Visitors to San Francisco traveling with either families and or who have an interest in all things science and biology should check out the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The California Academy of Sciences bills itself as one of the largest Natural History Museums in the world and has been in existence since 1853.
The museum offers a diverse portfolio of attractions that range from a gigantic underground aquarium (known as the Steinhart Aquarium) to a complete replica of a natural rain forest complete with colorful birds and parrots as well as long thin green snakes.
One of the most popular exhibits at the Academy that just recently opened is that of the Earthquake exhibit. San Francisco and California as a whole are no strangers to earthquakes. The exhibit offers several interactive modules that allow visitors to learn about plate tectonics as well as effects of earthquakes on buildings. However the crown jewel of the exhibit is the shake table where guests can actually sit in a mock living room and ride through 2 earthquakes-the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake (measuring 8.3) and the 1989 Loma Prieta (or also known as World Series Earthquake that was 7.1). This shake table first made its appearance the museum in the 1980s, closed and has recently reopened in 2012. (Editors note: when we visited the shake table in October of 2012 to ride and update for this article it was closed).
One of the must sees of the Academy is the Rainforests of the World exhibit. Located just inside the entrance, the Rainforests of the World exhibit is housed in a biosphere of sorts that is completely enclosed by glass and netting. Once inside visitors can walk a spiraling ramp that goes up 2 stories to the top and look down into the rain forest of actual live trees. Through the exhibit are thousands of butterflies, hundreds of bright colored birds, several McCaw’s and enclosed acrylic aquariums featuring various snakes, toads and insects from the rainforests all over the world. When leaving the exhibit, academy staff check every person out to make sure no stray butterflies attached themselves before allowing the exit back into the main museum.
Other exhibits of note are the dinosaurs exhibit as well as a built in river near the entrance that is intended as a microcosm of the ocean where visitors can see sharks and sting rays up close and personal. The Academy offers several tours throughout the day as well as lectures. Monday through Friday can be busy as several large school groups usually visit on their field trips from all over the San Francisco Bay Area.
How Touristy Is it:
Not too touristy. Most tourists head for the cable cars and Fisherman’s Wharf first. Its ideal if with large family and have seen the sights of San Francisco. Also ideal if you are a total natural history buff. If already in Golden Gate Park, worth a stop.