The Cal Academy of Science The Cal Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a museum of natural history situated within Golden Gate Park. Not only is the Cal Academy one of the largest museums of its kind and one of the best museums in San Francisco for all ages, it’s also a research institute that continues to conduct innovative research with important environmental and conservation goals.

Architectural beauty of the museum

Before you even set foot inside, the building’s innovative design hints at the adventures and experiences within. The architecture features a living roof, with rolling hills covered in skylights and plant life that help the Cal Academy blend into the landscape of Golden Gate Park, all while making it one of the most eco-friendly buildings around. The plants help provide insulation that regulates temperatures inside the museum, while collecting rainwater and creating habitats for wildlife.

From top to bottom, the Cal Academy of Sciences is filled with fascinating exhibits, from its roof to the basement-level aquarium, and the other ecosystems (and even galaxies) on the levels in between. Explore more through this beautiful video.

California Academy Of Sciences Video

There’s so much packed into the Cal Academy, it’s wise to devise a game plan. Upon entry to the museum, your best bet is to head straight to the world’s largest digital planetarium to secure tickets to the visual and audio programs displayed on the massive (75 feet in diameter!) dome. Find them on the far side of the dome from the entrance. There is no additional cost for these tickets, but the shows fill up so make sure to reserve your spot as early as possible (ages 4 and up). The planetarium programs vary and you may have a choice, but viewers will be taken on a journey into outer space, with trips around the moon and mars or around the Earth to explore its ecosystems. Whichever you choose, the experience will immerse viewers into the vivid images on the dome, which makes it feel like you’re flying among the stars. The visuals are explained by narrators like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Sigourney Weaver.

While you wait for your show time, check out some of the other exhibits. The museum offers hour-long behind-the-scenes tours (one for the aquarium and one for the academy) for an additional $25 ticket, but there’s plenty to see and learn by exploring on your own. However, there are various programs scheduled each day, from the interactive Junior Scientist Adventures to animal feedings so check the schedule.

Some of the Cal Academy’s creatures

Some of the Cal Academy's many creature

Exhibits at the Cal Academy spanning all types of sciences, anthropology and natural history to its thousands of live animals in a variety of habitats. Besides the planetarium, the other big dome in the Cal Academy is the rainforest. Enter on the ground level and make your way around the spiral path as you pass through the rainforest ecosystems of Borneo at the lowest level, Madagascar in the middle, and the Costa Rican canopy high up in the treetops. Along the way, you’ll enjoy an amazing variety of exotic plants and animals. Birds and butterflies fly freely around the dome, while the reptiles, amphibians, spiders and insects are (fortunately) found in tanks along the path. This is where you’re thankful you dressed in layers (this is San Francisco, after all) because it’s hot and humid in there, reaching 85 degrees and 75% humidity. Once you reach the top, be sure to check for any butterfly stowaways as you ride the elevator down to the “Flooded Forest,” where the underwater Amazonian wildlife resides.

A diver cleans the aquarium walls A diver cleans the aquarium walls

The lower level aquarium has several other habitats, from California to the Philippines. Also on the aquarium level is the “Animal Attraction” exhibits about the crazy mating behavior of select species. A swamp between the main floor and the aquarium gives you a few options to check out the Cal Academy’s famous albino alligator, Claude, (who I always need to observe for a while to make sure he’s still alive because he floats, motionless, forever) and his snapping turtle friends. There’s an interactive tide pool area where visitors can touch sea creatures like starfish and sea urchins.

Other animal exhibits at times include the adorable penguins and real, live reindeer during Christmastime (yes, they’re real, and no, you shouldn’t admit that you thought they were mythological creatures).

Aside from the planetarium and the rainforest, my favorite exhibit at the Cal Academy is the earthquake simulator, where you find out what it was like to live through the Great Earthquake of San Francisco and the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 (or relive it, in my case). Enter the “Shake House” where the scene is set: San Francisco, 1906, a Victorian house complete with windows and china cabinets for effect. Brace yourself for the magnitude 7.9 quake to roll through, and once you’re sure it’s over, head to the next room for the 6.9 magnitude earthquake many Bay Area locals can remember well. It’s really a fascinating experience whether you’ve experienced a ground shaking quake before or not. After exiting the house, check out the rest of the exhibit to learn all about the science of seismic activity and learn how to keep yourself safe in an emergency.

Of course, don’t miss the rotating exhibits featured all around the museum and head up the elevator to the living roof up close, and check out the views of Golden Gate Park from up there. If you get hungry while you’re visiting, there are two dining options: The Terrace and the Academy Cafe (the family friendlier option). They’re upscale and pricy, but they serve some quality food and alcoholic beverages. Plus, The Terrace has Happy Hour deals from 2-4pm.

The California Academy of Sciences is a perfect indoor activity for a rainy day in San Francisco, but it’s one of the best museums in San Francisco for all ages, any day. Whether you’re looking for an activity for your children or your friends, the Cal Academy is worth visiting – though adults 21 and up may prefer Night Life at the Cal Academy on Thursday evenings, when the children have gone home and the museum brings out some live music or a DJ, themed activities, and games like giant Jenga and Connect Four. The museum is packed with immersive exhibits and unusual creatures, you’re practically guaranteed to learn something new and you may not even notice how much you’re learning.

Address: 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA

Phone: 415-379-8000

Museum Hours:

Monday through Saturday – 9:30 am to 5 pm

Sunday – 11 am to 5 pm

(Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas)


General – $34.95

Seniors (65+), Students, Youth (12-17) – $30.95

Children (4-11) – $25.95


Nearby Restaurants– Lucca Foods Store, Suzu Noodle House Restaurant, Crown and Crumpet Tea Stop Cafe Restaurant

Nearby Tourist Attractions– Stow Lake Boathouse, bison paddock, twin peak, Conservatory of Flowers

Published On: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017