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California Academy of Sciences – tickets, prices, hours, what to see

The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution in San Francisco, California, USA.

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest natural history museums in the world and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, and preserving the natural world.

Since it is home to the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, and Kimball Natural History Museum under the same roof, it is perfect for a family outing.

In addition to its public exhibits, the California Academy of Sciences is also a leading research institution. Its scientists conduct cutting-edge research in various fields, including biodiversity, ecology, evolution, and sustainability.

It is often also referred to as Cal Academy.

This article covers everything you must know before booking tickets to the California Academy of Sciences.

What to Expect at California Academy of Sciences

Take a tour of one of the most remarkable conservation and research complexes in the whole world, housed under a building, which itself is an architectural achievement.

Experience a four-story living rainforest with free-flying birds, butterflies, and various tropical plants, and take a walk through the canopies with a treetop walkway.

Explore the Steinhart Aquarium, which showcases a variety of marine life, including colorful coral reefs and playful penguins, and dive into a mesmerizing coral reef tank.

Drift through the stars in the Morrison Planetarium and watch stunning visuals on a 75-foot-diameter screen, touching upon topics such as astronomy, space exploration, and the wonders of the universe.

Take a stroll on the institution’s stellar 2.5-acre ‘living roof,’ a science and engineering marvel covered with native vegetation, which helps with insulation and reduces energy consumption.

Explore the diverse ecosystems of Africa, featuring taxidermy animals and interactive displays.

Gaze into ‘The Swamp’ and see Claude, an albino alligator, white as snow!

Peer into the Twilight zones of the oceans, the transitory phase between the bright surface and the deep dark sea, and learn about bioluminescent animals and deep corals.

Where to book tickets

Tickets for California Academy of Science are available online and at the attraction.

Online ticket prices tend to be cheaper than tickets at the attraction.

When you buy online, you can avoid the long queues at the ticket counters. 

Because the California Academy of Science is a highly popular attraction, tickets may sell out during peak days.

Booking early helps avoid last-minute disappointments.

How do online tickets work

Visit the ticket booking page for the California Academy of Science, select the preferred date and number of tickets, and buy the tickets immediately.

Once you purchase tickets, they get delivered to your email address.

There is no need to get printouts of the ticket. 

Show the e-ticket on your smartphone at the entrance and walk in.

Please carry a valid ID with you.

California Academy Of Science Tickets

For the California Academy of Science, an adult ticket for people aged between 18 and 64 costs US$40.

Youths aged between three and 17 years are charged US$32 for entry.

Seniors above 64 and students above 18 with ID can gain access at US$35.

Infants up to three are not charged anything.

California Academy of Sciences tickets

California Academy of Sciences ticket
When you buy California Academy of Sciences tickets at the venue, you get a physical ticket (as in the pic). Image: Tripadvisor.com

When you purchase your tickets in advance, you don’t pay the extra $5 per ticket, which is charged on certain busy days.

These tickets allow you access to all the exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences.

You can also participate in Penguin Feeding, Coral Reef Diving, and Swamp Talk activities.

You will also have access to a wide range of interactive daily programming

The ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase.

The California Academy of Science is wheelchair friendly.

Ticket Prices

Adult ticket (18 to 64 years): US$40
Child ticket (3 to 17 years): US$32
Seniors ticket (65+ years): US$35
Student ticket (with valid student ID): US$35

Children below the age of 3 years enter for free.

NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences

Enjoy an evening of music, creatures, and cocktails while embracing the unexpected.

Every Thursday from 6 pm to 10 pm, you can experience the California Academy of Sciences nightlife – an event that combines the Museum’s exhibits with cocktails and music.

As a bonus, you get to explore the Museum without the crowd.

The inclusions of this Nightlife ticket are:

– Unique after-hours access to all the Academy’s exhibits
– Special talks, demonstrations, and performances
– Live music and DJs

Only guests 21 years and older (you may be asked to show a valid ID) are allowed on this VIP tour.

Food and alcohol will be available for purchase.

Ticket Price (21+ years): US$23

Visual Story: 13 must-know tips before visiting California Academy of Sciences

Are you looking for a discount?
The California Academy of Sciences + de Young Museum combo and the Walt Disney Family Museum + California Academy of Sciences help you get a 10% and 5% discount on ticket costs, respectively.


