California Academy of Sciences

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, May 16, 2011

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I checked out of my hotel in Redwood City and drove to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.  An adult ticket is rather expensive at $29.95 but I bought a ticket and went in.

The museum has a very distinct appearance due to its Living Roof, a 2.5-acre expanse of native California plants that provides insulation, prevents storm water runoff, reduces the urban heat island effect and creates a new habitat for bees, birds, butterflies and other local wildlife.

The museum had a number of distinct exhibits: the Morrison Planetarium where they give shows in their large dome; the Steinhart Aquarium with exhibits covering coral reefs, the California Coast, animals that live in the water and African penguins; the Kimball Natural History Museum with exhibits on Africa, the isolated islands of Madagascar and the Galapagos, Climate Change in California, a Foucault Pendulum and T. rex and blue whale skeletons; Rainforests of the World in another big dome containing tropical plants, animals and insects; Evolving Traditions with a Southwest pottery and jewelry exhibit; and Snakes & Lizards.

Shortly after entering, I happened to wander by where they were handing out tickets for the planetarium so I took one, waited a little while to enter and then saw the show. It's not a typical planetarium show about the stars and planets. Instead,, it's a show titled Life: A Cosmic Story, which starts with the formation of the stars and ends with the biological diversity on Earth today.

The planetarium exit is on the top floor so I started to tour the museum from the top down. They have a Naturalist Center on the top floor, which has many preserved insects, animals and plants and an extensive natural history library. They also have an exhibit of southwest pottery and jewelry. It seems out-of-place to me but they used to be involved in anthropology and someone donated an extensive collection to the museum so they show it.

The second floor has an extensive exhibit on reptiles. The exhibit is a mix of interpretive signs and live animals. It's a fairly large exhibit and is quite well done but it seemed like something you'd expect to find in a zoo rather than a science museum.

I then toured the rainforest exhibit. You start on the ground floor and spiral up on a walkway inside a large dome. The plants change as you go from the floor to the canopy. Along with the plants, they have insects, including butterflies and leaf-cutter ants, and birds loose in the dome as well as frogs, snakes, lizards and fish in aquariums.  It's a good exhibit but, again, it seemed like something you'd expect to find elsewhere, in this case at a botanical garden, than in a science museum.

You eventually emerge on the third floor. I took the elevator down to the basement to see the aquarium. The aquarium has sections for various ocean environments as well as some fresh-water environments. A couple of the tanks are quite large and the surface of the water is visible on the ground floor.   I could easily have spent the entire day in the aquarium.  Again, the exhibit is well done but not what you'd expect to find in a science museum.

I then toured the ground floor.  I didn't have much time left so I just rushed through.  It contains the natural history exhibits.  Most of them have a lot of interpretive signs and many have video displays.  To properly see the exhibits would have taken much more time than I had.  The exhibits seemed more like what I'd expect to find in a science museum, or at least a natural history museum.

I drove to St. Helena in the Napa Valley for my dinner reservation at The Restaurant at Meadowood, one of two restaurants in the Bay Area with a Michelin three-star rating.  It's just a few miles away from the other three-star restaurant, The French Laundry.  When I went there last week I arrived after dark and was unable to see their gardens.  Since I had some time before my reservation, I stopped by The French Laundry and wandered around their garden for a while.  They have about 40 roughly 25'x25' raised beds.  Everything was very orderly and well maintained.  It would make most home gardeners envious.  They had some of the plants labeled including variety or cultivar name but none of the plants with labels were ones where I am familiar with the cultivars.

When I was at The French Laundry they also told me I could stop back when I came back to go to The Restaurant at Meadowood to see their kitchen in action.  I still had some time so I took them up on their offer.  I was surprised at the small size of the kitchen staff and how calm the overall mood was.  I'm used to seeing kitchens a lot more harried.

I went to The Restaurant at Meadowood.  Finding the restaurant in the large resort of Meadowood was a little bit of a challenge, a challenge at which my GPS failed, leaving me on my own.  I found the restaurant and went in.  The dining room is somewhat rustic with high ceilings and exposed beams although the tables were much more formal. 

You have two alternatives.  One is any four courses from a list of about a dozen courses for a set price.  The other option is their eight-course tasting menu, which is rather expensive at $225.  They don't offer a vegetarian tasting menu.  I went for the tasting menu.  Four of the eight courses are non-vegetarian.  I discussed some alternatives with the server.  I made some adjustments although I still wound up with some meat courses.

I received a lot of amuse-bouche.  I think they started off with six of them.  Then the actual courses started.  Both the food and the service were quite good and I had a very pleasant meal.

It was late when I finished dinner.  I got a hotel in Vallejo for the night.
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