California Academy of Sciences

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With a platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the California Academy of Sciences is a clear example of practicing what you preach. A museum dedicated to natural history and preservation, this leader in the green movement will offer visitors a healthy combination of educational opportunity and fun.


When they opened their new 400,000 square foot facility in Golden Gate Park on 27 September 2008, the success of the California Academy of Sciences in bringing education and prestige to the San Francisco area was already clearly established. Originally called the California Academy of Natural Sciences, this cultural institution has been part of the San Francisco landscape since 1853, a mere three years following California’s statehood.

The first museum sponsored by the society, which was the first of its kind in the western U.S., opened at the corner of Dupont and California Streets in the city proper, an area which is now part of Chinatown. The museum was immensely popular from the outset, hosting upwards of 80,000 visitors each year from the beginning. The Academy was also highly admired for its progressive leanings as it was steadfast in its support of the role of women in science, even in the 19th century.

The move to Golden Gate Park came in 1916 when the institution took over the North American Hall of Birds and Mammals in that area, which would remain its home through the present day, though the campus has grown significantly since then. In 1923 they added the Steinhart Aquarium followed by the Simson African Hall in 1934. Then, following the Second World War, even more growth came to the Academy with the addition of the Science Hall in 1951, the Morrison Planetarium the next year (1951) and Eastwood Hall of Botany, Malliard Library, and Livermore Room in 1959.

Tragedy struck the Academy during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, however, and this significantly damaged many of its buildings. Though it would take decades to truly recover from that loss, the events of that year directly led to the complete destruction and resurrection of the new Academy buildings in the 2000s, a rebuild of truly massive proportions. In fact, beginning in 2005, the Golden Gate Park campus of the Academy closed its doors completely and temporarily moving to 875 Howard Street until the reopening in September 2008.

Today, the California Academy of Sciences operates a campus which includes 400,000 square feet of space that covers their natural science exhibits as well as the aquarium, planetarium, and a 4-story rain forest. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the new Academy buildings are the picture of modern engineering and environmental efficiency. The construction has been recognized on numerous occasions for its green features including its use of recycled rain water, massive utilization of natural lighting, the use of recycled materials in construction, and a 50% reduction in its waste water production from the old facilities.

Main Attraction

The sheer size of the California Academy of Sciences foretells the amount of activities that this attraction offers to visitors. Both a world-class museum with over 26 million specimens on rotational display and an important research institution, the Academy does an excellent job of blending its mission to inform, educate, and contribute to the fields within the natural sciences.

Visitors to the Academy have several choices when viewing the museum and its amazing features. General admission is required for all visitors over the age of 3, though discounts are offered for children (ages 4-11) as well as teens and seniors. Admittance to all areas, including the planetarium and rainforest exhibit, is included with general admission prices. However, tickets to planetarium shows are offered first come, first served, and tend to disappear quickly.

There are also two, distinct options that visitors may consider for a truly memorable Academy experience. The first option, the Behind-the-scenes and Adventure tours allow adults and children over age 8 the unprecedented opportunity to see the inner workings of the museum, its research, and conservation efforts. This includes tours of the aquarium specifically as well as the Academy itself.

The other option, called Night Life, is only open to adults ages 21+. This once-per-week event is held each Thursday from 6-10 pm and includes live music, cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres as well as a themed look at Academy initiatives as well as fund raisers.

Why It’s a Must-See

Whether you are a true “science geek” or merely someone who enjoys the wonders of our natural world, the options at the California Academy of Sciences include something from you. Offering everything from planetarium shows to cocktail hours, this premier San Francisco attraction is a one-of-a-kind chance to make some excellent memories.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

Save up to 20% online at Smart Destinations. If you add more than one attraction to the cart, you will get an automatic savings of up to 20%. It’s called Make Your Own Pass.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from California Academy of Sciences either online or in person.
Purchase a Tourist pass. The California Academy of Sciences is available on the Go SF Card and SF CityPass