California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 379 8000
Concierge.com's insider take:
Among the world's largest natural-history museums, the California Academy of Sciences is as renowned for its collection—over 26 million specimens gathered over the past 150 years—as it is for the building that houses them. Opened in late 2008, the Renzo Piano–designed museum earned a LEED Platinum certification for its eco-sensibility. Vast expanses of glass, crisscrossed by recycled-steel beams, allow the sun to shine inside the exhibits, which include a knockout four-story rain forest dome filled with towering tropical trees, colorful birds, and fluttering butterflies. The glass elevators that descend from the rain forest to the Steinhart Aquarium double as a viewing window into the enormous tank, its coral reefs teeming with candy-colored fish. Be sure to pick up tickets for the hourly shows at the state-of-the-art Morrison Planetarium, the world's largest all-digital planetarium; sit up high for the best perspective on the 75-foot-diameter dome. And don't miss the 2.5-acre roof, another green feature, planted with native grasses, trees, and flowers; the idea was to give the illusion that a slice of earth had been lifted up to install the museum beneath it. Even on a foggy day, when mist twirls in the treetops, the park views from atop the roof are stupendous. To avoid hordes of schoolchildren, consider coming on Thursday evenings, from 6 to 10 pm, when the museum hosts Nightlife, an over-21 event with cocktails and DJs in the atrium; the entire museum is open for viewing at this time. This event nearly always sells out, so make reservations.—John Vlahides
Open Mondays through Saturdays 9:30 am to 5 pm, Sundays 11 am to 5 pm.