The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is one of the largest museums of natural history in the world and the only place with an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all under one roof. When it became time to decide on my birthday celebration with Christopher and Rebecca it is no wonder that I chose a Thursday night here.
On Thursday evenings from 6-10 pm the Academy hosts a NightLife event which is open to adults 21 and older (read this to mean no strollers). There are no host bars strategically placed throughout, restaurants are open, music is abundant and most of these evenings are themed (this one was a holiday themed Bazaar Bizarre [note the Snowman] with Indie Designers and DIY craft stations). You can reserve your tickets in advance, but if you want planetarium tickets you must buy them upon arrival and they do sell out quickly. The crowds are minimal, admission is very reasonable – like being at a private party. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the median age is well under 30. So people as well as fish viewing is fantastic! I didn’t know if you could bring a camera so I didn’t – you can although there are several places where pics are not allowed (no sea horse pictures!). So, the best vehicle for picture taking we had was an iPhone.
I have been here many times – too numerous to count or even remember and I love it. As a child, a young adult, then as a mother when Christopher was a child and on more than one occasion for private events. However, all this was before September 2008 when the completely rebuilt (many of the buildings were damaged significantly in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake) Academy re-opened – the new building totals over 400,000 square feet (look at the difference in the pictures of the two buildings). For months lines were miles long and many were turned away. I did not even attempt to go. Now, I was in heaven; what a great birthday present! Not to mention I had my own personal guide who had been since it had been remodeled, but most importantly remembered what it was like before and all the things we loved about it.
Many of my favourite things were still there: the Foucault pendulum, the tide pool tank and African Hall. Others are gone like the insect room, the fish roundabout, the crystal and mineral hall, many dinosaur exhibits as well as the space exhibits, the earthquake simulator (guess they didn’t want to be reminded) and all the wonderful reptile and amphibians that used to be displayed in the central hall as you entered (these displays are now scattered throughout). I just remembered, I didn’t see the Far Side Cartoon exhibit by Gary Larson. Before the remodel, there was a fun run, “Run to the Far Side” in the Park in late November that benefited the Academy and each year the long sleeve race tee shirt featured a Gary Larson cartoon. They have become collector’s items and I have still have a few of them.
The Steinhart Aquarium takes up most of the basement area as well as the four story dome that is the rainforest. Claude, the albino alligator, joined the museum when it re-opened. Morrison Planetarium is still going strong (it was the seventh to open in the U.S. in 1952) as is the Kimball Natural History Museum. There is also a 2.5 acre green roof. It was not lit up Thursday night, but it was a crystal clear night and there were two telescopes set up and we were able to see Jupiter and its moons and well as the Seven Sisters Constellation.
I could spend hours looking at the jelly fish, sea horses, star fish, coral reefs not to mention Lemondrop, the bright yellow albino python. I think another excursion will be on the agenda in 2012 adding the Planetarium. If the Thursday night event does not appeal to you (though I do give it a huge shout out), the Academy is open every day and it’s free the 3rd Wednesday of the month and based on your SF zip code there are Neighbourhood Free Days as well. Do visit!