No trip to the Bay Area is, for our family, complete without visiting The California Academy of Sciences. I’ve loved it since I first went as a 13-year-old, and visited regularly to lose myself in the exhibits during college.
Plan on spending a whole day, or the better part of one, at this renowned scientific and educational institution dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on Earth. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in scientific research and education—all under one living roof.
Now, I am pleased to bring my 11-year-old to experience the wonder of the indoor rainforest (though we pretty much live in one at home), aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but Olivia and I liked the crystal display. “Gems and Minerals Unearthed” – part of the section called the Kimball Natural History Museum- boasts nearly 400 dazzling and dramatic specimens from the Academy’s geology collection, from iconic gems to newly-displayed natural wonders. From silver and copper to amethyst and azurite, the exhibit also aims to explain how gems are more than just brilliant and beautiful, but also essential to our daily lives.
Another fun, interactive exhibit in the Kimball Natural History Museum is The Shake House. You can actually walk into a house recreated to look like a Victorian-era “Painted Lady” house, then feel about a minute’s worth of the tremors of San Francisco’s biggest quake, the 7.9-magnitude Great San Francisco quake of 1906.
Right after that one, the exhibit demonstrates the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. I lived through that one, and was curious to actually feel again a temblor of that size.
Doesn’t seem like much when you know it’s a museum exhibit, but when it’s for real, it’s frightening. I remember the day clearly: my mother and I were in the hallway of our Campbell home when it struck. The earth emitted a primal, rumbling sound, and the house shook like the walls of a carnival fun house.
Moving out of the Natural History section, we entered the Osher Rainforest, set under a 90-foot-diameter glass dome- the largest rainforest exhibit in the world. Noisy blue macaws announce your entrance on the ground floor. A spiral ramp leads visitors up four stories, giving a close up look at some of the more than 1,600 plants and animals who call it home, including free-flying birds, golden silk orb-weaver spiders, butterflies, taxicab-like sun beetles, leafcutter ants, and an Amazonian tree boa.
From there, we walked to the basement for the aquarium exhibits. The jewel of the collection is the Steinhart Aquarium, showing off the world’s most vibrant, vital ecosystems from the heart of San Francisco. One of the most biologically diverse and interactive aquariums on Earth, it has nearly 40,000 live animals representing more than 900 unique species.
Our time here was too short, but always interesting and fun. This world-class museum is a wonderful resource, connecting young and old to the wonders of the natural world, and inspiring a lifelong appreciation for science.
More at https://www.calacademy.org/.