors, such as communication and negotiation
Forum 3,600 160-200 (depending on configuration) 250 The Forum is a cabaret-style theater with flexible seating. With a state-of-the-art Meyer audio system, this space is perfect for presentations, film screenings, lectures, cocktail receptions, lounges, and much more.

Types of Events Allowed

The Exploratorium’s mission is to create a culture of learning through innovative environments, programs, and tools that help people nurture their curiosity about the world around them.

Because the Exploratorium is a not-for-profit, private institution, and its mission extends to its public policies, the following types of events are not allowed:

  • Fundraising events, including any event where guests contribute monies on an optional basis or are solicited after the event
  • Political events or celebrations, including but not limited to fundraising events and rallies
  • Auctions
  • Events where entrance requires advance or on-site ticket purchase
  • Events advertised to the general public

Multiple Events

For any events that are not full-facility rentals, the Exploratorium reserves the right to book concurrent events in any galleries not included in your rental contract. The Exploratorium will work to avoid conflicts when there is more than one event scheduled in the museum.

Payment Schedule

We require a 50% deposit to confirm a hold on a date. The balance of rental fees is due 3 months prior to your event date. We accept payments by check or wire transfer. Checks should made be payable to The Exploratorium, c/o Amy Adkins, Museum Rentals Manager. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept payment by credit card.

Event Staff

We provide an Event Coordinator, Operations Technician, and Explainers for all gallery rental events. Our docents, called Explainers, facilitate guest interactions with exhibits. The Event Coordinator will assist you with logistics during load-in and will approve the satisfactory cleanup of food and beverage stations and décor following your event. The Operations Technician will be on hand to help with power and other facility-related needs. An Audio Visual Technician to run in-house AV equipment is available at an additional charge.


Facility security will be provided at event entrance(s) and exit(s) in correlation with the galleries rented. Please contact the Museum Rentals Department if you have any special security needs.

Audio Visual

The Exploratorium will be able to provide select Audio Visual packages. Magnetic Image Video is our exclusive AV provider for use of Exploratorium AV equipment. They can be reached at (415) 456-7900 or http://www.mivideo.com/ for a quote.


The Exploratorium requires the use of approved caterers for all events. No outside caterers may be used. Each caterer on our list is familiar with the Exploratorium’s facility, procedures, rules and regulations, and carries our required insurance, health permits, and liquor liability insurance. Approved caterers offer a variety of menus and price ranges, as well as excellent food and exceptional service. Please see the caterers attachment for the full list of Approved Caterers.

Outside Vendors

Before each event, all vendors are required to schedule a walkthrough with a member of the Museum Rentals team to make arrangements regarding deliveries, power needs, floor plans, loading areas, and pickup times. Outside vendors are also required to provide a certificate of insurance with an Additional Insured Endorsement meeting the Exploratorium’s insurance requirements. (See the Insurance Requirements section below for details.)

Floor Plans/Event Timelines

The Exploratorium must approve specific plans involving event timelines, caterers, musicians, florists, and all décor, including sound, plants, and lighting schemes. Approval must also be given for positioning of tables, bars, musicians, etc., and any special needs that the renter may have. All requests for planning must be received by the Exploratorium by no later than three weeks prior to the event. Careful planning allows us to provide you with the greatest assistance to accommodate your needs, and the ability to evaluate potential conflicts with museum operations well in advance. Please note that plans requiring permits from the Port of San Francisco will require a lead time of 8 weeks or more.

Load In

Vendor load-in takes place via the Pier 17 internal drive lane. Load-in procedures will vary depending on the space(s) rented. Vendors need to confirm load-in procedures for each event and schedule use of the drive lane through the Museum Rentals Department.

Exhibit Moves

We feel that the value of an event experience at the Exploratorium lies in the integrity of our exhibits. Many of our exhibits are delicately balanced, difficult to move, or permanently placed. For these reasons, we are hesitant to move our exhibits and are only able to relocate select exhibits to accommodate event layouts. Your Museum Rentals contact will be happy to identify which exhibits in your gallery are considered moveable. Nothing should be taped, tied, nailed or otherwise attached to or in front of the exhibits, graphics, walls, floor, or furniture.


Much of the available electricity in the museum is used to power our exhibits. Select galleries (Central, East, and Observatory) contain company switches, which are available for event power. Company switches require special tie-in cables and may only be used by approved lighting or AV vendors.

The Exploratorium Operations department has one such tie in and can provide this for an additional charge. All lighting and sound personnel must notify the Museum Rentals team of their power needs prior to the event. While we can accommodate most requests, we may ask that you provide a generator. The museum does not provide extension cords or other equipment, and we require that any cables on the floor be safely covered and taped using gaffers tape.


All entertainment, stage, and speaker placement must be approved by a Museum Rentals team member at least three weeks prior to the event. Any amplified music is subject to volume control at the discretion of the Event Coordinator.

Décor Restrictions

Helium balloons are not permitted as they can get loose and catch in the rafters. Loose flower petals, hanging fruit (such as grapes) used as decoration, and fog machines are not permitted as they jeopardize safety. Glitter and confetti are not permitted, as they are difficult to remove from the museum floor and exhibits.

