San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences

February 12, 2009 by

Family & Kids, North America

Do you have kids? I have one. His name is Emmett. He’s nearly three years old. He loves penguins. And fish. And butterflies. And snakes. And jellyfish. And alligators.

Most of the time we only get to experience these things in books. (If you have kids and don’t own Goodnight Gorilla and Duck on a Bike, get thee to a bookstore!) Which is why I was excited super-duper excited to check out the newly reopened California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park. Partly I was excited for Emmett, for him to see the exhibits. But really, if I’m being honest, I was excited for me, too. Who doesn’t love a huge indoor aquarium with fish swimming all around?

San Francisco's Academy of Sciences - walking through the rain forest

San Francisco's Academy of Sciences - walking underneath the rain forest

Skipping the line at the Academy of Sciences

I printed my Viator skip-the-line entrance tickets and took the whole family to the Academy of Sciences. I had been warned it was crowded, so we arrived at 10am (it opens at 9:30am most days). Good thing we did, too. It was packed. There were people everywhere. We got one of the last few parking spaces. I’m sure the crowds will thin over the next few months, but right now – prepare yourself for crowds!

And that’s why I was pleased about Viator’s skip-the-line tickets. These allowed us to avoid the ticket queue (probably a wait of 15 or 20 minutes) and to go right in. All you need to do is look for a staffed podium outside the main entrance. It has a “Vouchers” sign posted on it. There are helpful people there who exchange your voucher for tickets. In about 60 seconds we had our tickets and walked in the museum’s door.

Fish! Fish! And more fish!

Emmett and his friend Vivian, looking at fish

Emmett and his friend Vivian, looking at fish

My fear the new Academy of Sciences would be a let-down vanished as we walked in. The new facility is amazing. There’s a massive planetarium (which we didn’t get to visit – Emmett needed lunch and a nap, you know how it is) and an indoor rain forest that you can walk through. Incredibly cool. Best of all you can also walk underneath the rain forest, through the aquarium, with fish all around you.

Emmett was very impressed by that.

Penguins? Check. Tide pools the kids can play in? Check. Jelly fish? Check. Alligators? Check. If you love animals, you will not be disappointed. There are plenty of food options, too, and a children’s play area for kids who want to run in circles and play in a tree house.

My bottom line: If you have kids, you must visit the Academy of Sciences the next time you’re in San Francisco.And when you’re finished, head deep into the woods and knolls and gardens of Golden Gate Park. It’s a glorious way to spend a day in San Francisco.

Scott McNeely

Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s San Francisco tours & things to do. Browse more of Scott’s photos of the Academy of Sciences on the Viator site. If you need a place to stay, check out San Francisco Hotels on

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7 Responses to “San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences”

  1. Nikki Hootman Says:

    I also visited the Academy – over Christmas! Let me just say… even if I’d had the line-jumping tickets, it was still a madhouse inside. The planetarium tickets were sold out before we even got there and we had to wait about an hour to even get into the rainforest dome. That said, it was still pretty cool. I blogged about it here:

  2. KellyG Says:

    I went to the Academy of Sciences shortly after it reopened and the aquarium alone is worth a visit, it is deceptively huge down there! Even if you don’t have kids (I went with 3 other adults), its an amazing time, we all really loved it.

  3. Beijinger Says:

    I have not seen this kind of aquarium. I think that the post tempted me to visit the place. It is really cool to witness the wild creatures.Thanks for your post.

  4. Rob Says:

    KellyG is so right. Cal Academy is fantastic for big kids, too.

    Use your Viator skip-the-line tickets but arrive early anyway. The place is packed by 10:30.

  5. Rich and the Gang Says:

    This was an extreme disappointment for the price. It was an average museum at best, completely out of control with screaming kids. Save your $50 (for two) and go out and have a good lunch.

  6. Paul Says:

    If you go to the Academy of Science, be prepared for a shortage of benches to rest, a shortage of tables in the cafe and an over abundance of green hysterical propaganda on how the earth is going to come to an end if mankind doesn’t stop breathing. Enough with the global warming, carbon footprint crap!