Last year’s reopening of the California Academy of Sciences opened up with much fanfare, and for a while all San Francisco could talk about was the new space’s environmental design. I had visited the museum in 2006 at its temporary location on Howard Street during the primary building’s renovation, and had been a little disappointed. It wasn’t until recently that I found the time to visit the primary location’s new facility, and while I’m incredibly impressed, I do miss the old California Academy of Sciences of my childhood.
As a native Bay Arean (is that a word?) – I remember the earthquake simulation exhibit of my youth, the beautiful structural columns of the old building, the mediocre cafeteria food before haute cuisine became de rigeur.
But that’s not to say these things haven’t been replaced with equally engrossing (and educational) components. The academy now boasts a gorgeous 2.5 acre “Living Roof,” a four-story rainforest encased in a giant clear sphere, a trendy cafe menu and word is that the planetarium is a must-see, though when I visited at ten on a weekend morning, tickets had already sold out for the day.
Some exhibits from my childhood remain intact – the Steinhart Aquarium is as magical as ever and the natural history museum still hosts life-size replicas of endangered species.
The architecture alone is reason enough to visit, but the crowds are reason enough to stay away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll absolutely revisit the California Academy of Sciences time and time again, but it can be difficult to fully see the exhibits because the number of people makes it difficult.
If you can, visit on a weekday. Make sure to visit the planetarium – and tell me all about it!