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Cal Academy free entry

San Francisco residents receive free entry to the Academy twice a year on designated weekends – one weekend in the fall and the other in the spring.

The other way to visit the California Academy of Sciences for ‘almost free’ is to buy discount cards – GoSan Francisco Card or San Francisco CityPASS.

Go San Francisco Card

The Go San Francisco Card is an all-inclusive attraction pass valid for 1 to 5 days, depending on your choice.

You only pay once to buy the discount card, which gives you free access to the top 25 attractions of San Francisco.

San Francisco CityPASS

Enjoy entry to four of San Francisco’s top attractions and save 46%.

CityPASS tickets are valid for nine days, beginning with the first day of use.


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How to reach Cal Academy

The Academy is located in the western part of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, near the Music Concourse area.

Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA. Get Directions.

The Academy is well connected to public transportation.

You can use MUNI to get to the Academy of Science, a mini-bus and light-rail mass transportation service in San Francisco.

By Tram

N Judah, a Muni Metro light rail line in San Francisco at 9th Avenue and Irving Street station, is just a 10-minute walk from the Cal Academy.

9th Avenue and Irving Street to Cal Academy

If you don’t want to walk, get onto the 44-O’Shaughnessy bus outside 9th Avenue and Irving St Station and get down at the Cal Academy stop on Music Concourse Drive​.

By Bus

When Southbound, 44-O’Shaughnessy bus stops at the Music Concourse on Tea Garden Drive (across Cal Academy).

When Northbound, it stops in front of the Academy of Music Concourse Drive.

5-Fulton bus stops at 8th Avenue and Fulton Street bus stop, a five-minute walk from the Academy.

The 7-Haight bus line stops at Lincoln Way & 9th Ave bus stop, just a seven-minute walk from the Academy.

By Car

Cars for Rent and Taxis for hire are easily available in San Francisco.

Put on Google Maps to navigate to the California Academy of Sciences.

When driving to the California Academy of Sciences, the Music Concourse Garage is the best spot to park your car.

It is an underground parking facility a few steps from the Academy’s main entrance.

You can enter the parking facility from Music Concourse @ MLK, Jr. or Fulton @ 10th.

The Garage remains open from 7 am to 7 pm from Fridays to Wednesdays.

On Thursdays, it stays open from 7 am to 11 pm.

The parking charges are $5.25/hour on weekdays and $6.25/hour on weekends.

After 5.30 pm, the cost of parking goes up to a flat rate of $17.

Learn about more parking spots nearby.

*Unfortunately, car burglaries occur often in San Francisco. Please don’t leave anything valuable in your car, in the trunk, or out of plain sight to lower your risk. For $8, you can rent a secure locker at Academy to store your stuff.


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Cal Academy of Sciences Timings

The Academy is open 365 days a year!

The California Academy of Sciences opens at 9.30 am and closes at 5 pm from Monday to Saturday. On Sundays, it opens at 11 am and closes at 5 pm.

However, you gain early access on Tuesday and Sunday if you are a museum member. Members can enter the Museum one hour before the rest of the public.

Member timings:

Tuesday: 8.30 am to 9.30 am
Sunday: 10 am to 11 am

California Academy of Sciences’ Nightlife timings are from 6 pm to 10 pm on Thursdays. The visitor needs to be above 21 years old and must provide a valid ID.

How long does Cal Academy take

Families who explore all the must-see exhibits, attend the numerous planetarium shows and 3-D shows, check out rainforest exhibits, etc., spend around four hours at the California Academy of Sciences.

If you want to see only the must-see exhibits at the Cal Academy, you need around two hours.

If you are visiting with kids who love Museums (and science), and you don’t mind having lunch at the attraction, you can spend the whole day exploring.

Best time to visit Cal Academy

Crowd at California Academy of Sciences
California Academy of Sciences can get really crowded. It is better to plan your visit and buy your Cal Academy tickets in advance. Image: Calacademy.org

The best time to visit the California Academy of Sciences is after 2 pm on weekdays because the crowd has left.

Most school field trips to the Cal Academy are scheduled in the morning, and it is normal to see many students before lunch.

Weekends and school holidays attract even bigger crowds.


