Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Free Day at the California Academy of Sciences!

No flash was used for this photo, it's not allowed for this light sensitive, albino crocodile.
Yes, this albino crocodile is really cool, but I wouldn't have seen it if it hadn't been Free Day at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. It's a fun place to visit and we really enjoyed ourselves, but I just don't think it would be worth $125 for a family of four. This place is expensive; and though it is good, I don't think it compares to the Monterey Aquarium. That is why it is great to  take advantage of Free Day at the Academy.

The CA Academy of Sciences is located in the Music Concourse area of Golden Gate Park.
Four times a year, the Academy offers free admission to the general public. They do not advertise all the dates but if you scroll to the bottom of their admissions page, you can generally see the next time they offer Free Day. I say "generally" because as of now, their page is not up-to-date.
   On Free Day, you need to get there at least one hour early and wait in line. Everyone who waits in line is guaranteed to get in, but you may have to wait until people exit, before you can enter. We arrived one hour before admission and got in half an hour after it opened. It's a really long line!

This was only the beginning of the line, but it was a beautiful day and we took turns walking around.
 The Academy has four main areas: the Planetarium (we didn't have time to go there), the Rain Forest,  the Aquarium and the Living Roof. It also has some smaller sections, one of which is the Naturalist Center. It turned out to be my favorite room.

A picture's worth a thousand words, so here are some photos:

Inside the bio-dome and up a spiral staircase, gives you a view of the rain forest

Looking down on the vegetation below

There were interesting tanks of animals, and butterflies flying free, but hardly any birds. I only saw two songbirds.
 A note about the rain forest - it's warm and humid so dress in layers and bring a water bottle. There is no drinking fountain in the rain forest and I got extremely thirsty. Also, your only exit is to take an elevator down from the top. I think they do this to prevent butterflies from escaping but I found it very annoying because I was hot and thirsty and would rather have trotted down some stairs than wait in line for an elevator. I think they could redesign another exit with double doors to keep butterflies in, but that's just my opinion.

The tropical aquarium

A small touch pool
Yes, free day is really crowded!

Large mouth bass (I think)

The Living Roof has seven hills and a native California environment
Those are skylights behind us. They help regulate the temperature of the Academy interior.
An orca jaw on the field and a nice view of the city.
 A note about the Living Roof: despite the natural green, I didn't see a single bird or insect, maybe it was too windy. There were beautiful views but not much to hold a kid's interest. I did read that they hold some classes on the roof, but they weren't listed on the Roof's webpage.

I liked the Naturalist Center the best - so much to see and touch and it wasn't too crowded.
They have a huge selection of books to read while you're there.
Looking at models of scat and animal tracks

These bookcases were full of egg and animal specimens

A petrified dinosaur bone that you are allowed to touch

According to one docent, artists of all ages love coming here. I can see why.
 The Naturalist Center was by far my favorite because I was amazed at the number of specimens and books they had, not to mention all the things you could touch. I was also told the academy has an under-utilized research library (available by appointment only) with a "huge" number of books and other resources.

 Even though I think admission is too high, if you spent a long day here and took advantage of everything the academy has to offer, I think you would get your moneys worth. If you live close by, a membership would be a good thing to consider.

Admission Prices
$34.95 - Adult
$29.95 - Senior (ages 65+)
$29.95 - Student
$29.95 - Youth (ages 12–17)
$24.95 - Child (ages 4–11)
Children ages 3 and under are free

Free Admission and SF Neighborhood Day: once a quarter and two weekends a year, respectively. Check their website for the exact dates


To save money, bring a picnic and enjoy it in the park.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Turn Your Kids Loose at CuriOdyssey!

Voted "Best Museum on the Peninsula" by the Bay Area Parents Magazine, 2010 - 2013!
CuriOdyssey is a hands-on science and nature museum located at Coyote Point in San Mateo, CA. It's a great place to visit for kids of all ages, but parents of young children will really appreciate it. Why? Because for the most part, you can turn your kids loose to play with the science exhibits, then let them run around the contained nature area, viewing the rescued animals who live there.

Kids are encouraged to touch and explore.

Each exhibit has educational signs that pose questions and explanations.

Parents get a break while their kids play at the sand and water table.
CuriOdyssey is a sanctuary for more then 100 animals, who because of injury or neglect, can no longer live in the wild. Some of the animals are available for public viewing, others are "animal ambassadors" for schools and public programs. All of them are housed in environments that are as natural as possible, although I did see some man made animal toys and shelters in some of the enclosures. The animals seemed happy to me.

A Burrowing Owl

Bobcats - they had just finished wrestling.

