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California Academy of Sciences Tickets and Free Days

Updated: February 21, 2024

Families who join us for our San Francisco tours will sometimes ask about whether or not it's worth visiting this museum, and we're always ready to gush about it!

This post covers tickets, deals, and free days for the California Academy of Sciences.

We also explain the exhibits and items that you can expect to see at this museum.

In addition to those details, we'll also include some additional tips and suggestions from locals and travelers who frequent our Facebook Group.

Let's dig in!

Disclosure: While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.

California Academy of Sciences Free Days

If you're curious whether or not this museum offers free admission days, the answer is technically yes, but not at the moment.

The California Academy of Sciences typically provides a free weekend to locals who live in the Bay Area, and this is the only way to get in for free.

If you're looking for other ways to save or perhaps learn even more about their free day policy, please read our section covering all the best CAS ticket deals.


If you’re looking for a museum that has a little of everything, this is the perfect place to visit. 

After all, this is the only place in the world with an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum all in one location.

As the name implies, the California Academy of Sciences focuses on several different branches of science, providing fantastic exhibits on a variety of popular subjects ranging from biology to astronomy and more.

This museum is located in Golden Gate Park, making it easily accessible and close to many other notable landmarks in San Francisco.


The price of admission fluctuates depending on which day you choose to visit. Tickets will typically be at their most expensive on weekends and on short notice.

For the lowest possible admission price, make sure to buy tickets at least two weeks in advance. 

The following prices reflect some of the lowest-cost tickets available when you buy them ahead of time.

General Admission Prices

NOTE: General admission is also included with multiple tourist passes. Check our ways to save section for more details.

  • $36.95 - $43.25/Adults | $28.95-$33.75/Youth
  • $31.95 - $37.75/Students & Seniors
  • Mon-Sat Hours: 9:30 am - 5 pm
  • Sunday Hours: 11 am - 5 pm
  • Thursday Nightlife Hours: 6 pm - 10 pm
  • Availability: Daily
  • Purchase tickets or learn more.

In addition to these admission options, there are also two specialty tickets that include extra activities. 

The first option is their Nightlife event which is offered once a week.

You can find out more about this activity in our exhibits & attractions section.

Nightlife Tickets

Families who want to spend a night at the museum will have the opportunity during their Penguins + Pajamas Sleepovers. 

This activity is only available around a dozen times each year, so it will be important to book your reservations well ahead of time.

You can find more details in our exhibits & attractions section.

Penguins & Pajamas Sleepover Tickets

  • $132 per person
  • $119 for Members
  • Availability: Usually at least once per month
  • Includes the following:
    • Overnight stay in the exhibit area
    • Rainforest access until 8 pm
    • Live animal presentation
    • Late-night snack and breakfast
    • Next-day admission to the museum
  • Learn more about this activity.

There are also several different ways to save money on tickets.

Check the ways to save section below to find out more about the best deals available on admission to the California Academy of Sciences.


In this section, we will cover each of the opportunities available to save money on tickets to the California Academy of Sciences, including tourist passes, combo packages, and other deals.

Tourist Attraction Passes

If you’re planning to visit a lot of notable locations while you’re in San Francisco, a tourist pass could easily help you save a lot of money on several popular activities.

The California Academy of Sciences is included in several different tourist passes.

Depending on which pass you choose, you could save anywhere from 15% - 50% or more off general admission prices.

Some of these services provide access to dozens of attractions over the course of 1, 2, 3, or 5 days. Others offer a specific selection of activities for one flat price.

Check this list of additional attractions included with these passes for other locations you plan to visit so that you can save even more money on reservations:

  • Exploratorium
  • de Young Museum
  • Madame Tussauds
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Ripley's Believe it or Not
  • Walt Disney Family Museum
  • San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • And more!

If you are interested in even a few of these activities, using a tourist pass to pay for admission to all of them could save you a lot of money.

Many of these passes include skip-the-line privileges at certain popular locations in the San Francisco area.

For more details, make sure to read our full post covering San Francisco tourist attraction passes.

Combo Packages

There are 2 combo packages currently being offered which include admission to this museum and at least one other attraction.

The first combo includes both the California Academy of Sciences tickets and the de Young Museum ticket.

These combo packages provide about 10% off the general admission ticket prices for each location.

One of the nice things about this service is you can choose to get each ticket on different days, so you don't have to enjoy both the sights in one day.

That said, you could potentially save more by using a tourist pass instead.

For the sake of comparison, a 1-Day Go City San Francisco Pass includes a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, admission to the California Academy of Sciences, and dozens of other attractions for only $85.

Free Days

San Francisco residents can get free admission to the California Academy of Sciences for one weekend every year.

The date of each free weekend depends on which neighborhood you live in.

Learn more about Neighborhood Free Weekends.

