Home to Steinhart Aquarium, Kimball Natural History Museum, Morrison Planetarium, and world-class research and education programs, the California Academy of Sciences is one of San Francisco’s must-see destinations. From its four-story living rainforest to its interactive space shows, the Academy’s exhibits will delight visitors of all ages.
My family and I went to The California Academy of Sciences on our recent trip to San Francisco. It was amazing!!! There was so much to do there: Aquarium, rainforest, planetarium, earthquake exhibit, living roof, toddler area, etc. We are not from a large city and the crowds here were overwhelming! We had to wait before viewing each exhibit which can be terribly frustrating with five small children. I found that with the ammount that the museum has to offer topped off with the long lines there was no way to accomplish this in one day.
The cafeteria food looked good but we packed a lunch and ate it on the floor in the center sun room. Saved a lot of money and probably a lot of time. It was worth going but I am not sure I will go again as the crowds were just too much for us. (We didn't encounter crowds like this in the rest of the city.)
What a museum! CAS was not on my original list of places to go while we were in California, but as the Exploratorium was closed, I decided to give it a try, and I'm so glad we went! My daughter loved the rainforest, the aquarium, the living roof, the earthquake exhibit and all the rest! She found the exhibits all to be engaging and informative. Plus, the cafeteria has wonderful, healthy choices! I understand it can be crowded, but we lucked out and only had a few short lines to wait in while we were there. Bonus : we got a discount for taking MUNI (the bus).
The Academy of Sciences is really great. If your child is under age 4 the individual membership is a great deal because it's good for you, another adult and kids under 4 are free! Plus, once you have a membership you don't need to worry about seeing every exhibit each time you go- which is a good thing because:
Weekends are a nightmare. It gets crowded fast and you have to wait in line to get into the rainforest. Plus, some days you'll go and the rainforest is closed for cleaning. I'm sure they close it as infrequently as possible, but if you don't know ahead of time it can be pretty disappointing.
They have a really nice toddler play area near the kiddie gift shop, but there is usually a line to get in. This is good because it limits the number of people inside, but the wait can be quite long. There is always plenty of room for kids to run around outside.
The docents are very friendly and patient with the kids, especially down in the aquarium tide pool space- however kids under age 5 are not allowed to touch any of the animals the docents are showing off upstairs. It's pretty hard to explain to your 3 year old why everyone else gets to pet the snake and he doesn't.
The Cafe is excellent. The food is very good, but it does get busy. Definitely worth checking out, they have a large variety of food and snacks.
Parking is by the hour in the garage unless you want to park on the street and walk in. A good option for warmer days, but the ease of parking near the museum usually wins for me.
The California Academy of Sciences is the perfect museum for all ages.
The California Academy of Sciences newest exhibits "Earthquake" and "Rainforests of the World" are an absolute wonder to explore. One of the best parts of the "Earthquake" exhibit are the baby ostriches adjacent to the line in. The pride of fuzzy little birds scratching around in their glass case is adorable and hilarious.
The aquarium and rainforest exhibits are dizzying and colorful sensory overload. There are plenty of spiders, reptiles, and sharks to keep the more timid travelers covering their eyes. The sheer number butterflies floating around at the top of the rainforest are spectacular! Shutterbugs will need to be quick, but their reflexes will be paid off with some picture-perfect scenery.
Another real joy of visiting the California Academy of Science was the top-notch quality of the café. The café has a huge number of culinary choices that span the globe. Although it’s more on the pricier side of lunchtime dining, a family of four can spend around $50 and please even the pickiest or more adventurous diners.
This museum is a WOW! It is so beautiful and so well executed from start to finish. There are so many things to do here that a plan is a must or buy a membership and explore at your leisure over several visits.
I brought my 3 year old daughter and my 5 & 6 year old niece and nephew. They where all very much entertained for hours. Unfortuanetly because of their age we did not get through the whole museum, we bought a membership and will be returning soon.
Steinhart Aquarium: This is one of the best aquariums I have ever been to. The amount of species under one roof is spectacular. We spent most of our time here because the kids just didn't want to go. The habitats that have been built for the fish and reptiles are done with such respect. They are beautiful and spacious. We spent quite some time watching each tank.
We where unable to explore the planetarium. This is where you will find the largest all-digital dome in the world with a 75-foot diameter projection screen tilted at a 30 degree angle. Thanks to immersive video technology, the dome seems to disappear when imagery is projected onto it, creating an experience more like flying than watching a movie. The movie EARTHQUAKE: EVIDENCE OF A RESTLESS PLANET is showing.