A shy badger
I wish I could have gotten a picture of the two River Otters, but they were moving so fast that I couldn't focus in time. I also enjoyed watching a little two-year-old girl who was standing with her hands pressed up to the glass, giggling every time an otter popped up its head and looked at her.

There are insects and reptiles on display too.

A Black Widow

California King Snake
After viewing the animals, we ate lunch outside at a picnic table (my daughter, her friend and I), then bought a cookie ice cream sandwich sold at the gift store. The gift store is very good, by the way - stocked full of fun and educational products.

CuriOdyssey is located in the Coyote Point Recreation Area, which could be a day trip destination all by itself. It is a beautiful area of small green meadows, eucalyptus trees, biking and walking paths - all overlooking the San Francisco Bay. We explored the Bluff Trail a little bit before heading home.

The Coyote Point Marina

View of Foster city? Anyway, it was pretty.

Trails traverse the 149 acres of parkland

CuriOdyssey Admission:  $9 Adults
                                            $7 Seniors (62+)
                                            $7 Students (13-17)
                                            $6 Children (2-12)

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm
             Closed Monday

Location: 1651 Coyote Point Dr.
                 San Mateo, CA 94401


We visited during the week, in the afternoon, so the museum was pretty quiet. But it's a trade-off; in the morning and on weekends, there are wildlife feedings and talks, which I'm sorry we missed. There are also weekend workshops, which take place on the second and fourth Saturday of the month from October through May. Which ever day you choose to go, you'll have fun.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Free Day At The San Francisco Conservatory Of Flowers

The Conservatory Of Flowers in San Francisco is a great budget day trip; in fact, I've blogged about it before. Admission is cheap, and on the first Tuesday of each month, admission is free! Last Tuesday, my parents were visiting, so I took advantage of the free day and showed them around the conservatory. They loved it.
Fine February Weather During Our California Drought
The Conservatory is a Beautiful Example of Victorian Architecture 
The conservatory was originally meant to be a greenhouse for the estate of James Lick, a business man and philanthropist. Unfortunately, he died before the greenhouse could be erected on his Santa Clara estate. With its parts still stored in crates, the green house "kit" was sold and donated to San Francisco. It opened to the public in 1879.

The central dome is nearly 60 feet high.
As my mom said, they don't make iron floors like this anymore!
The conservatory is divided into five galleries, including a rotating special exhibit. Each gallery hosts a huge assortment of unusual and beautiful plants. We were so amazed at the variety, that we were continually pointing out different plants to each other.

Each room was beautiful, warm, and felt great, probably because of the high oxygen content.

The current exhibit, which runs through April 12, 2015, is called, Aquascapes: The Art of Underwater Gardening. As their website says, the aquascapes "were crafted to highlight the diversity of the fresh water tropical waterways of Africa, Asia and South America." The tanks were lovely.

I highly recommend visiting the conservatory even if you can't get there on a free Tuesday (first Tuesday of each month).

Admission is $8.00 for Adults
$5.00 for Youth ages 12-17, Seniors age 65 & over, and College Students with ID
$2.00 for Children ages 5-11
Free for Children ages 4 and under

SF residents pay: $5.00 for Adults
$3.00 for Youth, Seniors and College Students
$1.50 for Children ages 5-11

If you go: it's warm in there, so wear a T-shirt under your layers, and don't overdress your children or they will be miserable. Also bring water because the warmth and humidity makes you thirsty.

Public transportation and Parking

FYI - The conservatory is available to rent (at a non-budget price) for weddings and receptions.

Enjoy your visit and take plenty of pictures!

$8.00 for Adults
$5.00 for Youth ages 12-17, Seniors age 65 & over, and College Students with ID
$2.00 for Children ages 5-11
Free for Children ages 4 and under - See more at: http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org/visit/hours#sthash.PmxthIfi.dpuf
crafted to highlight the diversity of the freshwater tropical waterways of Africa, Asia and South America. - See more at: http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org/special-exhibits/aquascapes#sthash.n3xcdVFR.dpuf
crafted to highlight the diversity of the freshwater tropical waterways of Africa, Asia and South America. - See more at: http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org/special-exhibits/aquascapes#sthash.n3xcdVFR.dpuf
crafted to highlight the diversity of the freshwater tropical waterways of Africa, Asia and South America. - See more at: http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org/special-exhibits/aquascapes#sthash.n3xcdVFR.dpuf
crafted to highlight the diversity of the freshwater tropical waterways of Africa, Asia and South America. - See more at: http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org/special-exhibits/aquascapes#sthash.n3xcdVFR.dpuf

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Spooked! At The Lands End Trail

A View of the Golden gate Bridge from Lands End

The first time I attempted the Lands End Trail in San Francisco, I had to turn back -  that is, we had to turn back -  because someone in our family kept complaining and making all of us miserable. My second attempt at the Lands End Trail failed because I thought a homeless guy was following me and I got spooked. Here is what happened.

