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California Academy of Sciences - Golden Gate Park

California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, SF
California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco - © LoveToEatAndTravel.com

What an amazing San Francisco museum. It’s one of our favorites. Looking up at the domed ceiling and circular skylights gives you the feeling of being inside a giant spaceship. The California Academy of Sciences is located in Golden Gate Park. It’s one of San Francisco’s most spectacular and “greenest” buildings. The Academy is the only place in the world that houses one of the world’s largest Planetariums, an Aquarium and Coral Reef, a Natural History Museum, and a glass-domed Rainforest – all under the same roof.

The long multi-story rectangular structure features a central open Piazza with two enormous glass domes on either side. One houses a Rainforest, the other a Planetarium. There’s also 2.5-acres of “green” space on the Living Roof that sits atop the structure. The Academy’s open, airy galleries are filled with light and life. It’s quite stunning. There’s a lot to see here, so pace yourself. Plan on spending the whole day if you want to see everything. General admission includes access to all Museum and Aquarium exhibits, the Rainforest, the Living Roof, Planetarium Shows and daily regularly scheduled events.  

Rainforest at California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Rainforest at California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, SF - © LoveToEatAndTravel.com

Rainforest, The Swamp, Natural History Museum & Penguins


The magnificent Rainforest is one of the Academy’s highlights. It’s our favorite area of the museum. Get an up-close view of animals and plants from the rainforests of Borneo, Costa Rica and Madagascar. The Rainforest is filled with more than 40 species of free-flying birds, including hummingbirds, and beautiful multi-colored butterflies. One of the most beautiful butterflies in the Rainforest is the giant aqua Blue Morpho (pictured below on Barry’s shoulder). It’s truly spectacular! You may want to start your museum visit at the Rainforest. It’s very popular. Expect to wait in line during peak times.

Blue Morpho Butterfly at California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, SF
Blue Morpho Butterfly in the Rainforest at California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, SF - © LoveToEatAndTravel.com

The Swamp

The Swamp exhibit is located on the museum’s lower level. See Claude, a rare albino White Alligator. The Swamp features a variety of swamp creatures, including white snakes, frogs, large snapping turtles, and salamanders. 

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum includes the African Hall, Special Changing Exhibits and the Naturalist Center. African Hall features recreations of animals in their natural settings. See African dioramas showcasing zebras, gorillas, lions, and leopards.

South African Penguin Colony

The Penguin Colony is located at the far end of African Hall, on Level 1. Be sure to visit the penguins during feeding times. That’s when they are at their most playful. Each feeding takes about 20 minutes. Questions are encouraged. Your kids will love it!

Steinhart Aquarium

Amazon-Flooded Rainforest

Steinhart Aquarium is located below ground level, one level down from the Academy’s main floor. Visit its amazing underwater Amazon-flooded Forest. Walk under the 25-ft. long Tunnel of Fish. And gaze up through the 100,000-gallon Amazonian tank to watch fish swim overhead.  Get an incredible view of the Amazon-flooded Forest, its creatures – and the Rainforest high above.

Coral Reef

Visit the aquarium’s beautiful Coral Reef. It’s the biggest in the nation and the deepest in the world. See over 3,000 exotic fish, small sharks, a giant octopus, jellyfish, anacondas, giant catfish, piranhas, electric eels, and  spotted stingrays. Coral Reef Dives take place twice daily. Watch as a diver in scuba gear plunges into the exhibit to feed the fish and anemones. A walkway on Level 1, overlooking the tropical Coral Reef, meanders its way around the outer area of the Planetarium.

Aquarium at California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Amazon-Flooded Rainforest at Steinhart Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, SF - © LoveToEatAndTravel.com

Morrison Planetarium

Get a unique wrap-around visual experience of planet Earth and outer space inside one of the world’s largest planetariums. The Morrison Planetarium features a 75-foot-wide 180° screen and state-of-the-art digital projection system. It allows viewers to visit earth and beyond. And to see our solar system like never before! Inside the Planetarium, every seat is a good seat. However, for the best view and sound, make your way to the middle center seating. Sit back. Relax. And enjoy the show. It runs for about 35-minutes and it’s over before you know it.

Expect to wait in line during peak times, weekends and holidays. Lines start near the swinging Pendulum and wrap around the walkway along the Planetarium’s outer sphere. Typically, the first show of the day is the one to catch if you don’t want to wait too long in line. The shows are extremely popular. We recommend that you get your ticket when you arrive at the museum before they sell out. Tickets are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Living Roof

Take the elevator to the Academy’s Roof level to see the unique 2.5-acre “green” Living Roof. Seven domes resembling small hills sit atop the facility. Two larger domes dominate the area. One houses a Rainforest, the other a Planetarium. The rooftop provides a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including birds and butterflies. And it serves as an exhibit on environmental sustainability and biodiversity. Skylights that open and close throughout the day allow sunlight to stream through to the Rainforest and exhibits below. 

The Living Roof features almost two million native California plant species. They include perennial plants and colorful native wildflowers. Get an up-close look at the roof’s lush canopy of plants and beautiful native wildflowers. Depending on the season, visitors may see beautiful California Poppies. Enjoy a bird’s eye view of Golden Gate Park, the Music Concourse (and Bandshell) and the de Young Museum atop the Living Roof’s open-air Observation Terrace. It’s a perfect spot for taking pictures. 

More Info

Visit the California Academy of Sciences website for more info on ticket prices, hours, directions, exhibits and special events.

California Academy of Sciences

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