Wednesday, September 24, 2008

California Academy of Sciences

On September 27, the new California Academy of Sciences opens to the public. Last week, I had a chance to preview one of the oldest science museums in the United States. Not all of exhibits were finished, but I got a good sense of the place.

The Academy continues to house an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. I think the aquarium exhibits work best, including the Philippine Coral Reef, Water Planet, and Northern California Coast. These displays are the nicest to look at and contain much information.

The Planetarium was not showing one of its regular exhibits, so I can not critique this part of the Critique.

The Amazonian Flooded Rainforest will enable visitors to walk through the various levels of a tropical rainforest. It looks like a fun exhibit, but was not open for the preview.

The most disappointing exhibit continues to be the African Hall. While supposedly loved by San Franciscans in the old Academy building, it continues to look antiquated to me. Seeing stuffed animals amidst painted dioramas is neither educational nor informative. The dozen or so penguins trapped in their small water tank and fake rocks seem like an old-fashioned zoo exhibit that is neither kind to the animals or particularly informative for the visitor.

The roof of the Academy building has domes covered with native California plants. Visitors can access the roof for a close look at the plants and a nice view of the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park.

While I must confess that science museums are not my favorite, I was disappointed in the new Academy. Yes, it's a great piece of eye candy. However, I think they spread themselves too thin by housing three disparate attractions. Depth is lacking, particularly in the natural history part of the museum. Even the aquarium, which is pretty good, pales in comparison to the outstanding Monterey Bay Aquarium. For the millions that were spent, I think a better museum could have been created.

I suspect, though, that the Academy will be a hit, particularly for families. However, a visit is not cheap. Tickets cost $24.95 for adults, $19.95 for seniors (ages 65 and over) and youths (ages 12 - 17), and $14.95 for children ages 7 - 11. Children under 7 years of age can enter for free. Admission is free on the third Wednesday of every month and weekends for San Franciscans who live in selected Zip codes. The Academy is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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