From watching the antics of the African penguin colony to viewing the graceful movements of sharks and stingrays, visitors gain access to a wealth of captivating galleries and exhibits on the first floor and basement floor of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
It is here that you’ll find the fascinating residents and specimens housed at the Steinhart Aquarium. This attraction not only celebrates the significant role that water plays in the world but also houses an impressive collection of living animals and marine-creatures from across the globe, including electric eels, sun beetles, and an albino alligator named Claude.
Steinhart Aquarium Highlights
To enjoy the many features of the Steinhart Aquarium, you must purchase a ticket to the Academy of Sciences. In addition to enjoying the special exhibits and programs held at the Academy, the Aquarium is home to a fascinating collection of sea-dwelling creatures, as well as animals that live outside of the water.
As you tour the various galleries at the Aquarium, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the vast diversity of plants, creatures, and landscapes from around the world.
The Aquarium houses the following galleries and exhibits:
Philippine Coral Reef Gallery
The 25-foot Philippine Coral Reef Tank is filled with 212,000 gallons of water and represents one of the largest displays of a living coral reef in the world. More than 4,000 vibrant-colored reef fish and other exciting creatures swim about this captivating space.
A diverse collection of marine critters await! Over 100 species of fish decorate the Philippine Coral Reef Gallery tank—from Skunk Clownfish to Unicornfish.
Other underwater species to look out for include soft and hard corals, brownbanded bamboo sharks, blue-legged hermit crabs, blacktip reef sharks, and stingrays.
Northern California Coast Gallery
In an attempt to bring visitors closer to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary habitat, the Academy created the Northern California Coast Tank to mirror the rocky landscape that represents this part of the state.
Creatures calling the 100,000-gallon tank their home include eels, Swell Shark, anemones, the Giant Spined Sea Star, rockfish, herring, snails, rockfish, and purple sea urchins.
Nearby tanks feature a giant Pacific octopus and giant sea bass.
Kids especially enjoy the Discovery Tidepool, where visitors are allowed to touch and inspect a range of marine creatures.
Water Planet Gallery
The Water Planet Gallery specifically zeroes in on the role that water plays in the world and how it helps sustain the survival of all living things. Here, visitors encounter and explore dozens of tanks of varying sizes—some of which hold up to 5,000 gallons of water.
The variety of fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates contained in the tanks continually change, showcasing species such as the Burmese Vine Snake, Desert Pupfish, Glass Catfish, and Vietnamese Mossy Frog.
Not all of the creatures in the Aquarium have fins and swim in the water; the Academy is home to an exciting lineup of live animals that include exotic reptiles, free-flying birds, and fluttering butterflies.
There’s even a cave with bats to enter if you dare.
The Osher Rainforest stretches 90 feet overhead and sits under a dome that protects the impressive displays of plants and animals that naturally thrive in locales such as Borneo, Madagascar, and Costa Rica. Creatures to seek out in this exhibit include the Blue and Gold Macaw, Eyelash Viper, Giant Owl Butterfly, the Amazonian tree boa, and Peacock Bass.
Tusher African Hall
Explore the natural habitat, plants, and animals belonging to sub-Saharan Africa at African Hall, where guests flock to see the star attractions in action—a colony of 20 or so African penguins that delight visitors of all ages.
Throughout the day, you can watch the penguins at feeding time.
Other highlights in African Hall include cichlids, Jackson’s Chameleons, Pancake Tortoises, and the White-throated Monitor Lizard.
The Swamp Gallery
One of the most sought-after inhabitants of the Swamp Gallery (and the Academy) is a rare find and favorite of Aquarium visitors both old and new—a pink-eyed, white-skinned American alligator named Claude.
Take pleasure interacting with creatures that inquisitively stare back from underwater windows. Admire the curious-looking alligator gars (fish that look like gators). Learn what makes the largest freshwater turtle in the world different from other species.
The Swamp Gallery is also home to venomous residents, such as the black widow spider and the Eastern Diamondback snake.
Programs at the Aquarium
In addition to seasonal and holiday-related activities and exhibits, Steinhart Aquarium hosts a multitude of regular programs at the Academy, such as:
Penguin Feedings (daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. with available audio)
During feeding time, visitors learn about the intriguing behaviors of the penguins, including juicy romantic details and family quirks of the colony (as told by the staff).
The Aquarium also has a “penguin cam” set up to deliver wide-view angles of the creature’s habitat at the Academy, as well as underwater views of them swimming and darting through their liquid surroundings. There’s even an app to download for Android devices and iPhones, in case you’d like to take a peek at what the penguins are doing while you’re on the go.
Coral Reef Dives (daily at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.)
Academy divers entertain visitors with information and tales of the reef, including coral spawning and resident clownfish activities.
Golden Gate Park Aquarium (Steinhart Aquarium)
Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive – inside the California Academy of Sciences
Phone: (415) 379-8000
Hours: Open daily from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sundays (11 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
Cost: Included in the price of California Academy of Sciences admission.