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Home »  Articles »  Your Guide to the California Academy of Sciences
Your Guide to the California Academy of Sciences

Your Guide to the California Academy of Sciences

 

At the center of Golden Gate Park lies a true gem of science and wonder: the California Academy of Sciences. One of the world’s foremost science museums—and one of the best things to do in San Francisco—the institution is the only one to boast an aquarium, a natural history museum, a planetarium, an earthquake exhibit, and a four-story rainforest and butterfly habitat, all under a living roof. Always a big hit with kids, the academy is certain to delight even the most jaded grown-ups with its unique exhibits.

 

The academy itself is more than 150 years old, but its spectacular new home opened in 2008. The facility, which took 10 years to develop and cost $500 million, is also one of the most ecologically friendly buildings in the world. It is the largest public building in the world certified Platinum for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) by the U.S. Green Building Council. Its green features range from outdoor bike racks and vehicle recharging stations to its famed living roof. The hilly, 197,000-square-foot rooftop is a native plant garden that cools the academy’s interior, captures rainwater, and nourishes myriads of wildflowers. A viewing deck allows visitors to take in the beauty of the rooftop garden and vistas of Golden Gate Park and San Francisco.

 

A research and education institution as well as a museum, the academy focuses on two questions: How did life on earth develop, and how will we sustain life on earth? Eight permanent exhibits explore different facets of these questions in different ways through living animals, technology, and anthropology.

Earthquake!

The academy’s newest exhibit is devoted to a subject of great interest to San Franciscans and visitors alike: Earthquakes. This multimedia seismic journey immerses participants in a planetarium show about the excitable San Andreas fault; a walk-through Earth that shows how quakes are transmitted through the planet’s layers; and the popular Shake House. The Shake House allows visitors to experience the city’s two greatest quakes – 1906 and 1989 – from within a typical San Francisco Victorian house. Guests also learn how to prepare for the next quake to minimize danger to themselves and damage to their homes.

Corals, Fishes, and Alligators, Oh My!

Steinhardt Aquarium is home to more than 38,000 fascinating animals in a variety of habitats. The 212,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep Philippine Coral Reef Gallery is one of the deepest of its kind in the world. Its live corals, stingrays, and living rainbow of tropical fish can be viewed from several levels. The 100,000-gallon Northern California Coast Gallery displays the diverse wildlife found in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and the Water Planet Gallery features dozens of tanks with a changing array of creatures. The Swamp Gallery is reigned over by Claude, an albino American alligator who remains a favorite of younger visitors.

In the Jungle

The four-story Rainforests of the World exhibit allows explorers to view a flooded Amazonian rainforest from below to view massive catfish and arapaima hovering overhead, then soars up through a 90-foot glass dome fluttering, swimming and crawling with 1,600 animals. Free-flying birds and butterflies flash colorful wings and provide background music of chirps and croaks. Reptiles, amphibians, and insects show off a dazzling array of adaptations to the jungle environment.

Outer Space to Inner Earth

The all-digital Morrison Planetarium is the largest of its kind, taking viewers on a flight through space via its 75-foot diameter projection screen. Kimball Natural History Museum displays astounding exhibits from the academy’s collection of 20 million different specimens. Some of the most prominent are a giant Tyrannosaurus rex that greets visitors as they enter the building, an 87-foot long blue whale skeleton, and Islands of Evolution, an illuminating comparison of organisms on isolated islands of Madagascar and the Galapagos.

 

Make the most of your visit by taking advantage of guided tours. Tailored to specific interests, tours include behind-the-scenes museum and aquarium tours and a Reefs to Rainforests Adventure. See the California Academy of Sciences website for more information.

 

—By Kelly Crumrin
Kelly Crumrin is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.


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