Nestled in the Oakland hills between Joaquin Miller Park and Redwood Regional Park is the Chabot Space & Science Center. I should have included it in my post on Oakland institutions, because they've been doing science and astronomy education for over 125 years. It was originally in Downtown, but moved to the hills in 1915 because of increasing light pollution. The current location opened in 2000. In all my time as a Bay Area resident (even in the last 9 years that's it's been a few miles away) I'd hiked or biked past it many times, but I'd never visited it.
Dinner, A Movie and the Universe program somewhere, and we decided to take advantage of it. We started with a short hike in Redwood, then
went inside. We had to select which movies we wanted to attend and gave our name for dinner reservations, then proceeded to wander amongst the exhibits. It's not a huge museum, but there are lots of exhibits, with many of them "hands-on" for kids. We watched a short movie on the history of the telescope (interesting, but no Oscar-winner) in the planetarium theater, then headed over for dinner. There was some confusion about our reservation, but we were seated after a short wait. For $15 you get a choice of appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts; beverages are extra. It was good, not great, but inexpensive for 4 courses, and the service was good. After dinner we returned to the planetarium for a 'digitally animated alternative music show' called Sonic Vision. We didn't particularly like that even though I like some of the music, because it was really loud and didn't really have much to do with space or science. It was more of a 38-minute music video with acid-trip inspired graphics projected on the planetarium dome.
Unfortunately, as frequently happens in the Oakland hills, the fog rolled in around dinner, and we had to settle for two movies and dinner, and not much of the universe, beyond what's in the displays. Overall I'd recommend the Chabot, particularly if you've got an inquisitive youngster. If the $10.95/$14.95 admission is too much for your current budget, you can still make a nice day of it. A free hike in Redwood, a picnic dinner, followed by free star-gazing through one of the telescopes (Friday and Saturday, weather permitting) and you can have a very low cost but lovely outing.