Rainforests of the World;
This is a 4 story living, breathing, rainforest. With spectacular plant species and animals. Inside are croaking frogs, chirping birds, chameleons from Madagascar, ,free-flying birds and butterflies.Take the glass elevator into the Amazonian flooded forest, where an acrylic tunnel allows you to walk beneath the catfish and arapaima that swim overhead. Absolutely AMAZING!
Kimball Natural History Museum;
There are some magnificent taxidermied animals in this exhibit. This allows you to be inches from them to see just how large or small these animals are. There is also some wonderful opportunities for you to learn about things most of us just don't think of.
We had such an amazing afternoon. We arrived after 2 and the museum closes at 5...that is just to short of a time period to enjoy the whole experience. Consider buying a memebership if you have small children and live close by. Because even with extra time my kids got tired and where ready to go after 2.5 hours. Plan ahead and arrive early because this is all under one roof for one price and you wont want to miss a inch of this place.
The California Academy of Sciences is really a natural history museum, aquarium, and planetarium all in one. No hidden fees once inside, every exhibit is included!!
My kids (age 7.6.2), loved the aquarium's touch tank (even though we've been to about 100!!), the baby ostriches, and numerous other live animals. The natural history portion was a bit over their heads, and too much reading for their level. Unfortunately, we went on one of the few (advertised) days of the year when the rainforest exhibit was closed, so we missed out on that.
I liked the living roof, the ease of manuevering through the exhibits, and the earthquake exhibit. Okay, actually it really scared me remembering these quakes and being in the simulator, but I love that the interactive nature showed my kids how to respond and will hopefully help them feel more at ease when the next quake hits.
Admission is a bit pricey, but tickets are included in the CityPASS, which ends up being a great bargain.
Explore the rest of Golden Gate Park while you are there!!
A perfect stop if you have kids, though be forewarned that the crowds can be off-putting. (We have dropped our membership for this reason). But if you can stand it, the aquariums, albino alligator, live penguin exhibit, and butterfly jungle are bound to be hits (and YOU will like the living roof!). The cafeteria will floor you for cafeteria fare: wide choice, healthful concoctions and kid-friendly… plus, you can sit outside!
California Academy of Sciences is nothing short of “astonishing-amazing-oh my goodness-magnificent -I can’t wait to visit again-tacular!!”
Now through January 16 2012, the Academy celebrates 'Tis the Season for Science', the science behind some of our most familiar holiday sights, sounds, and traditions.
During our visit, my son enjoyed an up close and personal experience with a pair of live reindeer in the museum’s East Garden!! Did you know lichens and mosses are the reindeers favorite food? One species of lichen is so commonly eaten by Santa’s sleigh-pullers that it’s called “reindeer lichen.”
Outside in the East Garden my son enjoyed the freedom to run around and burn off some energy before we headed to the hot and humid four story rainforest. The rainforest environment is ideal for frogs, not so ideal for kids dressed in winter clothes.
In the rainforest, the sounds of exotic animals transports you to the tropics. We saw parrots, bats, and butterflies as we climbed into the canopy of the living rainforest. My son actually thought he was walking through a jungle and clung to my leg!
The soothing sights of swimming fish at Steinhart Aquarium impressed my son and he happily sat in his stroller while I ogled over the Philippine Coral Reef, one of the deepest exhibits of live corals in the world! At the Northern California Coast Gallery there's a Discovery Tide pool where children and adults can touch and examine a wide variety of ocean creatures.
February 2012 Addendum!
My son and I are huge fans of San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences. If you’ve never been, it’s the only place on the planet with an aquarium, a four-story rainforest, a planetarium, and a natural history museum all under one roof. An amazing experience for every member of the family.
When I first heard about the opening of Animal Attraction, a new exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences, I instantly cleared my calendar to go! From sex change to cannibalism, The Academy presents some of our world's wild mating strategies in an 18-tank aquarium gallery devoted to the science of courtship and reproduction in the animal kingdom. Meet hermaphroditic banana slugs, cannibalistic praying mantises, and parasitic anglerfish.
The exhibit uses iPads as exhibit labels, allowing visitors to flip through gorgeous images, watch videos of reproductive behaviors in action, and guide their own digital explorations using interactive touch screens throughout the exhibit.
Some parents might see the word “mating”, and wonder if the exhibit is appropriate for young eyes. The exhibit features the animals themselves and is meant for audiences of all ages and focuses on the mating strategies of the animal kingdom in a scientific format geared toward educating museum visitors. Animal attraction is age appropriate for children of all ages so fear not!!
