California Academy of Science

With a certain amount of dread and trepidation, I took my three kids up to the City to check out the newly renovated California Academy of Science. Actually, I think it's been almost a year since they reopened, but based on the latest Yelp reviews it sounded like the crowds hadn't abated.

Nevertheless, with a little pre-planning, we managed to avoid most of the long lines and had a thoroughly enjoyable visit.

First off the bat, I scheduled a weekday visit and bought tickets online, printing them out at home. Upon arriving, we walked right up to the entry door, sidestepping the long line to purchase tickets. Consensus is you should arrive at 9:30am (opening time) or even earlier, but we didn't get there till 10:45am and it still worked out fine for us. But I did notice by Noon, the entry lines were very long and they were letting in only a few visitors at a time.

But on to our events of the day. Because I had a 5 year old, we couldn't see the Planetarium show (recommended for 7 and older), so we skipped that. However, for those interested in seeing the show, you'll want to head straight over to the Planetarium (where you'll most likely encounter another line) to get a ticket. There's no additional cost, but you must have a ticket in advance in order to see one of the shows shown every hour on the half hour. The same goes for the 3D Bug show on the 2nd floor. If you have two adults in your party, split up and have one stand in each line. The tickets are usually gone by Noon.

For us, we headed straight for the Rainforest. It has a Disneyland-style line that wraps around the exhibit with signs indicating how long the wait is from that point. We started at the 10 minute sign, but saw waits as long as 30-40 minutes later in the day. The exhibit covers 3-stories representing the levels of a rainforest - the Floor, the Understory and the Canopy + Emergent. The kids loved the challenge of finding the bugs, frogs, snakes and other fascinating creatures in the displays, many of which were sooo very tiny and sooo very well camouflaged. I was amazed at the sight of tropical orchids, pitcher plants and mango trees growing in our temperate San Francisco, albeit in an enclosed, controlled environment. And we all loved the eye-popping, technicolor butterflies that flitted about, close enough to touch. Don't forget to dress in layers as it gets warm and humid in the Rainforest!

After a little over an hour in the Rainforest, the kids were hungry so we found our way over to the Piazza where we managed to snag a table and chow down on the lunch I had packed and brought from home.
The museum doesn't seem to have a problem with visitors bringing their own food and drinks as I saw several people toting small coolers. It sure beats standing in another line and paying $8 for a sandwich. If the kids need some fresh air and room to run, another nice place to eat is the Academy Garden. There's one located at each end of the museum.

Other sights we saw after lunch included the Living Roof,

a Penguin feeding, the African Hall, an albino alligator,

and a Coral Reef dive.

It really is amazing what the Academy does to recreate and maintain these eco-systems. For the Phillipines Coral Reef exhibit, the second largest of its kind in the world, they employ huge industrial halide lights to simulate the abundant sunshine necessary for coral and algae to co-exist and grow.

By remembering to take a few breaks to refuel with snacks, and run around and let loose some steam, we were able to spend 6 1/2 hours at the Academy with minimum whining and maximum fun. And they didn't even fall asleep on the car ride home!

Top Tips:
  • Buy tickets online and print at home
  • Avoid weekends and Free Wednesdays, if at all possible
  • Arrive early or stay late, crowds thin appreciably after 4pm. Also, doors open till 8pm on certain days during the summer. Check the Academy website for details.
  • Grab tickets for the Planetarium and 3D Bug show first thing if you want to see those shows
  • Next, see the Rainforest and don't forget to dress in layers!
  • Bring your own food, drinks and snacks
  • Underground parking lot is convenient, but costs up to $20 for 6-7 hours and often fills up on weekends.
  • If you're willing to walk a little, there's free street parking in and around GG Park


Chris said…
I came here from your other house blog , that reno is to die for , or is it new? I don't know but it is incredible , well done , all the details sing.
Pearl said…
Thanks so much for your kind words re our remodel. We had a 1950s ranch-style house and took it down to the studs, reconfiguring the interior space, adding insulation, switching to double-pane windows and pretty much updating all the finish materials. It was definitely a labor of love!

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