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The Green Museum in San Francisco

By Andrea Sotelo |

Visit the California Academy of Sciences and discover the place where love of knowledge and ecological awareness come together.


San Francisco is a city characterized by the development of an ecological conscience; thanks to this, a number of programs have been developed seeking to promote a greater participation in environmental problems, inviting residents to adopt simple practices such as avoiding the use of plastic bags or recycling elements to create compost. That’s why it’s one of DINKtravelers’s favorite destinations. However, the interest of this city in ecological problems has existed since the mid 19th century, when, during the gold rush, the population of the west coast grew due to the excavations that were carried out in search of this precious metal. Three years after California was named a state, a group of naturalists and scientists formed the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 1853, becoming the oldest scientific institution in the west coast.


Since its inception, the California Academy of Sciences aimed to study the state’s natural resources; however, after some time, the research carried out in the CAS began to include Mexico, Latin America, Asia, and some islands of the Pacific Ocean as objects of study. This work was then complemented with the teaching of this knowledge through the establishment of a museum.

Currently, the Academy is located in Golden Gate Park, northeast of San Francisco, although this wasn’t always the case, since the museum has been forced to relocate several times for a variety of reasons, from the destruction of the buildings caused by an earthquake to the need to adapt the facilities to the new requirements of the CAS. The current building was designed in 2003 by the renowned architect Renzo Piano on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Academy. It replaced the old building that the museum had occupied since the beginning of the 20th century. The new building opened in 2008, making the Academy of Sciences the largest green museum in the world, and proving that its concern for environmental issues is still present. As an example of this you will see its green roof, formed by diverse plants that cover all the roof of the building. These, in addition to representing a natural space in the building, help the interior stay fresh thanks to the humidity they generate.


While research remains an important activity in the Academy, something that currently sets it apart from other institutions, is that teaching plays a major role, so the exhibits are the perfect way to take their findings to the public. The classic attractions they have at the Academy are: Morrison Planetarium, Kimball Natural History Museum, Osher Rainforest and Steinhart Aquarium. Each one shows the use of state-of-the-art technology and ecological awareness that guides the institution to achieve a deeper immersion of people in the activities.

  • As a visitor to the Morrison Planetarium you will enter a dome of more than 22 meters in diameter, whose frame was made of 100% recycled steel. It works as a screen in which you can observe the latest discoveries and theories about our universe. You will see screenings of tours to far-away galaxies, to short films about the diverse asteroids and comets that have changed life on Earth as well as the Earth’s current ecosystems. Best of all, these contents are always narrated by personalities such as George Takei.
  • At the Kimbal Natural History Museum you will learn about the discoveries that the Academy has made in its more than 150 years of research, and receive information about problems nature faces in present times. Among its main attractions there’s the Foucault pendulum, which since the beginning of the CAS, has been used to prove the rotation of the Earth. In addition, you can admire the skeletons of a tyrannosaurus and a blue whale. However, perhaps the most popular exhibit in the museum is the colony of African penguins developed to prevent their extinction.
  • Then, when visiting the Osher Rainforest you will find a dome of almost 30 meters in diameter in which you will cross three types of rainforest distributed in four floors connected by means of a spiral way. There you will enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet where you will see more than 1600 live animals, from birds to amphibians.
  • Finally, as part of the Osher Rainforest, the Steinhart Aquarium is one of the most diverse and interactive aquariums in the world. You will have the possibility to participate in activities that have the purpose of showing the role that marine habitats play in the development of life on Earth.Don’t miss the coral reef tank!

At the end of the day reload your energy by having lunch at one of the museum’s cafés or walk approximately 10 minutes to the nearest picnic area.


Every Thursday, after closing time, from 18:00 to 22:00 h, the Academy hosts an event called Nightlife. As the word suggests, during these hours the museum becomes a place where adults can live and learn together while enjoying live music and cocktails.

Every week adult night is organized under a different theme, from the traditional gastronomy of different countries to robots. Everything evolves around that theme, from the music –introducing local new talent– to the cocktails and the lectures.  In addition, it offers the possibility of visiting the permanent exhibitions.

Never before has learning about science being such a fun tourist activity!