California Academy of Sciences provided my family with complimentary tickets for this review. California Academy of Sciences did not request that I express any particular point of view and my reviews always reflect my honest opinions.
We always go visit the butterflies and birds, and then go down into the acquarium to see the fish. My kids are always excited and enthralled and this museum truly captures their budding imaginations. The only downsides are that it is a little expensive to visit especially if you have small kids and only want to be there for a couple of hours, and also that children under 5 can't go into the planetarium - I understand why, but for me, that' a shame.
Without going over all of the highlights and drawbacks that other trekaroo members have mentioned, here are a few tips to help make your Cal Academy time the best it can be:
Entrance Fee: Most local venues offer free entrance to children *under* 3yo. CalAcademy is free for kids "3 and under" making this the best spot for that 3rd year (plus there are plenty of activities for this age group). There are free days, but it's packed so we avoid them. Some discounts can be found so don't think you have to pay full price.
Membership: If you're a SAHM with a 2-3yo, get yourself a individual membership and take your toddler here as often as you can. Bring your partner on the weekend or meet another parent/toddler and get them in for free as well. The individual membership includes entrance for one other adult (or an older child). This year, I got my membership during a February special for 20% off. However, they do not participate in any reciprocal programs.
Lines: No doubt about it, the rainforest and planetarium will have lines on weekends and weekdays during the tourist season. The thing is there is so much else to do, why limit yourself to these parts.
Toddlers: Do NOT miss the Kids Cove, the excellent indoor playground designed for the under 5yo set with a padded area for pre-walkers, a ship with galley and bunk, and a multilevel tree, with lots of books, puzzles and the cutest LEGO set I've ever seen. Expect to take your shoes off and yes, it does get full sometimes, but 75% of the time we go, we get in within minutes. They even have crayons and tables covered in paper for coloring to keep the kids occupied while you wait. If your child is older than 3yo or so, and it's too busy, go upstairs instead and play puzzles, read books on bean bags or play video games at the Naturalist Center, one of the quietest places in the museum (membership includes borrowing privileges). Or go next door to the most kid-friendly gift shop and play with the displays (but consider buying the book, Pierre the Penguin, it's great!)
Cafe: Yes, it can get pricey fast, though you get a fair amount of food that is crazy better than most museum cafeterias (compare it to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, I dare you). After you've chosen some dim sum or slow-roasted ribs or a large bowl of mac&cheese, take your tray out to the covered porch (with heating lamps) then let your kids eat their fill and run around the garden, climb on the seal statues and play hide and seek behind the trees, confident that they're not going anywhere cause it's completely fenced in. What is particularly amazing about this cafe though is that whenever I've been there by myself with my wriggly son on hip, a staff member magically arrived at my side to help me by carrying my tray to any remaining stations, then the cashier then table of my choice, stopping by the condiment bar to get napkins, hoisin sauce and silverware. Brilliant and worth tipping.
Our favorite activities: Waving at Claude, the albino alligator. Watching the penguin feeding (or just watching them frolic) . Ogling at the replica of Lucy's bones, the whale skeleton, or the T. Rex skeleton at the entrance. Watching the rays and sharks swimming beneath us through the floor windows. Picking out different kinds of fish in the aquarium tunnel.
It's a whole different experience for older kids and adults, but my 3yo never ever gets tired of this place.
We've been members of the Academy now for 3 years and this membership is probably the useful and utilized membership that we've ever had. My children are 3, 5, and 7 and there's always been something interesting and wonderful for all of them starting from when my youngest was still an infant. There's an infant/toddler room that many folks don't even notice but it's a good place to be able to take off your shoes (mandatory, so bring socks if you're not wearing any that day), and let your kids crawl/walk/explore with puzzles, role-playing, read -- there's a treehouse, a miniature boat, and a bathroom adjacent for diaper-changing. For the older kids there's the rainforest and the living roof. The African animal exhibit and the aquarium (with hands-on tide pools) are winners with all ages and plenty of seating and room so that even the most crowded days don't feel too claustrophobic. Okay, then there's also the food, which is reasonably-priced, extremely diverse, and much better than most attraction cafeterias that we've been to (e.g., Scharffenberger chocolate pudding! Vietnamese pho! And wine/beer...plus the good standbys like mac-n-cheese, quesadillas). Finally, there are also 2 outdoor areas where you can usually find a table (heat lamps also are there for the cooler days) and your kids can run around the grassy lawn without you having to corral them, quiet them down, etc. This is definitely one of my favorite go-to spots to take the kiddos whether it's rain or shine.
