If your travels bring you to the city by the bay and you decide to indulge your child (or your inner child, as it may be), taking time to see the California Academy of Sciences is a great way to spend part of your day. The admission is anywhere from $25.95 to $35.95 per person, but luckily for me, there is a promotion sponsored by Target which allows city residents to enter for free. To avoid crowding, they vary the neighborhood/zip codes that are eligible on a weekly basis but if you live here, check to see when your time is.
On a recent weekend, my neighborhood was on the free weekend admission schedule. So after playing tennis with three friends from high school in the morning, I drove over to Golden Gate Park for an afternoon of education and science. My challenge: I only had two hours to see everything because I had to drop our dog off at his sitter that afternoon. Thus I humbly present to you a handy guide on how to see everything in two hours or less (with more details below that):
- Get your ticket
- Get your tickets for the Morrison Planetarium
- Go straight through the café patio and to the ticket booth to secure spots for the show(s) you want to see
- Go to the butterfly exhibit
- To the top!
- Take the elevator down
- Emerge on the bottom level, in the aquarium
- Come back to the main level and see the Planetarium show, if you haven’t already done so
- When you exit the Planetarium show, go to the living rooftop
- Smile and exit the building
Let’s look at these steps individually.
1. Get Your Ticket.
2. Get your tickets for the Morrison Planetarium.
Go straight through the café patio and to the ticket booth to secure spots for the show(s) you want to see. The reason why you want to do this first thing after you enter is because the Morrison Planetarium is the only time-bound activity in the museum. Shows are on a fixed schedule.
3. Go to the Osher Rainforest and the butterfly exhibit.
Walk into the Osher Rainforest (the giant four-level sphere) and take in the humid, lush rainforest experience. Each of the four levels has something stunning to observe, from the butterflies snacking on oranges to explanations of the other lifeforms present in the rainforest. When you get to the top, take the elevator down to the Steinhart Aquarium.
4. Emerge in the aquarium.
The Steinhart Aquarium, along with the Morrison Planetarium, is the crown jewel of the Academy of Sciences. A coral reef, tropical fish, and penguins are just a few of the draws to this part of the museum.
5. Come back to the main level and see the Planetarium show, if you haven’t already done so.
The show should last about a half hour or so. The content will vary depending on what you choose to see, but I was treated to a show narrated by the famed Neil DeGrasse Tyson, which also featured scientific updates discovered since the show was first recorded a few years ago.
6. When you exit the Planetarium show, go to the living rooftop and then back downstairs to see the penguins.
On a gorgeous day like the one I saw, the roof resembles rolling hills covered in small circular windows and irrigation. It’s a beautiful way to see the rest of the park as well, with the De Young Museum across the way.
Tusher African Hall is where the penguins will be waiting for you. Learn about the origins of mankind on the African continent and when you reach the end of the room, this is what you will see.
And if you’re hoping to see some live action video, here you go:
7. Smile and exit the building
When you’ve seen all of that, you’ve basically seen the majority of the awesome sights at the California Academy of Sciences.
I take that back. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet are the stingrays floating in the water. If you want to chill out, just lean on the railing and look down by the base of the planetarium sphere.
Let’s be clear here. This is not the ideal way to see one of San Francisco’s best sights and one of the finest institutions of science and learning. But sometimes you need an excuse to learn or a few hours to decompress with science. Or maybe your plans changed and you’d rather not wait in an airport for an entire afternoon. Whatever the reason, don’t let timing or circumstance stop you from visiting a San Francisco treasure.