Daycation to the California Academy of Sciences

This learning center located inside Golden Gate Park is part planetarium, part natural history museum, and part aquarium. Photo: Anton Ivanov / Shutterstock

SAN FRANCISCO – The California Academy of Sciences is the kind of place you can lose yourself in. The physical space itself is large, and given that it’s part planetarium, part natural history museum and part aquarium, there is a lot to see and do.

At a minimum you’ll want half a day to explore, and there are a few important times to keep in mind as you plan your visit. The penguins are fed daily at 10:30am and 3pm and this is a fun must-see. (If you do miss the feeding, there is a live penguin cam on the website.) Another time to note is the coral reef dive, which happens at 11:30am and 2:30pm daily. (This is also better seen in person, but a web cam is available, too.)

An Amazonian tree boa is just one of the 1,600 animals living in this 4-story rainforest. Photo: Anton Ivanov / Shutterstock

Then there’s everything else! The Osher Rainforest is a four-story rainforest in a glass dome. There are over 1,600 animals living in this space, including leaf cutter ants, poisonous dart frogs and an Amazonian tree boa. The blue morpho butterflies are especially beautiful in flight, so keep your eyes peeled for their colorful wings.

As Californians, most of us are intimately familiar with earthquakes. Even so, you’ll want to visit the earthquake exhibit. Here you’ll see photos of the devastation wrought by the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and learn about current earthquake preparedness in the Bay Area. You’ll also want to go into the Shake House, an earthquake simulator, where you’ll both see and feel the power of shifting tectonic plates at a magnitude of 6.9 and 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Tyrannosaur Rex skeleton on display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Photo: Anton Ivanov / Shutterstock

Don’t miss the hands-on exhibits. The Discovery Tidepool is a touch tank of California coastal sea life, including starfish and sea urchins. Just be warned that the water is cold! You may be tempted to skip the third floor Naturalist Center as too staid with its skeletons and book-lined shelves, but this space is just as fascinating as the live animal exhibits. Here you can see a dinosaur bone, do puzzles and touch a wolverine pelt.

While there is much to see inside the museum, be sure to go outside to the living roof. Here you’ll see weather stations, the Academy’s seven hills of solar panels and fields of native California plants—all atop the roof of the building you were just inside.

Both of the Academy’s restaurants offer better than the usual museum eatery fare. The Terrace Restaurant includes a beer and wine menu while the Academy Café menu includes everything from sushi to sandwiches.

If you go: The California Academy of Sciences is located in Golden Gate Park at 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco. General public hours are Monday through Saturday 9:30am to 5pm and Sundays from 11am to 5pm. General admission starts at $25.95 for children and increases to $35.95 for adults. Discounts are available for students and seniors. Children 3 and under are free.

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Your Town Daycations is a series featured in the print edition of Your Town Monthly. This article was originally published in the January 2018 editions.