Tactile Dome

The Tactile Dome, located in the West Gallery, is a by-reservation-only attraction available to the public during open hours. The Tactile Dome can be reserved for evening events that include the West Gallery. Please inquire with the Museum Rentals Department for pricing and availability.

Load Out

All decorations, promotional materials, supplies, decor, etc., must be removed immediately following the event. The museum does not have available storage areas, so rental deliveries and pickup must be made the same day as the event unless previously arranged with the Museum Rentals department. There will be a charge for equipment that is not removed from the museum post-event. The Exploratorium is not responsible for any materials left behind.

Ship Berthing on East End of Pier

The Exploratorium at Pier 15 is located on Port of San Francisco property in the midst of the maritime operations of the city. As such, the Port of San Francisco reserves the right to berth vessels on the east apron of the piers. In the event that the Port of San Francisco assigns a Navy vessel to berth on the east end of the pier, the Port of San Francisco reserves the right to close all access to the East Apron and limited portions of the Pier 15 South Apron. While such berthings are a relatively rare occurrence, please note that events will proceed as scheduled with normal cancellation penalties in place.

Port Permits

Certain installations, décor, and amplified sound affecting the exterior of Pier 15 will require a permit from the Port of San Francisco. Please discuss any exterior event plans with the Museum Rentals Department to determine whether or not a Special Event permit will be required.

Fire Permits

Use of any open flame during an event will require you to obtain a Fire Permit. Use of candles, sterno, and open-flame decorative lighting on dining tables, buffet tables and stands within assembly occupancy must be approved by the Port of San Francisco and SFFD. Please consult the Port’s permit website at the bottom of the page, http://www.sfport.com/index.aspx?page=184 for additional information. You can also contact them by phone at (415)274-0400, or by fax at (415) 732-0400.


The Exploratorium requires certificates of insurance from clients, caterers, and all vendors that show the following:

  • $1,000,000 General Liability
  • $1,000,000 Automobile Liability
  • $5,000,000 Umbrella Liability (Renter and Caterer Only)
  • $1,000,000 Workers Compensation
  • The Exploratorium, The City and County of San Francisco, The San Francisco Port Commission and Their Officers, Agents, Employees and Representatives listed as additional insured with the vendor’s insurance to be primary and non-contributory AND the additional insured endorsement pages 

In the event that the renter, its caterer, or any other vendor uses a beverage service, the beverage service must carry comprehensive general liability insurance, including liquor liability with a limit of liability not less than $1,000,000, and the renter or caterer must carry host liquor liability coverage as a part of its general liability insurance.

All caterers and vendors must also have the Exploratorium listed on the insurance certificate as additional insured with the vendor's insurance to be primary and non-contributory. Certificates of insurance should either refer to the specific event date or include the following description: "This additional insured coverage applies to any and all events held at the Exploratorium."

Certificates of insurance can be sent to Amy Adkins, Museum Rentals Manager, via regular mail to: The Exploratorium, Piers 15/17, San Francisco, CA 94111, by email to events@exploratorium.edu

All insurance certificates must be received at least 2 weeks in advance of the event.


Alcohol Policy

The Exploratorium’s list of approved caterers will include those offering beverage service options. Any alcohol must be poured by a licensed, insured bartender. Although a bartending service will manage the distribution of alcohol, the event sponsor is ultimately responsible for the safety of all its invitees, guests, agents, or subcontractors, including for the distribution of alcohol. Absolutely no alcohol may be served to minors. The Exploratorium reserves the right to confiscate alcohol and any illicit substances from underage attendees, and contact the appropriate authorities if deemed necessary.

Deliveries & Pickup

The museum does not have available storage areas, so rental deliveries and pick-up must be made the same day as the event unless previously arranged with the Museum Rentals Manager. There will be a charge for equipment that is not removed from the museum post-event. Upon arrival, delivery vehicles should approach the entrance to Pier 17, alert Security of their arrival, and await directions to their drop-off location. Deliveries may be made prior to the museum’s closing with advance approval from the Museum Rentals Department, but floor setup may not begin until the general public has cleared the area at 5:30 PM.

Caterers and suppliers are required to load out all equipment and supplies by the end of the contracted hours so the museum can open for normal office operation by 9:00 a.m. on the day after the event.

Prep Area

When renting the Bay Observatory, the Observatory kitchen is available to use as a catering kitchen. This room, which is a multiuse area, must be left at least as clean as it was found. Please observe the posted guidelines. When the Observatory is not included in a rental, please coordinate with the Museum Rentals Department to identify the ideal location for prep during your event.


The event rental area and event prep areas should be bussed for stray plates, glasses, etc. All debris and garbage should be bagged and removed from the premises. Caterers are to supply brooms, mops, and buckets. It is advisable that, for large parties, caterers supply extra trash containers. Any food or liquids on the floor should be swept or mopped up. All trash, recycling, compost (including flowers, decor, etc.) must be removed from the premises on the night of the event.

Cleanup is subject to the approval of the Event Coordinator. After an event, we ask that the catering wrap-up crew be out promptly so we can secure the building.

Café Area

SeaGlass Restaurant and Seismic Joint Cafe are private concessions owned and operated by Curiosity Catering. Use of these areas as part of your event must be arranged directly through the Museum Rentals Department at the Exploratorium at (415) 528-4500. Please be advised that use of the sink, counters, and kitchen area by other caterers is not permitted.