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.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Two Chinatown Temples

Many visitors to Chinatown overlook some of the most fascinating sights -- the temples. Chinatown is home to a many Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist temples. Most welcome visitors; although, there may not be English speakers on staff to interpret what you are seeing.

Two that I frequently take visitors to see are Tien Hau Temple at 125 Waverly Place and Matsu Temple at 30 Beckett Street. They both honor and take their names from the same Goddess of the Sea; however, Matsu is Buddhist and Tien Hau is Taoist. Matsu is the more accessible of the two as it is on the first floor. Tien Hau is more ornate and visually interesting, but is on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator. There is seldom anyone who speaks English at Matsu. When Sally is at Tien Hau, she is happy to give you a quick explanation of the temple and its decor.

Both temples have handouts in English that tell about the life of Matsu/Tien Hau. You can also have your fortune told at both temples. It's a complicated process so you may need to ask for help.

You also can take a walking tour of Chinatown that will include a visit to one of the neighborhood's temples. I highly recommend All about Chinatown Walking Tours. Linda Lee, the owner, has been leading tours for more than 25 years. If you'd like to visit one of Chinatown's temples as part of a private tour of San Francisco, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Great Jazz Spot in San Francisco

After World War II, San Francisco had a vibrant jazz scene centered along Fillmore Street in the Western Addition. This all came to an end in the 1960s when the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency destroyed the neighborhood in the name of progress. Victorian homes were torn down and families displaced.

It took a long time for the neighborhood to come back. In recent years new condominiums and commercial spaces were built along the section of Fillmore Street just south of Japantown. To help reignite the old spirit, the Redevelopment Agency asked Yoshi's, the venerable Oakland Jazz Club, to open a club in what is now being called the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District.

In August, I had a chance to dine at Yoshi's restaurant and to take in three concerts at the club. I highly recommend both to visitors and locals. The restaurant has excellent Japanese-inspired cuisine. The staff knows that many diners will be taking in a show at the club and paces the service accordingly.

The club provides an intimate setting to hear nationally and internationally known acts. Yoshi's features a wide array of music including Jazz, funk, African music, and vocalists. Sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese appetizers can be munched on while you enjoy the show. Tickets may be purchased on the Yoshi's website. All seats are reserved. There's not a bad seat in the house.