Tucked away in San Francisco’s world-renowned Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences has served as the backdrop of many of my fondest childhood memories—my family has been coming here for years—and it is certain to offer a unique California travel adventure for you, too.
The museum’s mission is to “regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration,” and I find my own interest in natural science is stoked with each revisit of it. Beyond the education in science, the Academy itself is a sight to behold. It underwent a multi-million-dollar remodel in 2008, which swapped around some of the layouts I was familiar with from childhood, but ultimately yielded the environmentally friendly architectural gem that stands today. Join me as I guide you through some of my favorite highlights the institution has to offer.
Note: I visited the museum pre-lockdown, so you’ll notice many folks are mask-less in my photos. Rest assured, the institution has a thoughtful reopening plan which you can dive into here.
Saving the best for first! One of my all-time favorite spots at the Academy is the Osher Rainforest. The rainforest is housed inside the museum. You read that right—a rainforest inside a building! And experiencing it is as amazing as it sounds.
The rainforest is four stories high and encapsulated in a giant glass sphere. Inside, you can get up close and personal with the flora and fauna of the Amazonian forest. You’ll want to plan ahead, as this permanent exhibition is available to partake in by reservation only (which you can make in the Academy’s lobby by scanning a QR code to select a time to visit), and trust me, it is not to be missed. Check out a video of the dome and inside view of the Rainforest, here!
Steinhart Aquarium & Claude the Alligator
Next up is the Steinhart Aquarium, where you can see 40,000 live animals and be immersed in their striking underwater habitats. I’ve always loved aquariums and have visited my fair share, and the Steinhart is one of the most spectacular.
No visit to the Academy is complete without a tip of the hat to my buddy Claude, the American alligator with albinism who appears snowy white. You can find Claude in the part of the aquarium that showcases the ecosystems of the Southeastern United States called “the Swamp.” Also available for your viewing pleasure are exhibits on tide pools, coral reefs, lagoons, and much more.
Kimball Natural History Museum
And don’t miss the Kimball Natural History Museum, which showcases one-of-a-kind specimens from the Academy’s expansive scientific collections. I was fascinated by Academy’s dazzling gem and mineral collection, and I also loved learning about the role of color in the natural world. From tiny insects to enormous dinosaur bones, the natural history museum has a little something for every adventurer to enjoy.
Capping off my visit to the Academy is a trip up to the 2.5-acre living roof. Up here, temperature, wind, and rain are monitored, and the entire structure is edged with solar panels. The roof contributes to the sustainability of the building by providing insulation and capturing excess rainwater. More than just functional, the roof is a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of the Academy’s interior and provides a unique chance to reflect on California’s environment while peering down at Golden Gate Park below.
Looking for a California adventure of your own? Get your tickets to the California Academy of Sciences here and be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on social media to join me on my travels.