Learning, Travel

California Academy of Sciences: An Amazing Whole World Under One Roof

Going back in time once again, to another Thursday which was also February 10th incidentally. Well, as it happens, 2022’s calendar is a copy of 2011’s calendar!! This Throwback Thursday post, in addition to traveling back in time, is also taking us to the amazing California Academy of Sciences situated within the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

As always, with revived posts, I will try to retain he original content as much as it is relevant; and make updates as needed (like ticket prices/visiting policies, especially in today’s climate/and new experiences)

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Images from the California Academy of Sciences
Galapagos Turtles, Conch snail, Glass Fish, Alligator Gars, Can you see the snake?, Rainforest butterfly, African Safari, Albino Alligator, Burmese Vine Snake (and my camera reflected!), Living Roof 

California Academy of Sciences

[February 2022 update: This whole section is from February 11, 2011. I just made a few updates for timings/rates where applicable.]

Our first visit to the newly renovated (actually not so newly now since the renovation was completed in 2009) Academy of Sciences museum was a wonderful success. Many things joined to make this trip a success.

One, we went on Dec 24th and I guess most people were home getting ready for the big day which meant it was not very crowded.

Two, we went with friends of ours which meant that the kids had company and we had 2 more adults to help us take care of things.

Three, the museum is spectacular!

We reached the museum around 11 am. There is lots of parking in the paid parking lot which leads to the various museums in the park but do be aware that it is expensive – we realized it at the end of the day when we shelled out $$ for a few hours of parking. You could park along the streets leading into the park as well free or for a lower parking fee.

[Feb 2022 Update: Parking is available at the Music Concourse Garage for a rate of $5.25/hour on weekdays, and $6.25/hour on weekends and after 5.30 pm. Street parking near the Academy is easy to find during weekdays.]

The Museum Attractions

African Safari/Madagascar/Galapagos

A gigantic t-rex (reminiscent of Jurassic Park) skeleton greets visitors as you enter the museum. On the advice of our friends who had visited there before, we picked up tickets for the next available planetarium show. Once we had that, we toured the African Safari that has remarkably life-like displays of the African wildlife including a cheetah on a treetop above you – so look out for it.

Adorable penguins (which are live and not displays) enthralled my DD with their antics; while her older brother walked around reading about all the animals there.

We then explored the wonders of Madagascar and Galapagos islands. One of Charles Darwin’s wonderful (and appropriate) quotes inscribed on a large section of the floor says:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

This section of the museum contains a Foucault pendulum where you could spend the whole day just waiting to see the pieces fall and watching the earth spin (not literally, but watching the proof that the earth spins on its axis). Giant photographs show the birth and history of earth and life on earth on one wall and kids can spend time stomping out virtual bugs on the floor while learning concepts of camouflage.

Planetarium

The planetarium show, next on our list, was awesome. The show we watched was ‘Life: A Cosmic Story’ – fascinating peek into how life began on earth. I have to admit that the show was fantastic; but the darkened dome and the soothing sounds/voices of the movie put me to sleep for a few minutes during the show!

All in all, not to be missed!

Cafe

Our next stop was for lunch at the café. Food is organic, international, a little pricey but wonderful. We picked up veggie pot stickers, some steamed broccoli, fries and devoured them in a matter of minutes.

Feb 2022 Update: Indoor dining is currently prohibited though the cafes are open, so I am guessing you can order your food and eat in the outdoor dining areas.

Other Exhibits

Climate change and its impact, the reasons why it is happening are always a concern for me. Seeing it here in the various informative exhibits made it even grimmer and me more conscious of what we do.  

The Rainforest exhibit

The Rainforest exhibit was next and a delight to our eyes. An explosion of warmth, color surrounded us here. When a butterfly got too close to me, I embarrassed my little ones by a squeak! A warning sign said ‘do not touch the butterflies’ and my thought was, “Well, what if this one touched me? :-)”

Aquarium

The aquarium and the albino alligator followed. We are regulars at the Monterey Bay Aquarium but the aquarium here has its own wonders (glassfish, alligator gars, upside down jellyfish and more) and is a must-see.

Living Roof

We ended our trip by going to the sustainable living roof (right out of Teletubbies or Lord of the Rings) which is beautiful and offers a nice view of the Golden Gate Park as well.

Tips

Try going on weekdays to avoid crowds (avoid Free Wednesdays too). Get the tickets to the planetarium show on arriving. You can take your food with you and eat there in the various tables they have set around in the patio area where they also have performances or at the café. Park in the roadside and walk a little more if you want to avoid the parking fees.

Feb 2022 Updates:

  • Note that while members are free to walkup without advance reservations any day, reservations are highly recommended for non-members. Plus, reserving in advance will also ensure you get the best price. 
  • COVID-19 vaccination and booster(if eligible) proof is required at this time for all visitors over 12 years.

Academy Info and Fun Facts

  • Website: California Academy of Sciences
  • Timings: Open daily (Check here for details)
  • Check out the getting here section for more info on parking and directions/modes of transport to get there.
  • It is almost 170 years old!! (established in 1853)

Addendum

While it has been a really long time since we visited the Academy, I did enjoy a sleepover here with my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop in April 2016. It was truly a wonderful experience from start to end. Our group of two moms and eight girls took the Caltrain from the nearest station (which is Mountain View for us) and got off at 4th and King (the final destination for Caltrain in the city). We then took a bus to the closest bus stop to the Academy (about a 10 minute walk away), and then walked the rest of the way. After that, it was a full day and night of fun for all of us!!

Overall, I highly recommend the sleepover experience at the Academy! You can check the Penguins+Pajamas Sleepovers page for more info. They also have a Nightlife event every Thursday that is for adults 21+ (and while I have not experienced it, it sure looks like a cool fun different event each Thursday).

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And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, have you ever been to the California Academy of Sciences? Or any other similar place? What is your favorite such destination?

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