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.
In this article, we explain everything you must know before visiting the California Academy of Sciences.
How to reach California Academy of Sciences
There are many ways to get tothe California Academy of Sciences.
It is best to use San Francisco’s network of Muni buses and Metro trains to get close to Cal Academy and then use Google Map to walk the rest.
N-Judah Muni Metro
Get down at 9th Avenue and Irving Street. The Academy is 800 meters (0.5 Miles) and 10 minutes’ walk away.
If you don’t want to walk, get onto the 44-O’Shaughnessy bus at 9th and Irving and get down at the Cal Academy stop on Music Concourse Drive.
When Southbound, this bus stops at the Music Concourse on Tea Garden Drive (across from the Cal Academy).
When Northbound, this bus stops in front of the Academy on Music Concourse Drive.
This 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.
California Academy of Sciences parking
If you plan to drive 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.
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.
California Academy of Sciences hours
The Academy is open on all days of the year.
From Monday to Saturday the California Academy of Sciences opens at 9.30 am and closes at 5 pm.
On Sundays, it opens later – at 11 am and closes at 5 pm.
However, if you are a member of the Museum, you gain early access on both Tuesday and Sunday.
Yes, that’s right. Members can enter the Museum one hour before the rest of the public can enter.
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.
Best time to visit California Academy of Sciences
If you want to avoid large crowds during your visit to the Academy, its best to visit on weekdays, after 2 pm.
Most of the school field trips to the Academy are scheduled in the morning, and it is normal to see lots and lots of students in the forenoon.
Weekends or school holidays attract even more massive crowds.
How long does Cal Academy take?
The duration of your trip to the California Academy of Sciences depends on you.
If you want just to browse around, check out the must-see exhibits and move on you will need around two hours.
However, if you want to get involved a bit and attend in the numerous planetarium shows, 3-D shows, and check out rainforest exhibit, etc. you must plan for at least three to four 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.
California Academy of Sciences tickets
Before you tell you about the tickets, you must know that it makes a lot of sense to buy your Cal Academy tickets online.
The two most important benefits being:
1. You can skip the long lines at the ticketing counter
2. You don’t pay the extra $5 per ticket, which is charged on certain busy days
About Cal Academy tickets
This ticket gets you complete access to California Academy of Sciences – all exhibits in all sections.
You can cancel these Museum tickets up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund.
Immediately after purchase, the tickets will be emailed to you.
On the day of your visit, just show the ticket in your email and walk in.
Yes, that’s right – no need to take print outs!
Adult ticket (18 to 64 years): USD 35.95
Youth ticket (12 to 17 years): USD 30.95
Child ticket (4 to 11 years): USD 25.95
Seniors ticket (65+ years): USD 30.95
Children below the age of 3 years enter for free.
California Academy of Sciences nightlife
If you want to feel like a VIP at California Academy of Sciences, opt for their nightlife experience.
Every Thursday from 6 pm to 10 pm, you can experience California Academy of Sciences’ nightlife – an event which combines Museum’s exhibits with cocktails and music.
As a bonus, you get to explore the Museum without the crowd.
The inclusions of this Nightlife ticket are:
– Priority entrance to the Museum
– Two drink tickets
– One-hour tour by a guide with private viewings
– VIP access to the 4-story rainforest exhibit
– Reserved seating for the planetarium show
Only guests 21 years of age and older are allowed on this VIP tour.
The Cal Academy Nightlife tour costs 59 USD per person.
Visiting California Academy of Sciences for free
San Francisco residents receive free entry to the Academy twice a year on designated weekends – one weekend in the fall and the other in the spring.
Go San Francisco Card
The Go San Francisco Card is an all-inclusive attraction pass valid for 1 to 5 days depending on your choice.
You pay once to buy the discount card, which then gives you free access to the top 25 attractions of San Francisco.
2-Day Go San Francisco Card
Adult Ticket (13+ years): US$ 119
Child Ticket (3-12 years): US$ 99
3-Day Go San Francisco Card
Adult Ticket (13+ years): US$ 149
Child Ticket (3-12 years): US$ 99
San Francisco Mega Pass
San Francisco Mega Pass is also a discount card, which helps you access the California Academy of Sciences for free (almost!).
With this card, you get to choose between 3, 4 or 5 top attractions as per your own interest.
You can then visit these attractions at your convenience without paying any entry fee.
Mega Pass: 3 Attractions
Adult Ticket (12+ years): US$ 69.99
Child Ticket (5-11 years): US$ 49.99
Mega Pass: 4 Attractions
Adult Ticket (12+ years): US$ 89.99
Child Ticket (5-11 years): US$ 67.99
What to See 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.
We list out the must-see sections of the Science Museum.
1. Morrison Planetarium
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.
Access to the Planetarium is included in the regular entry ticket.
2. Osher Rainforests
The Osher Rainforest is a highlight of the Museum.
It is a stunning glass dome of 90 feet, which engulfs a living, breathing rainforest.
The four-story high rainforest is full of butterflies, birds, spiders, Amazonian fish and so much more.
This rain forest has around 1,600+ live plants and animals.
Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 4.45 pm
Sunday: 11 am to 4.45 pm
3. 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 new 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”.
4. 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 amazing 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 captivating historical specimens like the 87-foot tall blue whale skeleton.
5. Earthquake House
The Shake House explores seismic science and allows visitors to experience an earthquake.
The earthquake simulator resembles an old Victorian homeand is quite popular with kids and adults alike.
Update: The Shake House is no longer on view.
6. The Living Roof
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.
It is estimated that the roof of the California Academy of Sciences is home to 1.7 million plants.
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 so that you can 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 store, elevators, first aid, baby changing rooms, etc.