Similarly, if you hold a library card at certain Bay Area libraries, you may be eligible for the Discover & Go program which allows you to “check out” a pass that is good for museum admission for one adult and one youth.

Learn more about the Discover & Go library program.

TIP: If you’re looking for more locations that won’t cost a dime to visit, make sure to read our post covering free museums in San Francisco.

NOTE: Free days are currently on hold due to capacity limitations.

Military Discount

Anyone with a valid military ID or proof of service is eligible to receive $3 off daytime admission to the California Academy of Sciences. 

In order to receive this deal, you must present your ID at the ticket window.

This offer is currently available only for active-duty military personnel and does not apply to family, dependents or friends.

Deal Sites

If all else fails, you can always check sites such as Groupon and Living Social to see if they are currently offering any special deals on admission to the California Academy of Sciences.

In addition to any deal currently available, they also frequently provide special offers for up to 20% off popular local activities and attractions such as this museum.

Make sure to check the top and bottom of each site for banners that may include a special offer that you can use to save even more money off general admission prices.


In this section, we will cover some of the most popular exhibits available at the California Academy of Sciences.

We will also provide information about some of the most popular activities and events at this museum.

Penguins + Pajamas Sleepovers

Spend a night at the museum during these special sleepover events.

Participants will enjoy an overnight stay in an exhibit area such as the flooded forest tunnel or Philippine Coral Reef.

Each ticket includes access to the Rainforest until 8 pm, a live animal presentation, planetarium shows, late-night snacks and breakfast in the morning, as well as admission to the museum on the next day.

Availability is very limited, so you should purchase admission well ahead of time to make sure you can take part in the Penguins + Pajamas Sleepover.


Every Thursday night, this event allows visitors to enter the museum from 6 pm - 10 pm.

In addition to all the different exhibits you can see, there will also be music and cocktails available at the Academy Cafe and a food cart.

Each NightLife event has a special theme, with some focusing on notable attractions in the museum and others inviting live musical guests to perform at the California Academy of Arts.

This activity is only available for 4 hours, so admission prices are usually much more affordable. NightLife is only available to adults who are 21 and older.

NOTE: If you’re looking for more activities to enjoy after dark, please read our post covering things to do at night in San Francisco.

Steinhart Aquarium

With more than 40,000 live animals and 900 unique species, there is plenty of aquatic life to see at this aquarium. 

Visitors can witness the rare Albino Alligator and Claude at this Swamp exhibit.

In addition to attractions like their Coral Reef exhibit, they also have a colony of African Penguins.

Kids may also enjoy the Discovery Tidepool, a touch-tank that allows visitors to actually make contact with several oceanic life forms. 

Osher Rainforest

Visit an actual, living rainforest located inside the museum.

This attraction is four stories high and filled with all kinds of exotic wildlife including birds, reptiles, butterflies, and more.

There are a total of 1,600 different types of plants, animals, and other life forms in this forest – can you spot them all?

Kimball Natural History Museum

Whether you want to see ancient fossils of dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex or learn about gems, minerals, and more, there is plenty to experience at this Natural History Museum.

In addition to those attractions, there are also exhibits focusing on subjects like the California redwoods, earthquakes, DNA, and more!

Morrison Planetarium

This 75-foot dome serves as the screen which provides an incredibly accurate digital representation of our universe and other galaxies.

The shows they provide change out every now and then, but you can usually expect them to focus on subjects related to astronomy, including explorations of other planets and even a tour of the moon!

Tips From Locals and Travelers

We do our best to provide all the information you will need before purchasing tickets, but there are invariably a few questions we unintentionally forget to answer.

Thankfully, there's a Facebook Group for that!

Both our very own San Francisco Travel Tips group and the popular page San Francisco Travel are frequented by both travelers and locals who often provide helpful tips and suggestions.

Here are a few of the better pieces of advice we managed to find for California Academy of Sciences.

While you can usually fit a visit to this attraction into a day with multiple other activities, it is usually recommended to set aside at least 3 to 4 hours to fully explore the California Academy of Sciences.

The museum is vast, with multiple exhibits including a living roof, a planetarium, an aquarium, and various interactive displays, making it worth spending a substantial amount of time to fully appreciate its offerings.

If you're still looking for reasons to visit, it's worth noting that many visitors insist the Steinhart Aquarium is actually bigger and better than the Aquarium of the Bay.

That isn't even the only example we have, this is a very common experience for many travelers who are surprised to find that this museum actually has a better aquarium than others in the area.

Of course, that doesn't mean there's no reason to visit Pier 39, as they also have basking sea lions and a variety of other attractions to enjoy.

For even more recommendations like this, make sure to check various San Francisco Travel Tips Facebook Groups to see what other visitors think about the California Academy of Sciences.


About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo,, and more.
Updated: February 21st, 2024
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