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Learn About California Academy of Sciences Museum, Savings and More

February 27, 2024 By CityPASS

It's a planetarium; it's a natural history museum; it's an aquarium—wait, it's the California Academy of Sciences! This San Francisco science museum is several institutions wrapped up in one—perfect for the indecisive and curious.

The oldest museum in California, this mainstay has been delighting guests since it opened its doors in the mid-19th century as a learned society (an organization that promotes an academic discipline or profession.) Today, the California Academy of Sciences is among one of the largest natural history museums in the world, boasting over 46 million specimens. If you're excited about visiting museums in San Francisco, definitely add this one to your list.

California Academy of Sciences Aquarium

You'll feel as if you're a part of the ocean while exploring the exceptional exhibits in the California Academy of Sciences aquarium. The 25-foot deep Philippine Coral Reef is a perennial favorite. Hundreds of species of aquatic life, including fish, anemones, eels, and, of course, coral live inside this 212,000-gallon tank, and you'll get to admire them sans diving equipment. For an extra treat, make sure you catch one of the diving shows, held twice daily. Check the official website for showtimes.

Another must-see is The Swamp, the home of an albino alligator named Claude. Along with this French-monikered ivory-colored predator, you'll get to learn about alligator snapping turtles, snakes, salamanders, and even fearsome arachnids.

California Academy of Sciences Morrison Planetarium

Explore the outer ridges of our galaxy without ever leaving California! Inside this massive 75-foot dome, you'll be transfixed by the stunning visualizations of the latest findings and scientific theories about the universe. The dome itself is made of 100% recycled steel and is positioned at the same angle as the Earth for a more authentic experience.

Whether you catch the expert lecture series or the latest movie spilling the secrets of the cosmos, the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences is truly an out-of-this-world experience.

Osher Rainforest at the California Academy of Sciences

A giant glass dome stretches to the sky, teeming with over 1,600 types of florae and faunae, including a slithering boa constrictor (keep an eye out!). Expect to see birds flying free, brightly colored butterflies at all stages of life, and magnificently lush tropical plants everywhere you look. Journey down four flights (by elevator) to the floor of this Amazonian wonder and take a peek at the animals that call it home. Just make sure to wear layers when visiting the Osher Rainforest exhibit. In order to keep the plants and animals comfortable, the Academy keeps the air humid and at temperatures above 80 at all times.

California Academy of Sciences Kimball Natural History Museum

A California Science Museum without a natural history component is like the sunshine state without the sun. Leveraging over 150 years of scientific research, the Kimball Natural History Museum highlights top discoveries that supercharged humankind's understanding of the natural world.

Gaze at the Foucault pendulum, whose movement is proof of the Earth's rotations, or admire the dioramas depicting the history of African evolution in Tusher African Hall. Also in Tusher: a colony of live African penguins you can watch toddle around! From the 87-foot long blue whale skeleton to a live lab where you can watch real scientists conducting research, there's never a dull moment.

Making the Most of Your Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

California's most popular science museum is open 365 days a year; for operating hours check the official website. With all the fun events and shows, you may want to plan for a full day to explore, but at the very least, you'll need a few hours. Try to get there early on the weekends to avoid crowds and get your choice of Planetarium shows. On weekdays, aim to arrive after 2pm to miss the school trip tour groups. The California Academy of Sciences will appeal to all ages, but kids will especially get a kick out of the Osher Rainforest and the live animals of The Swamp.

Can You Bring Food Into California Academy of Science

The California Academy of Sciences offers food options and indoor and outdoor seating. You can also bring your own food so feel free to pack snacks and treats for you and your family to enjoy.

California Academy of Sciences Tickets

You can buy tickets for the California Academy of Sciences online via their website or at the ticket office when you arrive on site. (It's best to buy online in advance so you don't have to waste valuable exploring time waiting in the queue.)

Keen on discounted California Academy of Sciences tickets? Consider San Francisco CityPASS® tickets, which offers admission to the Academy as well as to other top tourist haunts, including the Aquarium of the Bay, Exploratorium, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at a significant savings off regular gate prices.

California Academy of Sciences Parking

California Academy of Sciences parking can be a little dicey, as there is only one underground lot—the Music Concourse Garage—which fills up quickly on weekends and holidays. Limited street parking is available within Golden Gate Park, but consider biking or taking public transportation to avoid parking frustration.

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is more than a museum. It's a dynamic, ever-changing vessel for groundbreaking research and exhibiting the magnificence of the natural world. If you choose just one museum to visit in the Fog City, make it the Academy.

Nearby Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in San Francisco, we recommend finding lodging near San Francisco's top attractions like California Academy of Sciences. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Get a Discount on California Academy of Sciences With CityPASS® Tickets

While this famous San Francisco science museum is well worth full-price admission, you can score tickets for less with San Francisco CityPASS® tickets. Save close to half on the California Academy of Sciences and top San Francisco attractions including the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, the Aquarium of the Bay, the Exploratorium, and more! Grab your San Francisco CityPASS® tickets and get ready to experience more, for less!

Header image © Tim Griffith

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