The California Academy of Sciences (CAS) is “an aquarium, rainforest, planetarium, and natural history museum–all under one living roof.”
The building itself is a modern marvel with its 2.5 acre ‘living roof’ comprised entirely of native plants, grasses, and shrubs and its LEED-certified design makes it the world’s greenest museum.
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Tips for Visiting the California Academy of Sciences
- Get to the Academy early to get a timed ticket to the Planetarium Show and beat the largest crowds.
- Download the free Academy Insider App for iPhone to enhance your visit. This app contains exhibit info, self-guided tours, a live daily programs feed, museum maps, and more.
- Outside food and beverages are welcome in the Academy and can be consumed at designated areas in the museum in the indoor Piazza and outdoor eating area. Water fountains are located on level 1 next to the elevators.
- Dress in layers. The rainforest exhibit is hot and humid so you’ll appreciate being able to lighten up a bit when you’re exploring.
- Tips for visiting with a family:
- Strollers are not available for rent at the Academy, but they are allowed in the museum (with the exception of the Shake House exhibit). Elevators are located next to the Academy Café and the Swamp.
- Changing tables are available in all restrooms on the museum floor and a family restroom next to the swamp
- Check the calendar of events online to see if you can coordinate your visit with any fun upcoming events, like last year’s ‘Tis the Season for Science events such as reindeer on the roof around the holidays.
- Planning a class field trip? Check out the Academy’s grade-specific Free Educator Guides.
What to Do There
The Academy is home to lots of fun, fascinating, and informative exhibits as it’s the only place in the world where you can explore an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum all under one roof. A few exhibit highlights include:
Tusher African Hall
Play the livestream above for a sneak peek at the African Hall’s most popular exhibit–a colony of African penguins. In addition to the playful penguins, the African Hall explores other African wildlife and the evolution of the human species with immersive dioramas portraying scenes from 7 million years ago to today.
Insider tip: visit this exhibit around 10:30 am or 3:00 pm to catch the penguins’ daily feeding and an informative presentation and feel free to ask the knowledgeable trainers questions.
Color of Life
Learn about the different roles that color plays among different species of the live animals and environments in this exhibit.
You’ll be able to explore how color affects animal behavior, how it’s used for communication, attraction, choosing a mate, camouflaging, and more to help species survive and thrive.
Whales: Giants of the Deep
Check out the massive collection of whale skeletons in the immersive and informative whale exhibit. You’ll find out the functions they serve in the ocean food chain, what threatens difference species’ well being, and the work that Academy scientists are doing to help protect these large animals.
The Academy’s 75-foot dome is a way to experience the cosmos like never before on one of the most accurate and immersive digital universes. Shows at the Planetarium explore a range of topics, including traditional star shows and special films, live broadcasts from Academy scientists in the field, or films that explore the fragile ecosystems of the planet Earth.
Insider tip: as soon as you arrive at the Academy, be sure to stop by the Planetarium kiosk when you arrive to receive your timed ticket for a show.
What to expect: the dome itself mimicks the tilt of planet Earth and the frame of the dome supports a NanoSeam projection screen which portrays a seamless picture for a true-to-life view. Visitors have described a sensation of flying when watching a presentation in the Morrison Planetarium.
Kimball Natural History Museum
Experience what it feels like to be caught San Francisco’s two biggest earthquakes, a 6.9 and 7.9-magnitude, from inside The Shake House, a Victorian era “Painted Lady” house. Next, explore what’s under the Earth’s surface in the walk-through replica that illustrates the forces and phenomena that drive the movement of tectonic plates.
Housed within an impressive, 90-foot diameter glass dome, this four-story neotropical rainforest is the largest of its kind in the world. With temperatures of 82-85 degrees and humidity at 75% and above, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to an actual rainforest.
The dome contains three levels of rainforest from three distinct ecosystems: a Bornean forest floor, a Madagascan mid-story, and the canopy of a Costa Rican forest. In addition to diverse plant life, the rainforest is home to over 1,600 animals, including 250 free-flying birds and butterflies and almost 100 exotic reptiles and amphibians.
