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    California Academy of Sciences by Renzo Piano: guide to the visit

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    Martí Micolau

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    Un aquarium, a huge tropical forest with animals of all kinds, a planetary, for an natural History Museum it's a research institute all in one place? Yes, it is possible and it is in San Francisco: it is there California Academy of Sciences, one of the largest and oldest natural history museums in the United States. Doesn't that seem enough to you? Then you must also know that by visiting the museum you will enter one of the most eco-sustainable buildings in the world, designed by Renzo Piano and inaugurated in 2008.


    • What is the California Academy of Sciences
    • Where is it and how to get there
    • Timetables and tickets
    • Why visit and what to see
    • Where to sleep in the area

    What is the California Academy of Sciences

    The California Academy of Science, the California Academy of Sciences, was Founded in 1853 aboard a sailing ship in the waters of San Francisco. The academy's motto has always been that of regenerate the natural world through science, learning and collaboration.

    Over the years, the earthquakes that unfortunately frequently hit this area have damaged the museum premises. The last one was closed after the 1989 earthquake until 2008 when the museum reopened with the current settings that you can still admire today. The new headquarters were designed by the internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano who decided to build a building that blended perfectly with the external environment, the Golden Gate Park, and was a leading example of eco-sustainable architecture. The materials used are innovative and allow to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact. Some examples? There are on the roof 60.000 photovoltaic cells, inside the building there is a automated ventilation system which allows the windows to open and close according to the internal temperature and to circulate the air, the heating is underfloor, the thermal glazing they go from floor to ceiling allowing natural light to illuminate the interior areas.

    Perhaps the most obvious peculiarity, however, is the evocatively named garden roof of the museum ‘Living Roof’. With rounded shapes to house the planetarium and the rainforest, this 'living roof' is a mantle of grass and local plants that ensures energy efficiency as well as hosting birds and animals of various kinds and being aesthetically very beautiful.

    Where is it and how to get there

    The California Academy of Sciences is located in Golden Gate Park, exactly al 55 Music Concourse Drive. We are in the heart of San Francisco and the museum is easily accessible by public transportation.

    In bus you can take:

    • 44 O'Shaughnessy and get off in front of the Academy (if heading north) or on the opposite side opposite the (Young Museum) if heading south;
    • 5 Fulton and get off at Fulton Street / 8th Avenue. In about 5 minutes on foot you will reach the Academy of Sciences;
    • 7 Haight and get off at Lincoln Way / 9th Avenue stop. You will be at the south entrance of the park and you will have to walk about 7 minutes to reach the Academy;

    In metro you can take the N Judah Metro and get off at 9th Avenue / Irving Street. The museum is about 10 minutes walk from the metro station.

    If you prefer not to walk too much, remember that inside the park there is a free shuttle, the Golden Gate Park Shuttle, which has a stop right outside the entrance to the California Academy of Sciences.

    Golden Gate Park is also renowned for its bike paths so an idea might be to rent a bicycle for a few hours and enjoy the park without traffic and smog. There are bicycle parking spaces on Music Concord Drive and Nancy Pelosi Drive.

    If you are in auto, you can park at Music Concourse Garage which is located a few steps from the main entrance of the museum. The entrances to the car park are on Fulton Street and 10th Avenue if you are coming from the north and between Music Concourse Drive and MLK Drive if you are coming from the south. While during the weekends it is almost impossible to find a parking space on the street and therefore I recommend that you go directly to the Music Concourse Garage, on weekdays you may find free and free seats along Nancy Pelosi Drive, MLK Drive or Stow Lake Drive then try your luck. If you have bags or bags don't leave them in the car - the Academy of Science has lockers available for $ 8.

    Here are some further tips for getting around the city:

    • Getting around in San Francisco
    • How to rent a bike in San Francisco
    • Tips for car rental in San Francisco
    • Where to park in San Francisco

    Timetables and tickets


    Buy museum tickets

    The California Academy of Science is open every day of the year, including holidays, at the following times:

    • from Monday to Saturday from 9:30 to 17:00;
    • Sunday from 11:00 to 17:00.

    Remember that the last admission to the museum is at 16:00 and that to visit the Morrison Planetarium it is necessary to book a specific time among those scheduled for the shows. Just scan the QR code in the lobby at the entrance. I advise you to do it as soon as you arrive so that you can easily choose the time you prefer.

    The museum organizes i Nightlife Events every Thursday evening from 18:00 to 22:00 for people over 21 years old. Also, if you want you can buy the Nightlife VIP Experiences: admission on Thursdays at 18:00 or 18:30 for those over 21 with 2 free cocktails, relaxation in a reserved area on the roof, a tour to discover the museum's collections, priority entry to the Rainforest and various other 'benefits '.

    To respect the rest times of the animals present, the Osher Rainforest is open from 10:00 to 16:45 from Monday to Saturday and from 11:00 to 16:45 on Sundays. During the Nightlife Events it is open between 18:00 and 19:45.

    Il cost of the ticket to visit the California Academy of Science is not exactly cheap, but given the size of the museum, the variety of things to do and see and the particular characteristics of its headquarters, this place is certainly worth a visit.

    The ticket for an adult varies according to the time of entry and the booking period, ranging from $ 30 to $ 40.
    Children under 2 do not pay.
    Between the ages of 3 and 17, the cost decreases by approximately $ 10 compared to the cost of an adult ticket.
    Admission to Nightlife Events costs $ 21.50 per person, while to attend Nightlife VIP Experiences you will need to pay $ 75.

    Buy museum tickets

    Why visit and what to see

    In addition to being an aesthetically stunning building, the interior of the museum is so full of things to see and activities to do that it will be an enjoyable experience for people of all ages. Consider that a thorough visit might take you too 3-4 hours.

    The Academy is divided into four macro-areas:

    • Steinhart Aquarium: a huge aquarium where you can admire over 40.000 living specimens including sharks, turtles, jellyfish and the famous albino crocodile.
    • Morrison Planetarium: you will be literally surrounded by the universe and its galaxies inside the room whose dome-screen is more than 22 meters high.
    • Osher Rainforest: four floors of rainforest with over 1600 animal and plant species.
    • Kimball Natural History Museum: one of the ten largest natural history museums in the United States where, among other things, you can admire the workings of earthquakes, skeletons of T-Rex and whales, over 400 gems and minerals and the funny African penguins.

    Where to sleep in the area

    The California Academy of Sciences is located in Golden Gate Park but, as we've often got to say, it's not particularly safe at night (see our article on areas to avoid in San Francisco). I therefore recommend that you read our guide on the best neighborhoods to sleep in San Francisco and reach the park by public transport.

    Our tips for sleeping in San Francisco

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