California Academy of Sciences


Finally visited the new California Academy of Sciences. While I have fond memories of the old building, even as a kid I was aware that it was a bit of a throwback to an earlier age of museum. Dusty dioramas and dark, prison-like fishtanks and terrariums paled in comparison to what I could see in Monterey. So it was nice to see a new building with updated displays and tanks.

I especially love the updated aquarium since not only are the tanks nicer, the large Farallon Islands tank highlights a major local marine sanctuary which is distinct from the Outer Bay exhibit in Monterey. That aquariums tend to have such a local focus is one of the reasons I’ve started preferring them to zoos.

Despite not being local, I do like the rainforest exhibit as well since it’s always nice to have exhibits which you’re truly inside to the point where you need to doublecheck that you’re not removing anything when you exit. It’s especially great for kids since it’s truly immersive. I still have to boost them up to see things but there’s no “walking to the next enclosure” downtime.

At the same time, I did find myself looking for things I remembered from the old building.* Besides the alligator pit and the dioramas, not much is left.** But I was pleased to see the dioramas—even if they still feel so dated—even after being updated with projected moving backgrounds. There’s something about the continuity of being able to show my kids how my grandparents learned about the world which appeals to me.

*Like the electric eel (present), piranhas (not present), and foucault pendulum (present).

**Compared to the San Francisco Zoo where much of the old zoo is still there, lurking behind and peeking through the fancy new stuff.


Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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