My husband and friends ran the SF Half Marathon on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. I dropped them off at the start, then drove toward the end of the race and parked by the Cliff House restaurant. My original plan was to walk around Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach, but since I was so close to Lands End, I decided this would be a perfect time to walk the trail; after all, I had a couple of hours to spare, the early morning light was good for photography, and I could walk at my own pace. But there was one problem, I really, really had to go to the bathroom and the public bathroom adjoining the Visitor Center was not yet open (I believe the Cliff House was closed as well). So I made the mistake of asking a homeless guy (I assumed he was homeless) if he knew where another bathroom might be, because after all, who would know better than someone who lived on the streets? What can I say - I was desperate.

The Cliff House Restaurant and Ocean Beach

Now here's the funny part. The man said he didn't know of another bathroom but he offered me some paper if I needed it -
Me: "No thanks!"
Him: "Or would you like a sock?" (he actually had an old one in his hand)
Me: "No thanks!" (said with a bright smile)
Him: "Are you sure?"
Me: "No thanks!" (quickly walked away) "OKaaay, " I thought to myself, "guess I'll start my walk and hope that I come across an outhouse."

View from the Trail Head

So I started my little walk, and other then one older couple and some guys running in the opposite direction, there was no one else on the trail. I wasn't concerned though, I thought for sure there would be more people. I stopped to take some photos, which allowed the other couple to walk ahead of me and out of sight. Then I continued walking. It was around 7:30 AM which I guess explains why the trail was so empty. But after about 10 minutes, I glanced behind me and saw the homeless man. He was obviously looking at me and picking up speed as he walked. I got spooked. I picked up my speed, ran around a small bend, and then the road forked. I could choose to go straight ahead or up steep stairs to the top of the hill. I chose the stairs, running in a semi-crouch so the guy wouldn't see me if he appeared on the path below. I was breathing hard at the top of the stairs because I am out of shape as far as that particular exercise goes! Luckily, there was a nice older couple at the top who reassured me that I was close to a memorial, with other people around it. Plus it had a bathroom! They even offered to walk with me, but I said I was okay. Now, maybe I overreacted. Maybe all the guy wanted to do was offer me another sock! But I was alone on a path on the side of a cliff, and I think I was right not to take a chance.

Now, the cool thing was, my diversion up the stairs lead me to a memorial for the USS San Francisco.
The memorial is built from the bridge wings of the cruiser. You can see the holes that were torn through the metal (left side of the flag).
The USS San Francisco Memorial is oriented toward Guadalcanal
In 1942 the USS San Francisco, already damaged from an enemy warplane, attacked a Japanese force off the coast of Guadalcanal in a "suicide mission." The ship took 45 direct hits, 106 sailors were killed and 131 wounded, yet the cruiser survived and was able to "limp" back to Mare Island, Vallejo, CA for repairs. She was then able to return to battle for the remainder of the war. It's an impressive story.
September, 1959 the USS San Francisco was sold for scrapping. All that remains are the bridge wings on this memorial.
The memorial is perched somewhere above the parking lot at Lands End. So I walked back down toward the lot next to the Land's End trail head and got some more photos of the Sutro Baths (covered in a previous blog).

Stairs leading to the remains of the Sutro Baths. The Cliff House and museum are down on the left.

Yes, you can walk in the cave.
 My adventure over, I walked along the boardwalk on Ocean Beach back to Golden Gate Park, where I waited for my husband to cross the finish line. The little scare I had on the Lands End trail was a good reminder for me to not walk alone in a lonely place, no matter how beautiful the scenery. It really stinks that we women have to be careful that way, but it is a reality. I'll make a third attempt at the trail one day and blog about it when I do. In the meantime, I hope some of you can check it out and let me know how your hike went, in the comments below.

If you go: it's San Francisco, so bring a jacket, sunscreen, water, possibly a hat and definitely a camera. The 3.4 mile trail is flat and easy, kid friendly (as long as they stay on the trail), and dogs are allowed on a leash.

Free Parking off of Point Lobos Ave by the Cliff House restaurant.

Directions: Google -  Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121
or Sutro Baths, 680 Point Lobos Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121

For more information about Lands End, including points of interest, check out this blog by Every Trail, or this one by the National Park Service.