Do Martians exist? Are they thirsty? This month, San Francisco's Exploratorium is dedicated to the mission of Spirit, a Mars Exploration Rover (MER) that's scheduled to land on Mars January 4 in search of life and water. The exhibit features the first Spirit images webcast live, a full-scale model of a MER, and interactive robots navigating simulated Mars yards. Closed Mon; $12 (discounts available). Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St.; www.exploratorium.edu/marsrover or (415) 561-0360.
While you won't find Boardwalk or Park Place, you will find Bond Street, Fleet Street, and Trafalgar Square in the British version of Monopoly, one of the many games on display through January 25 as part of the Vintage Board Games and Puzzles exhibit at the Museum of American Heritage. Also on view is a Victorian version of Chutes and Ladders, antique chess sets, and Parcheesi, which can be traced to 4th-century India, when the emperor played on marble courts. 351 Homer Ave.; (650) 321-1004.
Can't tell the difference between a toadstool and a truffle? Partly educational, partly interactive, and all fun, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History's Santa Cruz Fungus Fair celebrates these multipurpose ― and sometimes mind-bending ― molds. Learn the names and medicinal properties of various fungi, and cook and eat some with local celebrity chefs. Your appreciation of mushrooms will, well, mushroom. Jan 10-11; $7. Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center St. at Laurel St.; www.santacruzmuseums.org or (831) 420-6115.
The views from the InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco's Top of the Mark lounge have been wowing celebrants for more than 60 years. Newly spiffed up as the finale of the hotel's more than $50 million renovation, the Top of the Mark offers a New Year's Eve gala with dinner and dancing ($285 per person) and a New Year's Day buffet ($79 per person). Got other New Year's plans? The 19-stories-above-Nob-Hill-vistas will be just as spectacular on any other clear January night or day. Reservations recommended. 999 California St.; (415) 616-6940.― Kristine M. Carber, Jess Chamberlain, Peter Fish, Jim Gothers