One of the United States' premier science and natural history museums, the California Academy of Sciences holds a fascinating collection of 38,000 natural wonders. With its Morrison Planetarium, Steinhart Aquarium, four-story rain forest dome, and open-air, green "living roof," the academy is a highlight for many visitors to San Francisco.
There's much to see and do at the academy, so a full-day visit is recommended. Check out the largest spherical rain forest exhibit in the world, where the air is humid and tropical birds and butterflies fly overhead. Or, enter the all-digital planetarium for special exhibits and an astronaut's view of Earth. Other highlights include the aquarium's California Coast, Philippine Coral Reef, and Water-World tanks; the penguins in the African Hall, and the museum's most popular resident Claude, an albino American alligator. Travelers can visit with a general admission ticket, take a behind-the-scenes tour, or stop by as part of a hop-on hop-off bus tour.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Cal Academy is great for kids and makes for a prime family outing in San Francisco.
The museum's two restaurants serve food throughout the day.
Hop-on hop-off bus tours stop near the museum, providing an easy way to get out to the site's location in Golden Gate Park, which is about five miles (8 km) from downtown.
Entry is included with the San Francisco CITYPass.
While you're in Golden Gate Park, take some time to visit other top attractions such as Stow Lake or the Japanese Tea Garden.
How to Get There
The California Academy of Sciences is located on the west side of the Golden Gate Park, about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) from Union Square. While set away from central San Francisco, the park is easily accessible via public transportation on the #44 or #5 bus or the N-Judah Muni Metro streetcar. From the Embarcadero, expect about a 30-minute drive by road to the museum or a 40-minute public transit ride.
When to Get There
The Cal Academy of Science is open daily from 9:30am to 5pm, with an 11am opening on Sunday. Daily programs such as planetarium shows and penguin feedings take place between 10:30am and 4:30pm (check the day's schedule upon arrival).
NightLife at the Cal Academy of Sciences
Every Thursday night, the academy hosts NightLife, an adults-only even that combines museum entry with themed activities and drinks, often with expert speakers, workshops, and live music or a DJ. The even is suited for adults aged 21 and over only.