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What to See in California Academy of Sciences

There are many exhibits at the Cal Academy, from the 87-foot-long skeleton of a blue whale to the T. Rex.

Morrison Planetarium

Morrison Planetarium at Cal Academy
Morrison Planetarium at Cal Academy is a favorite amongst both kids and adults. Image: Calacademy.org

Witness the universe’s wonders and beyond through the spectacular digital visualizations at the Morrison Planetarium of California Academy of Sciences.

The 75-foot dome displays one of the most accurate digital Universes ever created and projects an immersive experience one can sense only by being there.

Kids under four are not allowed inside the Planetarium, and the shows may not be appropriate for children under seven.

Access to the Planetarium is included in the regular Cal Academy ticket.

Osher Rainforests

The Osher Rainforest is a stunning 27 meters (90 feet) glass dome engulfing a living, breathing rainforest.

The four-story-high rainforest contains butterflies, birds, spiders, Amazonian fish, and so much more.

It is home to more than 1,600 live plants and animals.

Visitors can plunge four stories down for a beneath-the-surface view of an Amazonian-flooded forest from the canopy.

Opening hours

Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 4.45 pm
Sunday: 11 am to 4.45 pm

Steinhart Aquarium

Steinhart Aquarium is the heart of the California Academy of Sciences with its beautiful architecture and fun, interactive exhibits.

The Aquarium focuses on showcasing and highlighting discoveries, and little know ecosystems.

Its tanks have over 900 unique species with almost 40,000 live animals.

It was the first-ever Aquarium to explore the ‘twilight zone’ further.

Pogo and Ozzie, our two new penguin chicks, have joined the rest of the colony!

Kimball Natural History Museum

Taking the tradition of scientific research further, The Kimball Natural History Museum allows you to learn about some of our time’s most unique and significant discoveries and relevant issues.

It is a step forward to make people aware of preserving our biodiversity and how to sustain it through their interactive exhibits and beautiful historical specimens like the 87-foot tall blue whale skeleton.

Learn about the fascinating role of color in the natural world, compare fossils of our early human relatives, and marvel at one-of-a-kind specimens from the Academy’s record-breaking scientific collections—all while strolling beneath the bones of some of the planet’s largest inhabitants.

Earthquake House

The Shake House explores seismic science and allows visitors to experience an earthquake.

The earthquake simulator resembles an old Victorian home and is popular with kids and adults alike.

Experience the sustained tremors of San Francisco’s two biggest quakes—the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake and the 7.9-magnitude Great San Francisco quake of 1906—from inside the dining room of a Victorian-era “Painted Lady” house.

The Living Roof

Living Roof at California's Academy of Sciences
Notice the greenery on the Science Museum’s roof. Image: Milliontrees.me

The Museum’s 2.5-acre rooftop is called ‘The Living Roof’ because 87% is covered in rolling hills, fields, and local wildlife.

The California Academy of Sciences roof is home to 1.7 million plants.

Kid activities

If you visit the California Academy of Sciences with children, here are a few things you must try.

Discovery Pool: At this small pool, kids can touch starfish, urchins, abalone, and numerous other tide pool creatures.

Curiosity Grove: This is a new, forest-themed learning and activity space created for children of all ages.

Children’s Eel Garden: Kids enter the world of small, wiggling eels at this exhibit located next to the Philippine Coral Reef tank.

Naturalist Center: The Naturalist Center is the perfect space for kids to get closer to nature by touching specimens, playing games, watching videos, etc.


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California Academy of Sciences map

California Academy of Sciences is unique for having many never-before exhibits in one place, including a rainforest, planetarium, and aquarium.

For a first-time visitor, the Science Museum can be confusing.

You don’t want to miss any of the must-sees, and you don’t want to waste time looking for them.

That’s why we recommend you bookmark this page to use the map once you are in the Museum.

This California Academy of Sciences map also gives information about visitor facilities such as restaurants, restrooms, gift stores, elevators, first aid, baby changing rooms, etc.

Sources
# Calacademy.org
# Wikipedia.org
# Archdaily.com
# Tripadvisor.com

The travel specialists at TheBetterVacation.com use only high-quality sources while researching & writing their articles. We make every attempt to keep our content current, reliable and trustworthy.

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This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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