Dermott Brereton couldn't decide whether his next Getaway
adventure should be an African safari, deep-sea dive or a walk through an Amazonian rainforest. We made it easy for him and sent him to San Francisco where he could do all three in one day!
California Academy of Sciences is a planetarium, aquarium, natural science museum and research centre all in one and it's just a few kilometres from the heart of the city.
You'll need at least a day to check it out. It's huge. Director of exhibits, Dr Chris Andrews, told Dermott it's more than just about look and learn. It's a place for interaction. The academy is wonderful particularly for children who are growing up in cities. They explore nature seeing it, smelling it, touching it and experiencing the things they are deprived of.
It was designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano. He used super-clear German glass for exterior walls, allowing visitors to look from inside the museum to the green space of the park.
The centrepiece of the four levels is a 27m-high dome. Each level represents a rainforest of the world. You venture from the Amazon on the forest floor to Costa Rica at the top, via Borneo and Madagascar. You'll see Borneo's bat caves, geckos and chameleons from Madagascar, Costa Rica's leaf cutter ants and tropical butterflies and anacondas, piranhas and electric eels of the Amazon.
A real crowd-pleaser is seen by taking a lift to the one hectare rooftop. It has more than 1.5 million native Californian plants, bordered by a glass canopy containing 60,000 photo voltaic cells producing 10 percent of the academy's annual energy needs.
At the on-site research centre you will see scientists hard at work, volunteers going about the halls, shows and displays with live and preserved and star the star living attraction, Claude the albino alligator. There are more than 38,000 living animals and thousands more preserved and fossilised.
You can take a visual safari in the African Hall and trace the origin of Homo sapiens. The Altered State exhibit has a 26m-long blue whale skeleton. You'll see Madagascar and Galapagos through the eyes of scientists.
Visit the Morrison Planetarium, which explores the possibility of living elsewhere in the universe. Go to the moon, Mars, extra-solar planets and return for a close look at earth.
Philippine Coral Coast has underwater viewing windows for a shark's-eye view into the world's deepest reef display. There are more than 2000 types of reef fish in a forest of coral. Sharks and rays swim below your feet on a boardwalk through a mangrove lagoon.
There's loads more to see and there really is something to fascinate everyone.
Related video: Night at the Smithsonian
San Francisco in California.
California Academy of Sciences entry is $33 for adults and $22 for children. Cost includes exhibits and shows including the planetarium, rainforest and any special exhibits currently on display.
V Australia has flights to Los Angeles from:
- Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane $1249
- Adelaide $1549
- Perth $1849
On sale until October 7, 2010, for travel between January 17 and March 31, 2011. Conditions apply.
Connections to San Francisco are available.
Prices correct at September 30, 2010.
For further information
California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park
55 Music Concourse Drive
San Francisco CA 94118
Ph: +1 415 379 8000
Visas: Most Australians do not need a visa, providing they have a machine-readable passport with at least six months' validity after the departure day, have a round-trip non-refundable ticket and do not intend to stay longer than 90 days. Australians need to complete a pre-travel authorisation at www.cbp.gov/esta.
Electricity: 110V to 115v at 60Hz. Outlets take two parallel, flat prongs. Australian visitors will need a US adapter and converter.
Time zone: San Francisco is GMT -8.
Currency: The American dollar.
International dialling code: +1.