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Sunday 19 February 2012

California Academy of Sciences

We visited California Academy of Sciences back in December just a few days before Christmas.
I had been eager to visit the Academy before the end of the year due to a few special Christmassy themed exhibits. A visit to the Academy was one of the featured activities on the girls' advent calendar.

Now, we had actually attempted to visit the Academy back in November when we spent an afternoon in Golden Gate Park. However it was Thanksgiving long weekend and it was extremely busy. Plus a surcharge during busy holiday periods pushed the ticket price up to $35.00 for adults and $25.00 for children making for one very expensive afternoon.

Surprisingly, when we visited the Academy two days before Christmas it wasn't as busy as I had expected. I guess everyone was busy with Christmas preparations. I booked our tickets online to avoid the queues and even managed to find a coupon for a discount. Got to love retailmenot.com :)

Kim and the girls with Claude the Alligator 

The cheesy green screen photo taken at the entrance.
Lola was asleep in the pram. 

California Academy of Sciences is kind of like a group of small science museums under the one roof. Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, Kimball Natural History Museum, Rainforests of the World dome plus a host of other exhibits call this place home. And what an amazing home it is.

I think my favourite feature of the Academy would have to be the Living Roof.
Two and a half acres of native plants sprawl across the domed "hills" of the roof top. Skylights dotted throughout the "hills" lend a space age feel however this does not distract from the tranquility of the Living Roof.  The views over Golden Gate Park from the rooftop observation deck are beautiful and the roof itself blends seamlessly into its surroundings in the park..

The Living Roof

The Living Roof

Lola up on the roof

Ava up on the roof
California Academy of Sciences seen from the observation tour in the deYoung Museum 

Steinhart Aquarium was another favourite. The aquatic displays are spread over ground floor and basement level and are diverse in both creatures and environment. There are tidal pools with starfish and hermit crabs, coral reefs teeming with colourful fish, a walk through underwater tunnel, a flooded Amazon forest and let's not forget the swamp which is home to Claude, the Academy's resident albino alligator. The flooded Amazon forest was amazing. To truly appreciate this part of the display you really need to start in the Rainforests of the World dome. Follow the path in the dome as it winds through a world of butterflies, rare plants and colourful birds until you reach the rainforest canopy. When you reach the top the heavens open up (figuratively) and an elevator plunges you all the way down to the floor of the forest which is now completely submerged under water. Catfish swim where birds and monkeys once called home. The view back up is breathtaking. 

Ava walking through Steinhart Aquarium

Ava and a catfish in the Steinhart Aquarium

Looking up through the flooded Amazon forest in the Steinhart Aquarium

Claude the (real) albino alligator.
No hugging this one please Ava!

Those jellyfish tentacles look so graceful but I don't want to try touching them!

Lola's new friend the eel

Lola high fives a star fish in the aquarium

Now I mentioned earlier that there were a few Christmassy themed exhibits during December. Our most eagerly anticipated "exhibit" was the snow fall in the Piazza. Every 30 minutes a snow machine would churn out flurries of white snowflakes throughout the Piazza area in the centre of the Academy. Ava was so excited about the snow. I think they she thought there would be enough to make a snow man or go tobogganing. This obviously wasn't the case - although it would have been damn impressive! Ava was still delighted with the light flurries of snow as was Lola who seemed quite confused about what was falling around her!

Snow flurries

Lola watching the snow fall

Lola watching the snow fall

The Christmassy theme spread throughout the Academy with an inflatable Snowman Theatre, an exhibit on traditional Christmas flavours and even live reindeer. Inside the Snowman Theatre we laid on our backs and watched a documentary about snow projected onto the roof and walls. This was like a little precursor to what was to come in the planetarium.

Ava outside the Snowman Theatre


The Morrison Planetarium was another highlight. Ava enjoyed travelling through the universe as we watched "Life: A Cosmic Story" on the 75-foot diameter projection screen. She was a little scared at first as the Academy recommends that the planetarium is not really suitable for children under 6 years of age. Once Ava got over the fear that something terrible was going to happen to any kids under the age of 6 she loved it. 

By the time closing time came around we still hadn't managed to see all of the exhibits. As we had enjoyed the Academy so much we ended up buying an annual membership so we can visit whenever we feel like it. Our membership covers visitors too so there's another little incentive for friends and family to come visit us :)

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