Nanay and Lionel’s Big Day Out at Cal Academy of Sciences

Apparently Columbus Day is a non-working holiday in the U.S. So thank you to Sir Christopher for getting lost and thinking he chanced upon India despite the northern hemisphere weather.

I took the opportunity to do some exploring of my own using the free day, (too bad my wife had to work) and along with my mother-in-law, we went to see what the fuss was about at the newly-opened California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

We got there via public transportation: BART train and the MUNI #5 Fulton Bus. It’s a very short walk from the corner of Fulton and 8th Avenue. No chance of getting lost. The signages were everywhere and the people spilling out of the bulding was a dead giveaway.

Deja Vu
My first reaction was: wait a minute, I’ve been here before! True enough, I last visited the museum in 2002, back before its current makeover and back before it was cool. The place has been spruced up and made snazzy with glass walls, several food outlets, that green living roof, and the nice new planetarium and rainforest domes.

First thing we hit was the attraction that needed no lining up: the Aquarium on the basement level. Let me just say this: even if you don’t normally enjoy fish or aquariums, you will love this. I was going: “Nanay, look at all the zany neon colored fish!”

One of the coolest parts was the Philippine Coral Reef exhibit which felt very much like home — without the panic. (As a side note, the last time I went snorkelling with my wife in Sorsogon in 2002, I took 2 peeks at the outerspace vista opening up underneath me and panicked. “Honey, there’s a whole alien world under the sea! And I’m not a part of it! I’m gonna die!”)

There were tide pools where kids could hold starfish, and hundreds of other attractions that informed and entertained. Lovely.

Lunch then Living Roof
We took a quick lunch (we arrived at 12 noon) at their restaurant area. Hmm. Sandwiches for 8 dollars? Might be a good idea to bring a packed meal if you plan a day trip there.

We then went up to view the living roof on the 3rd floor, where, overlooking the street we found that there was a hotdog truck parked outside the building and offering cheap meals for much less than we paid inside. Drats.

Anyway, back to the Living Roof… it’s basically the museum roof piled high with earth and seeded. Plants now grow on it. And the entire thing insulates the structure underneath. Cool in the heat, warm in the cold. Nice. But, you know, nothing spectacular.

We tried lining up for the Rainforest Dome next, and endured a half hour line (yes, we DID choose to go on a national holiday, for goodness’ sake, so I shouldn’t be complaining) before entering a place where butterflies flit over everything, and both flora and fauna native to tropical areas were on display.

Part of the fun lay in finding the animals in their displays. “Oh, where’s the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog? There he is underneath the leaf!” What was not fun however was the way the display cases were laid out. Honestly, the flat levels in the Rainforest Dome were tight spots with dead ends. Museum visitors had to go into a level, and then back out the same way they came in, crowding around tight corners where the display cases were located. Not very logical or comfortable. Or maybe it was simply the sheer number of people in the place.

At the end of the Rainforest trip, they take you by elevator to the basement where you go through a see-through tunnel that’s underwater. Looking up at the fish swimming above you is pure delight.

Africa and Shopping
We then discovered the cute penguins at the African Hall and all the stuffed animals. Not as impressive when it’s stuffed. No wonder there were less people here than in the Aquarium. Still, standing in front of a monstrous-looking, full-muscled antelope is a lesson in humility. Man is a tiny thing in the scheme of creation.

The lines were still long at the Planetarium so we decided to skip it, and headed home by about 4:15 PM. Or rather, we headed back to Market Street where we ended up window shopping at the Westfield Mall. That’s one thing you can be sure of when out with my mother-in-law: if you suggest shopping, she will very rarely say no.

At grace before our dinner, my mom-in-law summed it all up in her prayer: “Thank you, Lord for our trip today where we got to see the glory of your creation. How beautiful is your work, O Lord.”


Cal Academy photo
Cal Academy of Sciences photo by Monster Pete on Flickr.

Lionel's signature


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