Oakland Museum of California (credit: http://www.museumca.org)

Museums are changing. Late-night openings and social evenings are popping up at museums more and more. Tickets to blockbuster exhibitions are highly sought after, and because members often get preferred access, it makes for a special occasion. For couples who know each other well, a mutual interest makes a perfect outing. Alternatively, sharing a partner’s interest can be an eye-opener. If you’re just getting to know one another, a relaxed museum date offers a better chance to talk than a movie date, provides lots to chat about and costs less than dining out.

The Oakland Museum of California
1000 Oak St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 318-8400

If you and your date love California, pop this spot onto the top of your list. As the museum’s mission statement explains, the vision is creating a multidisciplinary space for the celebration of the Golden State’s art, history and natural sciences. The venue is 300,000 square feet plus a garden, so wander to your heart’s delight. Even for native Californians, there’s a great deal more to learn. Catch a docent tour for a look at 1,000 years of California history. Make it a Friday night to take advantage of half-price admission and late night opening until 9 p.m.

The Lawrence Hall of Science
1 Centennial Drive
Berkeley, CA 94720
(510) 642-5132

It’s going to be a daytime date at The Lawrence Hall of Science, as museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For the not too squeamish, the 3-D theater screens a show on bugs and extreme bugs. Or, you can hold hands in a darkened planetarium while contemplating the universe we share. Inside of the galleries, you’ll be sharing the venue with plenty of curious kids. SItuated up in the hills of the University of California at Berkeley campus, there’s plenty of paid parking and a lovely view. Impress your date by informing that the museum is the “namesake and legacy of Ernest Orlando Lawrence, winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention of the cyclotron.”

UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
200 Centennial Drive
Berkeley, CA 94720
(510) 643-2755

When is a garden a living outdoor museum? When it’s a research facility connected to a university containing a world-class plant collection that’s open to the public. You can join a free tour lead by a highly trained expert on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. With 12,000 different kinds of plants arranged by regions of the world, you’ll learn a great deal in a few hours but not even scratch the surface (that sounds like the description of a first date). And, it’s beautiful to look at. Hop a shuttle from the UC campus on weekdays. Enjoy free admission on the first Wednesday of each month (from August 2014) and last entry at 4:30 p.m.

Pacific Pinball Museum
1510 Webster St.
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 295-6959

Nobody ever said a museum needs to be serious. It’s a blast from the past to learn about gaming history by playing on 90 or so working relics from the collection of 400. Speaking of dates, this impressive display features machines dating back to the dawn of flipper pinball in the 30s. Check out the latest machines from Stern Pinball, the only American company currently in production on these beauties. Date night is easy, as the museum is open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and until 9 p.m. every other night but Monday.

Chabot Space and Science Center
10000 Skyline Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94619
(510) 336-7300

In cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution, the Chabot Space and Science Center is home to three telescopes, the largest such facility for the public anywhere in the nation. Open Fridays and Saturdays until 10 p.m., couples can gaze at faraway stars and planets as well as into one another’s eyes. Five shows are on rotation in the planetarium, including Laserium, extended by popular demand. It’s a 45-minute cosmic laser concert experience described as music for the eyes. By the way, if your date is named Nellie, Rachel or Leah, you can surprise her with an introduction to a telescope by the same name.

Laurie Jo Miller Farr loves walkable cities. A tourism industry professional and transplanted New Yorker by way of half-a-lifetime in London, she’s writing about the best of the bay and beyond for Yahoo, USA Today, eHow, and on Examiner.com.

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