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San Francisco's Wonderful California Academy of Sciences

Anemones. Photographs Copyright © 2014 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

The California Academy of Sciences really is one of the wonders of California. 

Located in San Francisco's beautiful Golden Gate Park, just across from the Japanese Tea Garden, the Academy's building alone is worth the visit. 

Photograph by WolfmanSF, courtesy of Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph Copyright © 2014 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

Designed by Renzo Piano, the Academy's stunning $500 million ecologically sustainable structure, with its multi-domed "living roof," is both highly distinctive and, hopefully, earthquake-proof - the Academy having suffered two major losses of structures and parts of its collection, in the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake and in 1989's Loma Prieta earthquake, after which the Piano building was commissioned. 

Photographs Copyright © 2014 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

The Academy's attractions include the hugely popular (be prepared to wait in line) 90-foot-domed Rainforest Exhibit, which includes a beautifully presented view of the Amazonian flooded forest, as well as butterflies flying freely inside; and the Morrison Planetarium, which features the largest all-digital planetarium dome in the world. 

Jellyfish. Copyright © 2014 Alexander Chow-Stuart

My favorite area, however, is the Steinhart Aquarium, which features coral reef, tide pool and swamp exhibits, as well as a much loved colony of African penguins, whose activities can be viewed anywhere on the Academy's free Pocket Penguins app for iOS and Android.

Wandering through the various exhibits of the aquarium is like being transported to another deep and peaceful world, and the chance to view literally fabulous creatures such as the leafy and weedy seadragons (two distinct species), both natives of the ocean south and east of Australia, is a treasure in itself. 

(The seadragons are so sensitive to light - especially flash photography, which is strictly forbidden - and general disturbance that there are two groups, rotated every two weeks or so, with one group kept in a quiet, dark aquarium away from public view.)

Weedy seadragon. Photograph Copyright © 2014 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

If you have an opportunity, visit the California Academy of Sciences - and support their ongoing research by becoming a member. It is one of the world's great museums - and also one of the most popular, with over one million visitors per year. 

Its history is fascinating to read on Wikipedia: aside from being one of the first major institutions to fully recognize the value of female scientists and staffers from its foundation in 1853, the free opening day of the new Renzo Piano building on September 27 2008 attracted such huge crowds that the line for admittance was over a mile (almost two kilometers) long, and while over 15,000 people were admitted, several thousands more had to be turned away. 

The Academy has a free Sunday four times a year (the next is June 1 2014), which - if you don't mind waiting in line outside for admission - makes the wonders inside accessible to all. 

All photographs (except main photo of the exterior of the California Academy of Sciences building) copyright © 2014 Alexander Chow-Stuart


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