In front of the California Academy of Science, the Greenest Museum Ever*. I think it looks like a butt-ugly mall, but what do I know about sustainable design?
Tickets to the Academy are ridiculously overpriced at $25 each, but working the discount codes I found online I was able to get Seanie's ticket down to $19.96 and mine down to $15.96. Funny how prices seem so much more reasonable when they're under $20.00, because they're not. The London Natural History Museum was free, for crying out loud! But whatever. This is America, where everything is ridiculously commercialized. When we got to the museum, we couldn't even enter until our photographs were taken in front of a green screen, lovely souvenirs that we could purchase at the end of our visit for some ludicrously high price. Oh, great. That just screams 'science' to me. As we entered, we were warned to grab timed tickets to the Planetarium and the 'Extreme Mammals' exhibit, because those would be hard to get into if we delayed.
Smack in the middle of the museum was a large glass cube with cheap plastic seats inside, with a little cart for snacks. It was the first thing you saw when you walked in the main door. I mean, nothing screams "SCIENCE!" like watching people eat. It wasn't even the main cafeteria or the "Moss Room" a fancy restaurant with $20-$30 entrees.
First we went to see what was so extreme about mammals. Humans, it seems, are some of the most extreme mammals of all because they walk on two legs, don't have a true tail, and have minimal fur. But the Museum staff, realizing that this amazing revelation really isn't all that exciting, tried to jazz it up by showing models, skeletons, and artists' renditions of other "extreme" mammals. But the exhibit seemed haphazard and disconnected. A stuffed platypus might be displayed in one glass case, but the discussion of monotremes might be two or three cases away. The last section, which dealt with extinction, had a large amount of space dedicated to the La Brea tar pits. Not that I have anything against tar pits - they're pretty cool, and full of fossils - but they didn't cause the extinction of animals.
Indy the Indricotherium, the largest land mammal ever
What's up with the turtles nailed to the wall?
I was disappointed by the lack of dioramas. I mean, that's what I remember most from my childhood visits - endless halls of animals, dinosaurs, and people in "natural" settings. The main hall of the museum is large and airy, but the exhibits displayed - one about the Galapagos, and one about climate change - were little more than random objects glued to particle board. They had giant Galapagos turtles on display ten feet in the air, way above the heads of little kids. Wouldn't the turtles have had so much more impact if they were in a diorama at eye level, so the kid could get a better idea of the size perspective? I mean, we barely even noticed them!
Don't get me wrong, fish paintings are nice, but really? That's what you display in your prime foot traffic location?
Also, walls just had giant pictures of random crap. Very disappointing.
We had picked up Planetarium tickets for 10:30, so after poking around the Galapagos exhibit, watching a video about diving undersea and reading about turtles, we were let in. It turns out that the "planetarium" is all digital, and looked more like an IMAX theater than any "real" planetarium I've ever been to. That was a huge disappointment, actually. I never have trouble with traditional planetarium projectors, but big digital screens tend to give me a headache. The movie was narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and talked about the life cycle of stars. There were some cool moments when the camera would zoom through a nebula, but honestly? What's the point of going to a planetarium to watch something I can pop into a DVD player at home? Where's that giant "star ball" in the middle of the room?
Seanie on the living roof
The living roof was pretty cool. (I just want to call it the Bio-Dome.) It's covered in native California plants, and there were tons of colorful flowers that just don't show up in photographs. They were beautiful. If you paid an extra fee, you could get a 'behind the scenes' tour that let you walk out further, but we were restricted to a little platform in the middle of the roof. There was a great view of the De Young Museum across the street. It was bloody cold, though. Stupid San Francisco.
At this point I was starting to realize that certain things I'd looked forard to seeing were missing. There didn't seem to be any geology information, which meant that there was NO 1906 EARTHQUAKE SIMULATOR!!! Trauma trauma oh the horror! No volcanoes, no glowing rocks, no meteorites...and hardly any fossils! No dinosaurs! Science isn't science without dinosaurs!
Also, all the cultural anthropology stuff was nowhere to be found. No Native American baskets or kachina dolls anywhere, no stiff mannequins pretending to hunt deer...nothing. Just gone.
I guess that when the Academy decided to add a living rainforest dome, that other stuff got cut. I mean, domes take up space, so I can understand the decision, but I'm very disappointed by it!
The rainforest dome was pretty cool, though. There were three levels, representing different kinds of rainforests - Costa Rica, Madagascar, and the Amazon - and each floor had different reptiles and bugs native to that area. The snake make me cringe, they're so gross! I hate snakes. The way they move creeps me out. But the little frogs were so cute, even if they were hiding most of the time. I wonder how happy they can be, trapped in little glass boxes like that.
Cute little froggies! Real and breathing!
Fake little froggies! Plastic and lame!
The rainforest seemed magical, with butterflies fluttering all over the place and birds whizzing through the air. (In fact, when you leave you have to go through two separate rooms where employees are watching you carefully to make sure you aren't taking any butterflies with you on a free ride. Apparently, it's a problem.) In one area, I got really excited because I saw red frogs peeking through the leaves and thought I was seeing real animals. But it quickly became apparent that they were just fake, put on the leaves to trick kids. I'm not sure if I'm bitter because they did that or because it worked on me.
You can't touch the butterflies, but they can touch you.
He's so cool. Check out those crazy colors.
The aquarium was on the bottom level. I didn't like the layout; it seemed labyrinthine with lots of skinny corridors lined with fish tanks. Since it was later in the day, the place was crawling with little kids, which didn't help. The Philippine Coral Reef tank was really pretty. The fish were so colorful! It was right around feeding time, so they were actively swarming around. By comparison the California Coast fish seemed drab and bored, floating aimlessly in grey water.
That fish was so bored that it just floated there and stared at me. I think he was stoned or something.
The last big aquarium area was the Swamp Gallery, home to a big albino alligator and a bunch of mean-looking turtles. How pleasant. Inexplicably, right next to the window where you watched the gator and his crew were two smaller enclosures that were home to a black widow spider and a rattlesnake. Were we still in the aquarium at that point, or had we ventured into a special room for 'Nasty Animals'?
The turtles refused to be photographed.
Albino alligators are freaky looking. He doesn't even look real!
liich , it makes me think of you, because almost all things reptilian and amphibian make me think of you.
Penguins are cute. What more do you need to know?
One of the penguins, Pierre, started losing feathers a few years ago and had to wear a wetsuit in order to swim. After wearing the suit for a while, his feathers grew back, and the twenty-six year old penguin continues to splash around today. Crazy to think that he's older than me, when penguins usually don't live for more than fifteen years. One of his wetsuits is displayed next to the penguin's viewing window, and you can buy a children's book about Pierre's ordeal:
The cafeteria had really, REALLY good food. It was ridiculously expensive - I think Seanie spent close to $30 getting us fed with fish & chips for me and fettuccine alfredo for him. There were pork buns and spring rolls and pizza and soups galore...a little bit of everything, it seemed. There was a great looking dessert bar, too, but the servings were so huge we didn't touch it.
We were at the museum all day, from 9:30 in the morning 'til past 4pm. So I can't complain that we didn't get our money's worth. It was loads of fun. But I missed the old museum, too. It was much more California-centric, with a gallery of California Coastal life, dioramas about the lives of California Indians, and a huge display about earthquakes and volcanos, and how our location in the world contributed to California's tectonic tremors. This new museum seemed to focus more on the tropical areas of the world, and on bringing the foreign and exotic to us. I guess it's not a bad change, but much of the Academy seems disorganized and lacks a unifying theme. I thought that was disappointing.
But from the grins on our faces you can see we had plenty of fun!