Let children discover that science is fun
If you’re planning a family holiday in scintillating San Francisco, make sure your itinerary includes a full day or at least half a day at one of the greenest museums in the world – the California Academy of Sciences. It’s a fascinating place for not just children, but grown-ups as well. Lots of interactive stuff, mind-boggling exhibits and so much to explore and discover. From the marvels of outer space to the creatures of the aquatic world and from prehistoric specimens to the biodiversity in the rainforests of the world, visitors can explore and enjoy all of this and more. No wonder the Academy was recently ranked second among the “Best Attractions for Kids in the World” by gogobot.com, a leading US-based travel-planning and social-networking website.
A green and kid-friendly museum
Located in the centre of San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Park, the Renzo Piano designed California Academy of Sciences is more than just a spectacular museum; it’s also a modern research and educational institution that’s equipped with a range of exciting offerings for young students designed to let them discover that science is fun. The focus here is on helping children understand the wonders of life on earth and how to sustain life on our planet.
The California Academy of Sciences has around 40,000 live animals ranging from tiny butterflies and Borneo fruit bats to piranhas and anacondas. It houses a full-scale aquarium, a planetarium, a huge solar canopy, a natural history museum believed to be among the best in the world, and a one-of-a-kind four-storey rainforest – all under a sprawling 2 ½ acre “Living Roof”. The distinctively innovative roof of the California Academy of Sciences is actually a grassy expanse with 1.7 million native California plants. The undulating contours of the vegetation-covered roof create the impression that the Academy is nestling beneath an uplifted portion of the Golden Gate Park’s lush, rolling landscape. Around 50,000 porous, biodegradable trays made from tree sap and coconut husks function as containers for the vegetation. These trays are laid across the rooftop like floor tiles, and as the plants they hold grow, the roots interlock and bind them together. The edges of the sprawling roof are lined with thousands of photovoltaic cells that trap eco-friendly solar energy and satisfy around 10% of the Academy’s electricity need. Natural insulation, ventilation, and cooling systems reflect the way energy efficiency is incorporated into every aspect of the building construction from floor to roof.
A big tourist attraction in San Francisco
On a recent trip to the US in July this year, my family and I spent three days in the ‘City by the Bay’ and one of the highlights of our stay there was a visit to the California Academy of Sciences, one of the big tourist attractions in San Francisco. A short ride on one of San Francisco’s historic streetcars took us to the Golden Gate Park, and a brief walk past flowering trees and beautifully landscaped spaces brought us to the Academy entrance where a couple of school buses were offloading scores of sprightly school kids. When we queued up for tickets, we were delighted to get an unexpected $3 off on each $30 admission ticket for taking public transportation. But besides those who travel to the Academy via public transport, those over 65 and children aged 17 or younger also get to pay lower admission fees, while for children who are 3 years or younger, admission is free.
The place was buzzing with people of all ages, many of them tourists, and soon we joined the steady stream of visitors making their way into the Academy. Once inside, we saw groups of school children gawking at an imposing Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the entrance hall. We however couldn’t linger in the foyer for long, for it was almost time for the penguin feedings we were keen to see. And so we hurried to the African Hall where a huge crowd had already gathered in front of a giant glass tank. Through its glass walls we could see a dozen or so tiny African penguins waddling across a rocky bank above the water level or swimming underwater. Even as we watched them being fed, Academy staff educated us about their peculiar habits. Having checked out the rest of the interesting exhibits in this hall, we proceeded to the aquarium and then to other parts of the museum. Unfortunately, having set aside just half a day for the visit, we couldn’t explore the entire building.
The most unforgettable experiences at the Academy were watching the antics of the colony of African penguins, and observing the free-flying, colourful butterflies and birds in the glass dome-topped rainforest from close quarters.
After stopping for lunch at the Academy Café, we then headed for San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, where more excitement was in store for us.
‘Tis the season for science and Illuminate SF!
Those heading for San Francisco in the next few weeks will be able to witness one of the most beautiful cities in the world embracing the holiday season through a celebration of light as art. The city will be aglow with six huge eco-friendly light art exhibits (a mix of temporary and permanent installations) which have been collectively titled Illuminate SF. One of these spectacular exhibits is the world’s largest LED light sculpture – The Bay Lights. Around 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high, the exhibit comprises 25,000 white LED lights creating a dazzling display across the Bay Bridge’s west span.