What will I see on a trip to the Academy?The California Academy of Sciences combines four different themed sections, each of which could be an attraction in their own right! The oldest is the Kimball Natural History Museum, which includes exhibits from the Academy’s original collection from 1853. It includes the Tusher Africa Hall (featuring dioramas of African animals), the Gems and Minerals exhibit, and a version of Foucault’s Pendulum. You’ll also be able to visit the Steinhardt Aquarium, which was the first public aquarium to display flashlight fish and coconut octopuses. It’s home to 40,000 live animals from over 900 species. Look out for the special Twilight Zone exhibit, which features animals from 200 to 500 feet below the surface of the ocean! One of the Academy’s gems is the Osher Rainforest, a glass dome which recreates the conditions of the rainforest and contains over 1,600 live plants and animals, including 250 free-flying birds and butterflies and up to 100 exotic reptiles and amphibians. Finally, there’s the Morrison Planetarium, which has a 75-foot diameter screen showing several different shows each day. The planetarium is free to visit with a regular daily ticket (though you should book your time slot on arrival) but costs extra if you’re visiting NightLife on Thursday evenings.
Are the exhibits in the museum suitable for children?Absolutely! Even very young children will enjoy seeing the animals in the rainforest and aquarium exhibits, the dinosaur fossils, and any kids with an interest in space will find plenty of exhibits to interest them, in addition to the planetarium show (which are suitable for children aged 4 and over). There are also plenty of other interactive exhibits, such as The Color of Life, where visitors get to explore all the different colors which can be found in nature, or Giants of Earth and Sea, which features the natural wonders of Northern California, from giant redwood trees, whale skeletons, and rooms simulating the region’s fog and earthquakes. Other hands-on exhibits include the Discovery Tidepool, where kids can interact with animals, the Naturalist Center (for puzzles and games), and the Curiosity Grove (a playspace for kids aged 0-5). Look out for special family events with arts and crafts, child-friendly shows, and story time. Check the website or ask on arrival to find out what’s available on the day of your visit.
I heard there are adults-only nights?Yes! Every Thursday night the museum is open for visitors over the age of 21. Between 6 pm and 10 pm, you can discover all the exhibits, plus themed interactive events, music and cocktails. Events planned for 2019 include NightLife in Space: The Moon, Brain & Body NightLife, and a special event for Pride. If you don’t have children then the NightLife events are highly recommended, as they’re also cheaper than admission during the day.
What’s the deal with the roof?The green roof of the California Academy of Sciences is 2.5 acres, 87% of which is covered by 1.7 million plants. The plant life is an excellent form of insulation, captures all the excess stormwater (stopping pollutants from entering the surrounding ecosystem), and makes lots of oxygen for visitors to the museum and park to breath! The architect, Renzo Piano, wanted to make it seem as though a piece of the park had been lifted up and the museum hidden underneath it. It was also a practical decision for the museum, because they can use it as an outdoor classroom to teach visitors about the native Californian plants and wildflowers which grow on the roof, the animals which live there, or simply use the roof as a high point from which to watch the stars or lunar and solar eclipses.
How long should I plan for my trip?At least half a day to see all the major exhibits, longer if you intend to read all the explainers. It’s also a good day trip for those with children, who might need to take more breaks or want to spend more time in one of the play areas. Combine it with a day in the Golden Gate Park for a varied day out.