Get an amazing underwater view of aquatic life. The Steinhard Aquarium is one of the most biologically diverse and interactive aquariums in the world with nearly 40,000 animals and 900 unique species.
Be sure to check out the Philippine Coral Reef, a 25-foot deep tank featuring a large, live coral ecosystem. You’ll see colorful fish native of the coral reefs and mangroves of the Philippines, one of the most diverse reef ecosystems in the world.
Insider tip: head to the lower level of this exhibit at 11:30 am or 2:30 pm to catch the daily Coral Reef Dive. A diver will plunge in the tank and answer any reef-related questions.
Learn about the power of green on the iconic “Living Roof” of the California Academy of Sciences. The roof consists entirely of California native grasses, shrubs, and plants that make an inviting home for many local wildlife, including birds, insects, butterflies, people, and more.
Meet an albino alligator, known as Claude, colorful freshwater fish, reptiles, arachnids, and alligator snapping turtles that live in the Swamp.
Go to the lower level of this exhibit for an underwater eye-to-eye view of Claude and more of the Swamp’s other wildlife. You’ll learn all about Claude’s albinism and life in American swamps for alligators, how the alligator snapping turtles have strategically evolved to entice prey, and more.
Insider tip: gather beneath the moss-draped bald cypress to catch a presentation about the life of the American alligator, 3:30 pm daily.
Things to Do Nearby
The California Academy of Sciences is located in Golden Gate Park, the largest park in the country. Make a day of exploring the park and all the attractions inside by checking off all of the top things to do in Golden Gate Park:
- Picnic in the park. Find a comfortable spot to park yourself for a mid-afternoon break and take in your surroundings.
- Explore all things art at the world-class de Young Museum, located right across the way from the CAS and stop by the Japanese Tea Garden and San Francisco Botanical Garden nearby, too.
- Take a stroll through the Conservatory of Flowers for an up close look at the seasonal blossoms.
- Rent a bike for the day and use it to make the most of your time at the park by biking around to each attraction and getting to know the trails (the CAS even has a camera security area to lock bikes).
- Check out the Dutch wind mills near Ocean Beach on the westernmost side of the park.
- Let the kids run around and get out any extra energy at the Koret Children’s Quarter Playground on the easternmost side of the park.
Check out our San Francisco neighborhoods guide and plan to visit attractions by area to get the most out of your trip. We also have a guide for getting around San Francisco to help plan, too.
Places to Eat Nearby
If you’re planning to spend the day at the California Academy of Sciences and Golden Gate Park, there are a couple of dining options nearby, including:
Academy Café – Head to the Academy Café for an indoor-outdoor setting and family-friendly fare with a menu that highlights local, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients year-round. Their menu is a great way to experience the food cultures of California regions and San Francisco.
The Terrace – Admission to the Academy gets you access to The Terrace, a farm-to-table dining experience with easy, fast-casual service. Located in the Academy’s West Garden, you can dine amidst sculptures by artist Maya Lin and enjoy the weather and beautiful views. Insider tip: Happy Hour is daily from 2:00 pm-4:00 pm, buy a glass of wine or beer and get a second free.
de Young Café – Located in the de Young Museum, the de Young Café, features a variety of American and European classic dining options for morning, mid-day, and afternoon.
Pack a picnic - One of the best ways to experience the Golden Gate Park like a local is to pack a picnic lunch and dine al fresco. There are lots of grassy areas, benches, and inviting places to pull up a blade of grass and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Save on Admission
No trip to San Francisco is complete without experiencing the California Academy of Sciences.
Save up to 55% with the Go San Francisco® Card All-Inclusive Pass or San Francisco Explorer Pass®, depending on the pass you choose, on combined admission to the Academy and other top museums, tours, cruises, and activities. Pay nothing at the gate.
Or, Build Your Own Pass and save 20% guaranteed when you buy two or more attractions together.