How to Maximize Your Visit To The Cal Academy of Sciences With Kids

The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is one of many incredible places that make San Francisco such a special place to raise a family. The amount of thought-provoking, awareness-raising, and fascinating life science STUFF packed inside the award-winning Green Building keeps us coming back for more. There is so much to enjoy here, from the cutting-edge aquarium on the bottom floor to the living green roof on the top.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

Boy looking into an aquarium built in to a wall in a circle shape at the academy of sciences in san francisco

After many trips to the museum with a preschooler and a toddler in tow I have worked out a system which saves me money and guarantees fun we have each time we visit. Without further ado, below are my tips and tricks for navigating the California Academy of Sciences with littles:

Note: For up to date information about museum hours and COVID-19 safety measures, visit their website here.

The California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences for kids.


Our favorite time to be at the California Academy of Sciences is the early-to-mid afternoon on weekdays.  Around 1:30 pm most of the field trippers are loading back onto the buses and many of the babies have gone home to have lunch and a nap. While the mornings tend to be a little hectic no matter what day it is, the afternoons are the best time to go. 


There is a parking garage connected to the museum but parking rates are a bit pricey (weekdays it’s $5 per hour with a max of $29, weekends it’s $6 per hour with a max of $33.) If you’re a little more frugally minded (raises hand) there is free 4 hour street parking along MLK, jr. drive and Nancy Pelosi drive. We usually can find a spot on MLK, jr. drive near the botanical garden north Friend gate. It’s a short 3-5 minute stroll through beautiful Golden Gate park to the museum entrance. 

Where to park in Golden Gate Park.
Stars indicate street parking available. Be sure to read all posted signs and look out for curbs painted red.

Remember when you street park to never leave any valuable belongings in sight in your vehicle.


Come prepared with refillable water bottles. You can fill up at the multiple water filling stations located around the museum (and give yourself a pat on the back for being so eco-friendly.) I always bring sippy cups that lock closed. That way I have a drink on hand for the kids that won’t get the backpack and stroller wet.

The Academy of Sciences is also now serving my favorite local coffee company ANDYTOWN coffee roasters in the academy café. I bring my own thermos and use it for water first, then hit up the cafe for a cup of joe which I ask them to put in the thermos. That way I can have a delicious caffeinated beverage sealed up in a eco-wise (and spill proof) container while I chase my active kids through the exhibits. 

And while the Academy cafe has many tasty food options, we always pack lots of snacks to cut down on costs. There is no restrictions for bringing your own food into the museum and plenty of fun places to stop and enjoy lunch or a snack. 

Things to do at the California Academy of Sciences.
Snacking while waiting for Claude the alligator to move.


You can save money on admission just by planning ahead. If you buy your tickets in advance you can save up to $5 on adult tickets vs. paying at the door on the day of. Find out more here:

If you do buy your tickets for full price at the door, you can still save money if you got to the museum in an earth friendly way! You can get $3 off your ticket when you take public transit, ride your bike or walk to the museum. Just mention your mode of transportation to the ticketing agent.

Bundle experiences and save

If you are visiting and looking to bundle your San Francisco experiences, take advantage of CityPASS. One ticket includes admission to the California Academy of Sciences, Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, Aquarium of the Bay, the San Francisco Zoo, and The Walt Disney Family Museum. Save 44% on San Francisco’s top attractions with CityPASS. Shop Now.

Science Hop (incl. 1-Day Hop-On Hop-Off Tour + California Academy of Sciences)

Grab admission to the Museum and a 24 hour ticket on the hop-on, hop-off double decker bus. Save Money and disembark at any of the stops to check out attractions at your own pace. Science Hop (incl. 1-Day Hop-On Hop-Off Tour + California Academy of Sciences)

If you are a San Francisco resident it is quite possible for you to visit the museum for zero dollars and zero cents. There are two ways to do this: 

  1. Check out the neighborhood free weekends calendar here: If the zip code listed matches the zip code on your drivers license, you and your kids are in! 
  2. Check the Discover and Go calendar through the San Francisco Library. Every year, San Francisco residents with a library card are eligible for a free trip to the Academy of Sciences for one adult and one child! Passes to the Academy of Sciences are not always available on the website, so check often (especially towards the beginning of the month) to make sure you grab an available reservation. Learn more here:

Remember that all children under 2 get in free! 


