face it, Angelenos, ours isn’t the only city around and sometimes a weekend
getaway is just what you need to rejuvenate and gain a new perspective. Sure, the theatre scene is bursting at the
seams each weekend, ready to entertain you at dozens of playhouses around
Southern California, and our museums and community events are unrivaled
throughout the region. However, the next
time you take a road trip up north to the City by the Bay, there’s one
attraction you’ve got to make sure you see:
San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences.
this phenomenal natural history museum originally opened its doors to the
public in 1853, a grand re-opening of the space took place in 2008,
reintroducing San Franciscans to a world of exploration. The only such institution in the world to
boast an aquarium, natural history museum, planetarium and research and
education programs under one roof, the California Academy of Sciences dazzles
visitors of all ages.
it from afar and the first thing you’ll notice is the “Living Roof,” which is
comprised of 2.5 acres of plant species that crawl across intriguing domes littered
with skylights. The lush roof contains
everything from beach strawberries to sea lettuce and California fuchsia, and
attracts a variety of native birds and bumblebees. This environmentally-friendly design not only
helps create insulation but it reduces heat in summer, absorbs water and
prevents runoff from polluting the eco-system.
Plus, it’s really neat!
inside the Academy of Sciences and you’ll be greeted by the spectacular
Tyrannosaurus Rex centerpiece—not too
shabby—but behind that, an even more fascinating creature lies in
wait. And this one isn’t quite so still,
though at first, you may mistake him for a marble statue. Though he collects no tips for his talent at
immobility, Claude, the museum’s resident albino alligator, draws large crowds
at every hour. Suddenly, his foot will
move; later, he might blink an eye. And
it’s only a matter of time until you hear the oohs and ahhs that
signify the unusual reptile has revealed his intimidating toothy grin.
you’ve had enough of Claude’s performance, you’ll head to the dome on
the right, home to the Rainforests of the World exhibit. A thick humid air will
being gluing your hair
to your neck as soon as you enter, but not to worry, this exhibit is worth the
sweat and dehydration, because the first thing you’ll notice are the ethereal
blue morpho butterflies. The underside
of their wings may resemble a familiar brown butterfly pattern, but once you
see these delicate insects opening their wings from above, you’ll be in awe of
the iridescent blue that flanks them. Unfortunately, unless you’re a skilled
photographer, these fascinating creatures are difficult to capture in photos, but
once you catch a glimpse of one in person, you won’t want to redirect your
you wind your way up through the four-story glass dome-encased rainforest, sweat
beading up at your brow, stop to look up at the birds fluttering from branch to
branch and peer into the small enclosures that house a variety of unusual native
insects, tiny dart frogs and snakes.
gingerly brushing off your clothes, lest you inadvertently kidnap a butterfly, you’ll
descend from the rainforest to the Amazonian Flooded Rainforest and the
Steinhart Aquarium, where you can cool off and peer into tanks full of
extraordinary jellyfish, seahorses and eels—you can even touch a few starfish
in the Discovery Tidepool! Walk beneath
an enclosed archway tank to see underneath the sea turtles, sharks and giant
fish that swim overhead. Turn off your
flash to get a good picture, and don’t worry about your kids pressing their
noses against the tanks—it’s hard to resist!
there, you can explore the interesting Animal Attraction exhibit or run ahead
to the other side of the Academy to catch the hourly show at the Morrison
Planetarium, the world’s largest all-digital planetarium. For some, the current show, Life: A Cosmic Journey, narrated by
Jodie Foster, is a thought-provoking adventure from the outer reaches of the
universe to our own backyards; for others, it’s a relaxing place to take a
nap. Either way, the seats are
comfortable, the air conditioning’s free-flowing and it’s a nice half-hour
distraction for anyone over three years old.
the three and under crowd, the Early Explorers Cove offers hands-on exhibits, a
play area and a coloring station. And if
you’re in need of some sun and fresh air, ride the glass elevator up to the
roof where you’ll capture sweeping views of spectacular Golden Gate Park. During my visit, there were even telescopes
set up on the roof to view the stars.
However, I was holding hands with a three-year-old at the time and
thought it best not to touch the expensive equipment. Instead, little Max was mesmerized by the interactive
bird call exhibit. Just crank it up,
press a button and hear the birds hoot and tweet!
time you find yourself in San Francisco, make sure you set aside a half-day to
explore the California Academy of Sciences.
It’s worth the time and money for the rainforest alone, though you’ll
find plenty of other captivating exhibits, interactive displays and knowledge
just waiting to be discovered by all ages inside.
Academy is located within Golden Gate Park at 55 Music Concourse Drive – you
can’t miss it! – and is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am – 5 pm and
Sundays from 11 am – 5 pm. Admission
prices start at just $19.95 for children 4 and up; ages 3 and under are
free. For more information on exhibits,
special events and museum sleepovers, visit www.calacademy.org.