California Academy of Sciences exhibits from sea to space inspire citizen scientists

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.

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Diane Ako

Peace of mind By Diane Ako I like to reflect on life. Sometimes it’s philosophically. Sometimes it’s humorously. For all its beauty, life is far too difficult a journey to take alone. You need the support and connection with others to help carry you along the way. Writing brings me that connection– within and without. It clarifies my thoughts and feelings. It helps me reach out to others for advice, wisdom, or feedback. Your thoughts become your actions. Your actions become you. A wise yogi- Patanjali- said, “Speak what is true. Speak what is pleasant.” Let’s speak of things pleasant to one another and seek some peace of mind along the way. ABOUT Diane Ako joined Hawaii: In Real Life in October 2016. She likes being part of a community of local bloggers – people who like writing and sharing, like she does. Ako is an anchor/ reporter at Island News (KITV4 – ABC) in Honolulu. She previously anchored and reported at KHON2 (FOX) and KHNL (NBC), and at stations in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She freelance writes for NMG Network's magazines. In between news jobs, in 2017, she launched and ran her own p.r. company, Diane Ako PR. From 2010-2014, she headed the public relations department at Halekulani Corporation, which oversees luxury resort Halekulani and boutique hotel Waikiki Parc. She’s been blogging since 2009 – before Hawaii: IRL, she wrote for The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the state’s largest daily newspaper, where her stories garnered a dozen journalism awards and an Emmy nomination. Ako has a BA in Communications from Menlo College and an MA in Political Science from University of Hawaii at Manoa. She volunteers as a board member of the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation, a Shinto shrine maiden at Daijingyu Temple, a citizen-scientist studying shrimp, and a yoga teacher at a senior center.

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