Saturday, November 22, 2008

Listen to your crazy cab driver.

How about those San Francisco cab drivers? They all seem just a little crazy. Most are at least chatty. Many are flat out excited that you’re in their car. Take the non-active Mormon who drove us to the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park. He had plenty to talk about from the weather to smog in Beijing (even producing a newspaper photo of the horrific Beijing smog.) “San Francisco doesn’t have smog,” he noted.

But the big news from the driver’s seat was the recent opening of the new California Academy of Sciences, just across the street from the de Young. He suggested the de Young is nice, but our trip might be even better if we went to the Academy.

I wouldn’t have taken this comment seriously except the new building for the California Academy of Sciences was designed by Renzo Piano and has been all the rage in the architecture and art magazines. It’s also the greenest museum in the world, having achieved a LEEDS platinum rating, an almost impossible accomplishment.

Though time was tight, we decided to hit the Academy just as it opened. At $24.95, it’s not a cheap museum ticket. But the place is unbelievable. We only had a couple of hours and that is no where near enough time. You can easily eat up the better part of a day at the Academy. We had to focus our time so we spent the morning exploring Water Planet on the lower level.

Here’s an aquarium like none I’ve visited. The walls in the central walkway are composed of a perfectly lit, undulating silvery material. The projection technology is so cool it almost upstages the creatures in the tanks. Almost. The fish, frogs, and snakes are great. Take the tank filled with Leafy Sea Dragons and Weedy Sea Dragons. I can’t even describe them. And the Mossy Frogs—it took a long time to find them, even though they were right in front of our eyes resting in their mossy home. In fact, that was part of the fun. Many of the displays were like a biological Where’s Waldo game as you tried to find the creatures hidden within each tank.

We also visited the swamp where we found an albino alligator and turtles saved in the 1970s, rescued on their way to a restaurant—how’s that for a San Francisco story. One turtle stared up at us, imploring us to help him escape again.

Things we didn’t get to do? There was no time to go through the Rain Forests of the World, a giant, gleaming glass globe that contains an actual rain forest. We didn’t make it to the Planetarium, a giant white globe on the opposite side of the museum. Nor did we have a chance to make the trip to the roof, 2.5 acres of which is planted with native vegetation, making it the largest area of native vegetation in San Francisco. At least I have another good reason to return to San Francisco soon.

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