It’s not just for children
California Academy of Sciences
Neil Wiley

If you have children, chances are you have visited the California Academy of Sciences at least once. You know all about the albino alligator named Claude, the funny little penguins in the African Hall, and the colorful birds who call as you walk through the rainforests of Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica, and the flooded Amazon

You family may have explored swamps, coral reefs, and the California coast. You may have rested in the underwater tunnel while watching fish and turtles swim overhead. You may have taken your youngsters through the children’s gallery and the activity area known as the Early Explorer’s Cove, designed especially for children five and under.

It’s great to see children’s joy as they experience the wonders of the life sciences, natural history, geology, and astronomy. Learning was never so outright fun.

Adults enjoy these experiences, too, but I think we can appreciate other aspects of a visit to the Academy. For me, it begins with the architecture. The building is filled with amazing spaces and glowing light. It lifts your spirits. Walking through the exhibits reflects the diversity of life.
The use of sustainable architecture shows the potential of energy-saving technologies, recycled materials, and design that blends with its environment, including transparent views within and out of the structure. It features a living roof with over 1.7 million native plants. It’s not surprising that the U.S. Building Council has given the Academy its LEED platinum award.

Another highlight is the planetarium. This is not your old single-projector system. This planetarium uses multiple digital projectors to form a seamless image covering a 75-foot dome. It goes way beyond IMAX. On our visit we could choose from an exploration of our own planet or a tour of the universe. Either one is a trip worth taking.

Our 55-plus group also took a behind-the-scenes tour that added more depth to the experience. We saw some of the Academy’s 20-million research specimens, walked catwalks above the exhibits, visited working labs, and learned a lot from a qualified guide. You can arrange a tour, get tickets, and find more information at

Food is available at the Academy Café and The Terraces. The café is actually a food court with ten self-service counters. It’s efficient and better than most fast food.

One ticket pays for the natural history museum, aquarium exhibits, and planetarium shows. Prices are $34.95 for adults, $29.95 for youth ages 12 to 17 and seniors, and $24.95 for children. The parking garage at Fulton and 10th Avenue charges $5 an hour on weekdays, $6 an hour on weekends.

The Academy is easy to find. Drive Highway 280 north to 19th Avenue. When you reach Golden Gate Park, turn right on Martin Luther King Drive, then left at Music Concourse Drive. To park at the Music Concourse parking facility, bear right just beyond Shrader Street and turn right to Stanyan Street. Go two blocks and make a left turn to Fulton Street. Take Fulton to 10th Avenue, then turn left into the parking facility. For more parking information, visit

Go science!