California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

In 1853, the academy was created to collect natural items from every corner of California. Located in San Francisco, it comes as no surprise they were already progressive and hired many female scientists in the 19th century.

The first official permanent building was opened in what is now Chinatown, before becoming so popular it had to move to Market street. Then the 1906 earthquake and fire wiped out everything except one cart full of items, requiring the institute to start over. This was initiated by an expedition to the Galapagos Islands.

In 1916 it moved to a purpose built building in Golden Gate park where it resides today. The 1989 Loma Prieta quake damaged the building as it was not built for that kind of shaking. It also did major damage to the below-ground Steinhart aquarium, resulting in a complete teardown and rebuild after years of evaluation and fund raising.

The Grounds

Well, the day I visited was during the wettest October in history with the 4th highest rainfall ever recorded, along with 70mph winds that caused a lot of tree damage to the park. (All it took was me walking across the street downtown to get completely soaked; that's how bad it was), so the grounds were not really something I could explore.
This is minor compared to the things my cab had to dodge on the way up here

The Museum

The academy is primarily an open floor format with some room separations put in place via large architectural features. An old-school hall of dioramas of Africa was a nice throwback to the past. At the end of the hall, the Penguin diorama wasn't static - they are alive in there. Nice twist Academy, nice twist.
The classic age of exploration dioramas of African life These are what I was brought up with as a kid
But the mix of the display with live animals that matches the rest, this is kinda genius The Nature hall side, weather, animals, etc
Ahhh, love these Foucault pendulums Looking down, I see people and I was like 'wait... where are they?'.  Look below to see!

The Aquarium

After seeing the view port in the coral pools on the main floor I began to search for a way downstairs, and well, the aquariums housed below are almost beyond description. Just astounding presentation and views of amazing undersea life.
How can you even explain this to someone?  You have to see this one in person Various oceans represented in differing seascapes Lots of live displays
Such a nice series of displays, with a lot of area unseen so the animals can have some time away Very calm and serene lighting
Pretty, but man do they pack a punch

Back upstairs

This is Claude, he is real and he is alive The play of the ocean and the valleys here create a lot of fog in the bay area.  I couldn't see a thing in this room
Many marine coastal animals, all from California This is a trend I have not seen until lately. Maybe I was just going to the wrong places, but whale skeletons abound 3 stories of enclosed tropical environment complete with butterflies and orb weaver spiders (no, no pictures, I had difficulty even moving past them. Yes, now you know my kryptonite)
The large enclosure Constant recycling and rebirth of the butterflies flying throughout the biosphere

Upper floors

The upper floors have the shark area, minerals and gems, a great learning center, and the members lounge (it's a balcony with a coffee machine). Also the entrance to the green roof which was closed during this ridiculous storm.
Cool exhibit, no live sharks, but some interesting full wall displays and immersive video room It's not natural history without minerals! And of course everyone has to have a gem collection

Summary

At first when I got in and saw the first floor (and thinking that was all there was to the place), I thought I had overpaid at $45 to get in. Then as I experienced the rest of the academy, I was not so affected. The aquarium alone was close to worth the entry fee.

There is a restaurant (which given the rules to eat outside... not doing that during the storm) and some pretty good gift shops. The learning centers are great for children, as is most of the museum. A great and fairly unique experience so yes, it's a go-to. Citypass has some cheaper options allowing you to bundle multiple places if you want to go that route and avoid the somewhat pricey singular tickets.