San Francisco Science Museum

What To Expect on Your Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

The San Francisco Science Museum, officially called the California Academy of Sciences, is the most visited museum in SF. If you only have the chance to visit one museum while you are here, this is the one to see.

More than just a science museum, it also houses the Morrison Planetarium, one of the world's largest all-digital planetariums; Rainforests of the World, a four-story rain forest; the Steinhart Aquarium; and the Kimball Natural History Museum. You can visit all four of these with just one ticket to the museum.

Your visit starts the minute you enter the front door with a warm greeting from this guy.

sf science museum

This T-Rex is one of several items in the museum's Jurassic in the Park exhibit. You'll find other items in this exhibit placed throughout the museum.

Before you get started with your visit, I recommend picking up a map. You'll see several places near the entrance where you can pick one up. The museum is expansive, with many amazing exhibits, so this is the best way to make sure you visit everything.

Next to the maps, you will also find a 'What's Happening' brochure. This has the times and locations for all of the free activities and events going on in the museum each day. These two items will help you make the most out of your visit.

visitors map at museum

After picking up these materials, you'll want to head straight to the planetarium to pick up free tickets to one of the shows. These tickets are on a first come, first served basis. If you are interested in seeing a show at the planetarium - which I highly recommend - then you'll want to get your tickets as soon as you arrive since these go quickly.

Rainforests of the World: Four-Story Rainforest

I love starting with a visit to the four story rainforest. This large enclosure includes free flying butterflies and birds that live in different rainforests around the world.

Some of the other creatures you'll see in the rainforest range from snakes to poisonous frogs. But don't worry - all the animals accept the birds and butterflies are kept in their own separate homes.

Your visit starts on the ground level. You will slowly make your way up the circular walkways to the top of the rainforest. Each level teaches you about the plants, animals and climates of a specific rainforest.

Here are just a few close ups I was able to get of the beautiful butterflies in the rainforest.

sf academy of sciences

california academy of sciences

Once you reach the top level of the rainforest, you will be directed to the elevators and head down into the Steinhart Aquarium. But first - check for butterflies to make sure you don't accidently take any with you!

Steinhart Aquarium

The Steinhart Aquarium is another amazing experience inside the San Francisco Science Museum. You walk directly under the water tunnel - where you can take a seat and watch guys like this one swim right next to you.

steinhart aquarium

After you take a few minutes to rest, you can then head into the heart of the aquarium. Here you will find everything from jellyfish to water snakes.

steinhart aquarium

This is the first tank of fish you will see when you enter the Steinhart Aquarium SF.

The entire aquarium houses more than 38,000 live animals including almost 9,000 species!

The jellyfish tank is another one of my personal favorites. There are colored lights below and the lights change periodically. This makes the jellyfish easy to watch as they float around their tank.

jellyfish at steinhart aquarium

After you visit the aquarium, make sure you see the Natural History part of the museum as well the living roof. Then, give yourself a shake at another of my favorite stops: The Earthquake Exhibit.

It's easy to lose track of time while you are in this museum. If you have tickets to the Planetarium, make sure you keep track of time as they will give away your tickets if you don't show up on time.

Earthquake Exhibit

Make sure you stop by the new earthquake exhibit (right next to the rainforest). Not only will you learn more about earthquakes, but you can also step into a shaking machine that simulates an earthquake. I hope its the only time you feel what it's like to be in an earthquake.

earthquake exhibit at california academy of sciences

You also need to stop by and say hi to Claude - a rare white alligator.

claude at cali sciences

Additional Visiting Tips & Ticket Options

A visit to the San Francisco Science Museum will take anywhere from two to four hours. This all depends on what you want to see - and when you can get tickets to the planetarium. Even though this sounds like a long visit - the time will fly by.

Since the museum is really popular, I recommend heading over first thing in the morning. You can secure your tickets to the planetarium and start your visit before it gets too crowded.


  • Monday - Saturday: 9:30am to 5pm
  • Sunday: 11am - 5pm

The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.


I also recommend buying your tickets in advance. This allows you to skip the line and head straight in when you arrive.

You can also skip the ticket lines by buying your tickets in advance. Click here to buy advanced tickets online today!

This is one of the more expensive museums (tickets are $30+ per person most of the year) as you could spend the entire day here.

Behind the Scenes Tours

If you are looking for a more personalized experience, the San Francisco Science Museum also offers two "behind the scenes" tours. These tickets also allow you to skip the line when you arrive.

Both are small group tours. Each ticket also includes reserved seats to a show at the planetarium and express entry into the rainforest.

The first tour is the "Academy Tour" that takes you on a tour of the museum's lab. On this tour, you can also explore a collection of rare gems and learn more about the museum's history and scientists.

The second tour is the "Aquarium Tour". On this tour, you'll head behind the scenes and learn how the animals are cared for at the San Francisco Science Museum.

Both are a great way to experience the museum in a slightly different way.

Find out more about both of these tickets online including pricing and other details.

Academy of Sciences Nightlife

This San Francisco Science Museum also hosts an adult only nightlife event. This event is held most Thursday nights starting at 6 PM.

This is a popular event for both locals and visitors. During the event, you can enjoy cocktails at the bar as you listen to music or stroll around the museum where you get the chance to see it in a different light.

You can also upgrade to the VIP tour with cocktails. This ticket includes a one hour behind the scenes tour where you will learn even more about the museum's exhibits and animals. The VIP ticket also includes a reserved pass for the 8:30 PM planetarium show.

Both tickets allow you to skip the line when you arrive - which is the best way to quickly get into this popular event!

Find out more and buy your Academy of Sciences Nightlife tickets today!

Getting to the Academy

The San Francisco Science Museum is located on the eastern side of Golden Gate Park. There are several options that will get you to the Academy including public transportation, driving, or the hop on hop off bus tour.

map of california academy of sciences

If you are taking public transportation, your best options are the N-Judah or 5-Fulton. Both drop you off just a few blocks from the museum entrance.

If you decide to drive, there is plenty of parking right in Golden Gate Park. You can choose from either free parking - which might put you 4 to 5 blocks away from the entrance - or pay to park in the parking garage that is less than a block from the entrance.

The Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour also has a stop right in front of the museum. See a map of all the stops and find out how to buy tickets to this SF bus tour.

Other Attractions in Golden Gate Park

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Arts Museum
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Tea Garden

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