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

Image: Calacademy.org

California Academy of Sciences is one of San Francisco’s must-see destinations.

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

It is often also referred to as Cal Academy.

This article shares everything you must know before buying your California Academy of Sciences ticket.

How to reach Cal Academy

There are many ways to get to the California Academy of Sciences.

It is best to use San Francisco’s Muni buses and Metro trains to get close to Cal Academy and then use Google Map to walk the rest. Get Directions

N-Judah Muni Metro

N Judah, a Muni Metro light rail line in San Francisco, is a convenient option for getting to Cal Academy.

You must get down at 9th Avenue and Irving Street station and walk the 800 meters (half a mile).

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

#44-O’Shaughnessy 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 on Music Concourse Drive.

#5-Fulton bus

5-Fulton bus stops at 8th Avenue and Fulton Street, just outside the park.

In five minutes, you can walk through the park and reach the Science Museum.

Car parking

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 away from the Academy’s main entrance.

You can enter the parking facility either 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 longer – from 7 am to 11 pm.

The parking charges are $5/hour on weekdays and $6/hour on weekends.

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


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Opening hours

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, if you are a museum member, you gain early access on both Tuesday and Sunday. 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 is from 6 pm to 10 pm on Thursdays.


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Best time to visit Cal Academy

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 by then.

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

Weekends and school holidays attract even bigger crowds.


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How long does Cal Academy take

Families who explore all the must-see exhibits, attend the numerous planetarium shows, 3-D shows, check out rainforest exhibits, etc., end up spending 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 your lunch at the attraction, you can spend the whole day exploring.


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California Academy of Sciences tickets

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

Most visitors prefer to purchase their Cal Academy tickets online because of two reasons – they can skip the long lines at the ticketing counter, and online tickets are cheaper.

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

About Cal Academy tickets

This ticket gives you complete access to the California Academy of Sciences.

You get to visit the Natural History Museum, Planetarium, Aquarium, Osher Rainforest, Living Roof and participate in various daily programs.

Immediately after purchase, you will get these Cal Academy tickets in your email.

On the day of your visit, show the ticket on your mobile and walk in – no need to take printouts.

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

Ticket Prices

Adult ticket (18 to 64 years): $37
Child ticket (3 to 17 years): $29
Seniors ticket (65+ years): $32
Student ticket (18+ years): $32

Children below the age of 3 years enter for free.


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California Academy of Sciences nightlife

If you want to feel like a VIP at the California Academy of Sciences, opt for their nightlife experience.

Every Thursday from 6 pm to 10 pm, you can experience 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:

– Priority entrance to the Museum
– Two drink tickets
– One-hour tour by a guide with private viewings
– VIP access to the 4-story rainforest exhibit
– Reserved seating for the Planetarium show

Only guests 21 years of age and older are allowed on this VIP tour.

The Cal Academy Nightlife tour costs $59 per person.

Are you looking for a discount?
The Cal Academy + San Francisco Zoo combo and the Cal Academy + SF Museum of Modern Art help you get a 10% discount on the ticket costs.


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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 Mega Pass.

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

San Francisco Mega Pass

San Francisco Mega Pass is also a discount card, where you get to choose between 3, 4, or 5 top attractions as per your interest.

You buy the Mega Pass once and then visit the attractions at your convenience without paying any entry fee.


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What to See in California Academy of Sciences

There are many exhibits to see 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 is a favorite amongst both kids and adults. Image: Calacademy.org

Witness the wonders of the universe 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 is full of 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.

It has more than 900 unique species with almost 400,000 live animals in its tanks.

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

Kimball Natural History Museum

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

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.

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 quite popular with kids and adults alike.

Update: The Shake House is no longer on view.

The Living Roof

Notice the greenery on the Science Museum’s roof. Image: Milliontrees.me

The Museum’s 2.5-acre rooftop is also referred to as ‘The Living Roof’ because 87% of it is covered in rolling hills, fields and local wildlife.

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

Kid activities

If you are visiting 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 get to enter the world of small, wiggling eels at this exhibit located right 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 the visitor facilities such as restaurants, restrooms, gift stores, elevators, first aid, baby changing rooms, etc.

Popular attractions in San Francisco

# Alcatraz Island
# San Francisco Zoo
# Monterey Bay Aquarium
# SFMoMA
# San Francisco aquarium
# Exploratorium
# De Young Museum
# San Francisco Bus Tours

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Pooja Das: She has a passion for both traveling and photography, which help her document her memories forever. She loves to explore city streets taking in the people, the colors, and the culture surrounding her. Occasionally she loves to step away from the hustle-bustle of urban lifestyle, and chill-out either alone or with friends. Favorite Cities: Istanbul, London, Marrakech, Venice

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