Ok, it's better than what it was in its old location, but its still not that great. I never was a fan of the Academy of Sciences. Come on, we're San Francisco. We should have a building devoted to each of the three areas covered (Aquarium, Observatory, Museum), but instead we have all three crammed into one? I'm a big fan of all three separate museums in Chicago and found the small quarters and lack of information at the Academy of Sciences pretty sad and pathetic. My kids liked the Rainforest and the way you were walking above the fish underneath. It was fine if you didn't know any better. The food in the cafeteria was expensive and to me, the whole thing was not worth it.
The new California Academy of Sciences is wonderful from living top to bottom! I went with some friends on a weekend shortly after it opened and it was very crowded! Even still, we enjoyed ourselves. Some highlights are the aquarium and the I-Max type movie on outer space. I would recommend going during the week if you can and get there early to spend the whole day. There is food available there but it is over priced and I recommend bringing a lunch to eat on the grass outside. We didn't get to see the rain forest exhibit (it was far to crowded) but it looked super cool from the outside :0)
We spent an entire day here with my 7 year old stepson. The rainforest was awesome and we easily spent an hour in that. I would suggest getting tickets for shows early since they were gone by the time we got there. Also the line for lunch was insane and it was tough to keep track of everyone in our group and find seating. The museum is interesting and there is a lot to look at so plan on spending an entire day there.
Ticket prices are steep ($25) and combined with parking prices, I only visit once in awhile. i would recommend going to Nightlife (if you are going without Children) because the tickets are for $12 instead of $25. Although you cannot go to the Rainforest Section or watch the Planetarium show, its a great glimpse of what the museum has to offer and you get to see the whole place in a different light.
I went to the academy of siences a couple years back with my now 12 year old daughters class. It was a good expirience and both me and my daughter enjoyed going, she especially liked it, partly because she was with her class, but she genuinly enjoyed it, and so did I.
If you want to be amazed by architecture and overwhelmed by science exploration, this place is perfect. It also has a tot spot for little ones called the tiny explorers cove. It is really expensive but I have a secret way of sneaking in with members:) Just ask! sometimes they will let you:) It is also a start to a wonderful day in the park as well.
My whole family loves this place. My 2 year-old could easily spend the whole day there. There is just so much to see and everything is so well thought through.
My daughter loves the observatory with butterflies and the penguin feeding exhibit. I personally love the amazon exhibit. There is also a nice cafe in the building, so you can go grab a HEALTHY lunch (they have soups, sandwiches, salads, etc).
i have visited this place twice, my daughter likes this place. There are differnet kinds of fish and animals.
unique experience at amazon rain forest dome, aquariums, lively African animals and at the roof of the building.
admission is free on third Wednesday of every month
expect long lines on free days.
If you're headed here anytime soon, pack A LOT of patience with you and prepare for crowds. This place has a lot to offer and a lot to learn from if you can get near any of it!!! The crowds were so overwhelming, I think it would be a great idea for the SF Fire Chief to hightail it over there and monitor the situation. We weren't able to see a single show ---- apparently they offer a spectacular bug show and some planetarium thing but, by noon there were no show passes to be had. You could view a rain forest housed in a three-story terrarium bubble, if you cared to wait two-hours in a line. Have you ever waited in line with an active 7-year-old and an anxious 4-year-old? Hell, doesn't even begin to describe it.
There were three eating choices in the place ---- the largest, which was just off the entryway , was so crowded, people were eating on the floor. The second choice had a 40-minute wait in line and the third choice, labeled as fine dining, cost a small fortune.
So people, here is what I suggest you do should you want to see this place:
Get a membership. A family membership is just under $160. You can write it off on your taxes and visit multiple times in a year. You also avoid waiting in the massive (and I mean MASSIVE) ticket line to get in. Arrive during members-only hour (which is the hour before the museum opens to the public), collect any show passes you want at that time and see as much as you possibly can before the throngs crush through the doors.
If you need to eat --- walk out of the park toward Irving (just walk in the direction of the bandstand in between the academy and the De Young and keep going until you hit the edge of the park) and patronize a local restaurant (there are many over in the area of Irving) where you won't be treated like just another number in the sea of humanity. You can return to the museum after your meal satiated and ready to learn as the folks who lined up at the same time are fainting from hunger or fuming with frustration.
Get the inside scoop from parents who have been there!