You will surely find everything fascinating there, but here are a couple of my kid’s favorite spots to check out during your visit:

Scuba Divers in the Philippine Coral Reef

Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences.

The Steinhart Aquarium is home to incredible sea life. This world-class aquarium is located on the lower floor of the museum and has multiple exhibits, including our favorite, the Philippine Coral Reef. Twice a day real live people plunge into water in scuba gear. They swim with fish from the depths of a philippine coral reef and talk to the audience via a microphone in their mask. It’s magical and not to be missed! 

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the most diverse aquariums in the Bay Area. Visit animals from the California coast, learn about the live animals that live in the deep “twilight zone” of the ocean, and get a close look at an octopus’ tentacles, all in one place. The Aquarium has fascinating exhibits.

Curiosity Grove Toddler Play Area

Toddler Play Area at the Academy of Sciences

This is a really sweet and fun space designed for kids 5 and under to play in. My kids love running over the little bridge and playing with the stuffed animals and puppets. If you’re looking to strike up a conversation with a fellow parent while your kids play, this is the spot. 

Penguin Feedings

There are live african penguins in the Tusher African Hall near the Kimball Natural History Museum. Twice daily an Academy Biologist gives a talk while the penguins are fed. During this 20 minute presentation kids can ask their questions and learn more about this incredible penguin colony.

Want to see the Penguins right now? Check out the Live Penguin Cams.

Wander Woods in the East Garden

Wander Woods is one of the new exhibits open in the East Wing of the Academy of Sciences. This sweet little haven of outdoor unstructured play is perfect for kids to explore, climb and use their imaginations.

Made with native plants and trees to the Northern California region and repurposed wood from the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, this exhibit reflects it’s natural home.

Butterflies in the Rainforest


As you walk up the stroller friendly ramp in the Osher rainforest dome more and more butterflies start to appear. At the very top of the four-story rainforest you will find many different species of butterflies and their chrysalises and cocoons on display. My kids love watching the butterflies flit around the space. Once in a while a butterfly will actually LAND on them or me, and that makes our entire week. 

Children’s Puppet Theatre

Puppet Theatre

The puppet theatre shows at the Academy of Sciences have been delighting my son since he was a baby. Now that he is 4 it’s so fun to watch him shout out answers and interact with the story. Not only is it entertaining and educational, it’s a great low pressure way to introduce your children to live theatre. 

Be sure to check the daily schedule to see event times and locations.

Claude the Albino Alligator

One of San Francisco’s local celebrities is Claude the American alligator. He was born with a rare condition called albinism, which means his skin has no pigmentation, making him appear white.

During the daily Swamp Talks, learn about Claude and his fellow swamp dwellers. You can also pick up a copy of Claude: The True Story of a White Alligator in the gift shop.

Visiting the California Academy of Sciences with Kids

It’s exciting for me to watch my kids discover new things every time we go to the museum. The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate park is a fantastic educational institution. There is something for every age group and always more to learn. A few days ago we were there and my preschooler discovered the interactive tablets in the aquarium that describe the species living there. He absorbed so many new facts about the different animals we saw. The environmental education offered here is unmatched.

The San Francisco Academy of Sciences is located at 55 Music Concourse Drive, across from the de Young Museum. Find out more about their popular exhibits:

Things to do at the Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences- Ultimate Guide

Recent Posts:

1 thought on “How to Maximize Your Visit To The Cal Academy of Sciences With Kids”

  1. Thank you for all the great information! I love taking my grandchildren out to museums and other fun learning environments!!

Comments are closed.