California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences, home to an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, is a groundbreaking research and educational institution. Devoted to studying and sharing the diversity of life on the planet, the Academy’s mission is to explore, explain, and protect the natural world. Its stunning home in Golden Gate Park, designed by architect Renzo Piano, combines innovative “green” architecture with inventive exhibits, including the four-story Rainforests of the World dome, the world’s largest all-digital planetarium, the Philippine Coral Reef, Water Planet, a “living” roof garden of native plants, podcasts, live penguin cams, and more.

The oldest scientific institution in the western United States, the California Academy of Sciences was founded in San Francisco in 1853 by a group of naturalists and scientists intent on surveying, collecting, and studying the natural resources of California and beyond. Its scientists set out on expeditions of exploration around the American southwest, into Mexico and Latin America, and across the Pacific to Asia, as well as to the Galapagos and other Pacific islands.

In the late 1800s, the Academy’s specimens and artifacts drew thousands of visitors, and its collections outgrew its first museum. It moved to a larger home on Market Street in 1891, and after the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed that building, built a magnificent Beaux Arts complex in Golden Gate Park. North American Hall opened in 1916, to be joined in later decades by Steinhart Aquarium, Simson African Hall, Science Hall, and Morrison Planetarium.

In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake caused structural damage to the Academy’s aging facilities in Golden Gate Park, which were filled to bursting from the size of its collections. The old complex closed in 2003 and construction began on the new building, in the same location. Opened in 2008, it is a model of sustainable, energy- and water-efficient design, and is the world’s largest “green” museum. Exhibits incorporate both old favorites like the Swamp and African Hall, new exhibits utilizing advanced technologies, and more than 38,000 live animals in displays that engage visitors in the interdependence of earth, ocean, and space.

The Academy continues to be a leading research and educational institution. Staff scientists and associates lead expeditions around the world and conduct cutting-edge research in 11 fields of study, with the goal of better understanding and protecting Earth’s living things. Its research collections include more than 26 million specimens. The Academy also offers a wide range of workshops, lectures, events, field trips, and special programs in the natural sciences for schoolchildren, educators, and the general public.

The California Academy of Sciences is located on the southern edge of the Music Concourse, in the eastern section of Golden Gate Park.