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Our critics weigh in on local exhibits 

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Berkeley Art Museum. First Impressions: Free First Thursdays: Check out a world of art and film with free entry to the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive each month. Thursdays, 11 a.m. Free. 2626 Bancroft (at Telegraph), Berkeley, 510-642-0808, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Cable Car Museum. Permanent Exhibit: Located in a historic cable car powerhouse, the museum displays a variety of cable car gear, historic photographs, installations explaining how the cars work, and several antique vehicles. Daily. Free. 1201 Mason (at Washington), 474-1887.

California Academy of Sciences. Docent Highlight Tours: Tours given by Academy docents highlight the HOTSPOT exhibit and Steinhart Aquarium. Ask the Information Desk for meeting place and times. Wednesdays-Fridays. "Astrobiology: Life in the Extreme": A permanent exhibition that explores the types of environments in the universe that could support life. Daily. "Illustrating the Sierra's Wildlife: The Artist's Studio Live": See first-hand the process of creating a field guide to more than 1,200 species of plants, fungi, and animals of the Sierra Nevada. Naturalist Jack Laws creates scientific illustrations inside a specially designed studio within the HOTSPOT exhibit. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. African Penguin Feedings: Watch an Academy biologist enter the penguin tank to toss vitamin-stuffed fish to the African penguins. Visitors can ask questions and talk to the birds' caretakers during the feeding shows. Daily, 11 a.m. & 3:30 p.m. Snake Feeding: Watch whip snakes feed on fish. Fridays, 2 p.m. free with museum admission. "Hands-on Science": Visitors of all ages can examine microscopic aquatic life or study adaptations of marine animals with Academy docents and interns. Wednesdays-Fridays, 4 p.m. 875 Howard (at Fifth St.), 750-7145, www.calacademy.org.

Cartoon Art Museum. "Cartoon Tunes: Capturing Music in Comics": Examines the love affair between comics and music through more than 40 pieces of original artwork on themes from biographies of legendary jazz and blues musicians to childhood musical memories to illustrated song lyrics. Artists include R. Crumb, Lloyd Dangle, Gene Deitch, Eric Drooker, Gary Dumm, and many others. Through Oct. 15. 655 Mission (at New Montgomery), 227-8666, www.cartoonart.org.

Chabot Space & Science Center. "Astronomy in California 1850-1950: Telescope Makers, Telescopes, and Artifacts": Take a look at California's rich history in astronomy with this display of telescopes, astronomy history documents, and other ephemera. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Skywise — Astronomy Cartoon Exhibit": Help your child understand that vastness and majesty of space with this exhibit of astronomy comic strips. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Destination Universe": Take a virtual journey from the sun to the end of the cosmos with exhibits on nebulae, space travel, black holes, and moving galaxies. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Mars Encounter": The National Aeronautics and Space Administration sponsors this exhibit on travel to Mars, which includes data on current and past missions, a giant tactile Mars globe, and Martian meteorites. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. "One Giant Leap: A Moon Odyssey": Take a simulated moonwalk, try on a space helmet, climb into a space capsule, and virtually land a lunar module in this exhibit. Daily. Free with museum admission, $9-$13. Discovery Lab: Intended for kids aged 3-7, the Discovery Lab contains hands-on science experiments that illustrate scientific phenomena like wind and moving machines. Wednesdays-Fridays, 1 p.m.; Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.; Sundays, noon. free with museum admission, $9-$13. "Garden Days in the EnviroGarden": Explore the mysteries of planet Earth with hands-on activities, including worm composting, hiking in the forest, or building mini-volcanoes. Saturdays, noon. "Escape From the Red Planet!": The hour-long simulated mission on Mars casts kids as the crew on a struggling space shuttle. Saturdays, 12:30 & 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1:30 & 3:30 p.m. free with museum admission, $9-$13. 10000 Skyline (at Joaquin Miller, in Joaquin Miller Park), Oakland, 510-336-7300.

de Young Museum. "Crown Point Press: The Art of Etching": The contemporary print publisher is celebrated in this exhibition of 35 prints by 16 artists. Through Aug. 27. "From the Ground Up: American Artists of the Etching Revival": Covers the "etching revival" in the United States. Through Sept. 3. "Personal Perspectives: Aspects of European Photography": European photography from its beginnings in the 1840s up to the present. Through Sept. 17. "Highlights of the Art and Architecture of the New de Young": Enjoy a 50-minute, docent-led tour. Through Dec. 31, 10:30 a.m. "Introduction to the Masterworks of the New de Young Collections": Enjoy a 50-minute, docent-led tour. Through Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden (at JFK), 863-3330, www.thinker.org.

Exploratorium. "Traits of Life": A major exhibition area with 30 biology exhibits and demonstrations that help visitors understand the fundamental elements common to all living things from humans to amoebas. Daily. Free with museum admission. 3601 Lyon (at Marina), 397-5673, www.exploratorium.edu.

The Holocaust Center of Northern California. "Holocaust Center of Northern California": The newly opened center's first exhibit showcases its facilities, including a library with more than 15,000 historical volumes, a reading room for screening documentaries and holding educational talks, and ongoing displays of the center's thousands of photographs and artifacts. Tuesdays, Thursdays, 1-6 p.m.; Mondays, Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free. 121 Steuart (at Mission), 777-9060, www.holocaust-sf.org.

Lawrence Hall of Science. "Forces That Shape the Bay": The museum's permanent science park exhibit explores new ways to understand the bay. Daily. "Prove It — A ChemMystery": Kids and adults attempt to solve crimes using the basic forensic skills they learn step-by-step at the exhibit. Daily. Free with admission, free-$8.50. Centennial & Grizzly Peak, Berkeley, 510-642-5132.

Legion of Honor. "Monet in Normandy": 60 paintings from the master. Through Sept. 17. "Picasso as Book Illustrator": The greatest book illustrator of the twentieth century. Through Sept. 3. "Big Kids/Little Kids": Children aged 3 1/2 to 6 years and their parents take a gallery tour and then participate in a related hands-on art activity. Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. Free with museum admission, free-$8. "Doing and Viewing Art": Kids aged 7-12 and their families tour the Legion of Honor's galleries before taking part in a hands-on creative workshop led by a professional artist. Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. Free with museum entrance fee, free-$8. Organ Concert: Weekly organ concerts. Saturdays, Sundays, 4 p.m. free. Ford Free Tuesdays: Get in free to the Legion of Honor every Tuesday, thanks to a grant from the Ford Motor Co. Tuesdays. Free. 100 34th Ave. (near Clement), 863-3330, www.thinker.org.

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