Friday, October 24, 2008


Yesterday, M, H, and I had a girls' day out at the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

The Academy opened a month ago, with much excitement. It is a Must-See, despite its $24.95 general admission (discounts for children, students, seniors, and other groups and free admission on the third Wednesday of each month, courtesy of Wachovia, and to members at all times).

The building, designed by Renzo Piano, is architecturally exciting. An entire Aquarium had been moved away, while the new building was being constructed, and then returned, with many more creatures. The roof top is a living garden that requires no irrigation. There is a four-story exhibit of Rainforests of the World. The Plantetarium is a state-of-the-art facility...and these are just some of the attractions that make the California Academy of Sciences such an exciting place to visit.

We got an early start to our day, arriving at 10 a.m., shortly after the Academy opened. We were lucky enough to find free parking along JFK Drive in the Park in an area far enough away that the 4-hour parking limit was not in effect...closer to the Academy and and DeYoung, there is a 4-hour limit, so, watch your time if you park there. Of course, the pay-to-park garage under the Music Concourse is always an option and has elevators to the entrances of both the Academy and the DeYoung Museum. If you arrive in an electric car, there is a charging station on the west side of the Academy, and MUNI's new Culture Bus makes a stop here about every 20 minutes.

It is being said that the Academy is the greenest museum in the world. It has bike racks and vehicle recharging stations, radiant sub-floor heating inside the building, and energy-generating solar panels on top of the building! The walls are insulated with recycled blue jeans.

Before heading to the four-story Rainforests of the World exhibit, we picked up tickets to the Fragile Planet show in the Morrison Planetarium. Tickets to the show are first come first serve; no extra charge. There is a ticket kiosk in the entry area of the Academy. Tickets run out quickly, so stop here first if you want to see the show. The Planetarium is the largest all-digital dome in the world with its 75-foot diameter projection screen tilted at a 30 degree angle. I must warn that those who have motion problems, might feel woozy during the show...H covered her eyes through most of the Planetarium show.

The Rainforests exhibit was my favorite and the tiny colored frogs were my favorite creatures. The approach to the Rainforest passes by the Tidepool Exhibit.

Inside the Rainforest, you walk to the top up a spiraled walkway. It is hot and humid and reminded me of my visit to the jungle in Belize. I also was fascinated by the butterflies that flutter about, munching on flowers, near the top of the Rainforest.

No more words for awhile, just some of my photos:

Up on the roof, we felt like we were on the moon...except there was lots of life up here...but the combination of hills, valleys, portals, and plants was a bit overwhelming.

The 197,000-square-foot rooftop is a living tapestry of native plants. Living Roof Consultant, Rana Creek, worked with architect Renzo Piano to design the roof. She developed and patented the BioTray®, a special biodegradable trays made from tree sap and coconut husks, which serve as containers for the rooftop plants. 50,000 of these porous trays line the undulating rooftop, and enable the plants and soil to stay in place as the roots grow and interlock the trays together.

Four perennial plants and five wildflower annual plants were chosen as the species best suited to flourish in Golden Gate Park's climate. They require little water, can resist the salt spray from the ocean breezes, and can tolerate wind. It is hoped that the rooftop will provide a habitat for wildlife, including the endangered San Bruno Elfin Butterfly and the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly.

Here are some Rooftop photos, including some of the DeYoung Museum across the Music Concourse...this is the first time I've enjoyed this particular view of the DeYoung. Of course, we girls had to ham it up a bit with photos of ourselves.

After "doing" the Rainforest, Roof Garden, and Planetarium show, it was time for lunch.

Lunch choices include the Academy Café, a multi-cultural cafeteria, or the more formal, table-service Moss Room. The restaurants are operated under the auspices of local chefs-in-residence, Charles Phan (Slanted Door) and Loretta Keller (Bizou and COCO500). The Academy Café is open during museum hours. The Moss Room (reservations advised) is open for lunch and dinner.

We opted for the Academy Café, where H had a Shrimp Louie Salad, M had Tortilla Soup, and I had Chicken Pho with an array for interesting fixings. It was a warm, sunny day and we ate our lunch outdoors.

Before heading back inside to visit the Steinhart Aquarium and the African Hall (Penguins here), we had a little more fun, taking "rides" on the seal sculptures in the garden near the outdoor dining patio.

The Aquarium, or Water Planet, on the lower level of the Academy, has more than 100 aquarium tanks filled with fish,reptiles, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates. Our timing was such that "Diver Dan" was "on exhibit" in the Phillipine Coral Reef tank from which he talked with the crowd about the underwater life in which he was diving.

Jellies, Stars, and other Fish captivated us as well.

Not everything is entirely new at the Academy. And, we saved some of our old favorites for the end of our day.

The Swamp looks much the same as we rememberd it from the old Academy. Its metal railing and decorative tiles have been preserved. Some of the big turtles are still swimming around in the Swamp along with its newest attraction, a White Alligator, named Bonnie...there was a contest to select a name for her.

Other of our old favorites include the Foucault's Pendulum and the African Hall, where we got to watch the African Penguins frolic about in and out of the water.

We spent close to 6 hours at the Academy and did not see or do everything. We pretty much concentrated on the living exhibits of creatures and plants. I look forward to returning to spend time in the educational exhibits which include Altered State: Climate Change in California, Science in Action, and Islands of Evolution. We got to see some fish feedings, but missed the Penguin feeding and the Bugs movie in the 3-D theater.

I'll be back again soon and am sure my out-of-town visitors will be wanting to make visits to the Academy.

1 comment:

mary ann said...

Wow, what a fabulous report and it makes me want to go now despite the steep ticket price! Thanks for this...