A Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

When I looked at the high school calendar, it said that Friday, January 30 was a “Non-Workday.” We don’t usually take what it says quite so literally, but taking the day off with our daughters sounded like a great idea.

So what would be a fun outing for our family on a beautiful day? How about the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park? It’s probably been ten years since our last visit and now that it has undergone a major renovation, we were curious to see what the experience was like.

However, we had our doubts that we would even be able to get in”¦or even want to. The new Academy of Sciences has only been open since September so it has drawn a lot of attention and crowds. When our daughter and some friends recently made a trip to San Francisco with the plan to go to there, they found a long line of people circling the building and a minimum 45 minute wait to get in. They decided not to bother.

And when Steve pulled up the map online and started reading the comments on TripAdvisor, we were even more apprehensive. People were saying things like: “Warning: Read all the negative reviews”¦They are TRUE!!!” or “A Waste of Time and Money.” People who had gone also said that due to the crowds, you should buy advance tickets and get there when it opened at 9:30 ““ neither of which we had planned to do. We thought a contingency plan might be a good idea. “Do you think they’ve finished rebuilding the tiger enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo?”

However, we decided that we would take our chances on the Academy. The first pleasant surprise was that we made it over the first hurdle of any trip into the City”¦finding a place to park without any problem. The underground garage was well marked and had plenty of spaces when we got there at about 1:00.

“Could this be true? There isn’t a line to get in?” We walked right up to the window, bought our tickets and headed in. I’m sure it helped that we went on a weekday.

I guess I was expecting the prices to be what I remembered from a decade ago, so I was a little surprised when the credit card receipt showed $89.80 for the four of us ($24.95 for adults and $19.95 for students). I had spoken with a friend who had visited the Academy on the third Wednesday of the month when admission is free, and she said it was mobbed. Now I know why.

Close to the entrance is the Philippine Coral Reef where we spent a long time watching the manta rays wave to us every time they lifted their fins, flippers, or arms”¦what are those”¦as they circled their tank. We had a good time looking at the amazing colors in the reef fish and deciding which one was our favorite. I particularly liked the fuchsia one with the neon orange square on its middle.

There was a short wait to get into the Rainforests of the World dome but once inside, the effect of walking through the hot and humid rainforest with birds and butterflies flitting past you was pretty cool. The only problem is that is that my frame of reference for the experience was when we ate at the Rainforest Café so I kept looking for the animatronic gorillas and wondering when the programmed thunderstorm was going to start.

We left Steve sketching by the dinosaur”¦he said he felt right at home”¦and the girls and I continued onto the Aquarium and African Hall. I think everyone who remembers the old Academy building is glad to see they kept the taxidermied zebra and lion dioramas. It made me feel like I was visiting an old friend.

We had been there four hours when the announcement was made that it was 4:45 and the Academy would be closing in 15 minutes. We had seen all the exhibits except the Planetarium and the Living Roof which from the photo on the website looks a lot like my front yard”¦it needs to be mowed.

So would I recommend a visit to the Academy? When you consider that admission to Marine World is $44.99 for adults, the Academy of Sciences seems like a pretty good value for your entertainment dollar. And our expectations weren’t to be wowed, but just to expand our world for a day beyond our computer screens. It succeeded beautifully.



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