An Indoor Adventure: The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco

If you have anyone in your family who loves science or nature, the perfect place to visit while in San Francisco is the California Academy of Sciences.  This stunning museum is just a few years old, and is the most recent addition to Golden Gate Park.  I suppose the word “museum” does not really cover it.  What do you call a planetarium, aquarium, four-story indoor rainforest, reptile zoo, butterfly home, and cutting edge research center all rolled into one?

You call it a dream come true for science loving children everywhere.

As an adult, I couldn’t get over how beautiful the museum was.  The different sections of the museum are nearly all visible from the entrance; you can see the towering rainforest encased in some kind of see-through material, and fish swim about in tanks visible both from the bottom floor and through the floor on the main level.  The main atrium, which for Christmas was full of seasonal displays and periodic snowfall (seriously), greets visitors right as they enter. The space is breath-taking and architecturally innovative.

Seasonal Snowman Tent where you can watch a movie on the "Science of Snow"

Here are my excited nephews:

Two cousins, born on the same day!

A note about arrival:  there is a parking structure there in Golden Gate park, which was convenient and easy to get to.  You ascend the stairs and are right at the museum.  It is pricey though–about four hours cost us $17.  Typical for parking in big cities.  You can also take public  transit, but with our large group driving was the best option.

This museum only allows a certain number of people in at a time.  I don’t think on an average school day that causes much inconvenience, but on a holiday weekend we were sure to arrive right when they opened.  Otherwise, you have to wait in a line outside until enough people leave so they can control the crowd.

The first thing we did was get tickets to the Planetarium.  The tickets are included with your admission (at least the ticket type we had), but you still have to reserve a spot for a certain show.  The Planetarium show was very science based, and did not stoop to lasers and music like many shows do nowadays.  It was informative and interesting, but perhaps not the best for small children.

What I liked best was the four story rainforest.  There is a walkway surrounding the trees, and as you climb the four stories you get to observe all the different levels of the rain forest and wildlife that goes with it.  It is warm and humid, with floating butterflies and noisy birds.

Foliage and resting butterfly

Such a petite butterfly!

Poison Dart Frogs

A frog easily visible from the walkway

Of course, no science museum trip is complete without some ancient bone and reptiles.

Impressive skeleton suspended from the ceiling


In another hall, besides beautiful animal exhibits, there is a penguin observation area.  We came right in time to see them feed and hear a scientist tell us all about them.

There is an outdoor area as well, where for Christmas they had a small group of Reindeer.

We only budgeted a half day at the museum, but you could easily spend the entire day if you are up to it.  We didn’t get to see everything, but as we only had one day in San Francisco we really wanted to hit the Disney Family Museum as well.  So, if you have time and interest, a leisurely full day would be ideal.  Arrive upon opening, but be sure to take a lunch break.  The museum cafe is lovely and delicious, with food choices ranging from panini, Pho, steamed buns, as well as sandwiches and pasta.  The cafe focuses on organic, whole foods. It was very crowded the day we went, but we still managed to snag some seats and enjoy ourselves.

My darling nephew downing his "all natural" root beer

The yard off the back patio cafe seating

Even little Ellie seemed to have a good time (Ellie and her adventures in Italy here).

Ellie in San Francisco

I would highly recommend that you add a visit to the California Academy of Sciences to your San Francisco bucket list.  All of the children and adults enjoyed it.  My older sons, who enjoy science, had a good time, but wished there were some displays and activities that were more sophisticated and in-depth, as they didn’t really learn anything new.  It definitely is aimed at grade school aged children.  But they are nerds.  That said, anyone can enjoy this beautiful museum and appreciate the philosophy behind it.

Except for maybe one person I saw.  As we were leaving the rainforest, a young woman in front of us discovered that a large (exquisitely beautiful) butterfly had landed on her back.  She started to freak out, screaming that she “hated butterflies.”

Now I ask you….who hates butterflies?  The same people who hate puppies?  And rainbows?

I guess people watching is all part of the fun!

For detailed information and to plan your trip, visit the Museum Website.


4 thoughts on “An Indoor Adventure: The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco

  1. Wish I could have been there with you guys it looks like such a fun place. We will have to go next time we are in CA. I laughed at the Lizard too. It’s a great picture. I love the one of Ezra drinking the root beer. And of course the one with Enoch and Matthew and then baby Ellie. Ethne still talks about baby Ellie all the time.

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