Oct 222010
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

It’s been raining a lot lately.  This is good for our reservoirs, but not good for my weekend plans.

All this time spent indoors, reading good books and drinking hot tea, reminds me of the winters that I spent in New York City.  Without the means or the time to escape all of that cold concrete, I used to visit the Central Park Zoo, where I’d slip into the Tropic Zone exhibit, a fully contained rainforest habitat with toucans, sloths and other rainforest creatures.  For the price of an entrance ticket, I’d exchange freezing weather for the humidity of a Central American jungle.

A little more crowded: guests line up to sweat it out in the
glass-enclosed rainforest at the California Academy of Sciences

Although I always prefer to travel to the real places that they represent, I love aquariums, botanical gardens, and recreated habitats for their ability to transport me to regions around the world.  If they’re well done, these places can teach and inspire.  For instance, before I visited Peru, I had never been that interested in Toucans.  But after spending a week in the Amazon rainforest and only catching the briefest glimpse of one of these outrageous-looking birds, I was eager to see and learn more about them.  When I saw them in the rainforest exhibit in Central Park, I was amazed at the detail I was able to observe.  For the first time, I appreciated them as a bird, and not the cartoon character from a Fruit Loops cereal box.  I also decided that one day I’d go back to the rainforest for another chance at seeing them in the wild.

Inside, not outside: a life-sized terrarium,
California Academy of Sciences

Surrounded by water at the Long Beach Aquarium


In California, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the California Academy of Sciences and the San Diego Zoo are all world-class destinations.  Now that I SCUBA dive, I find the aquariums especially interesting because they allow me to observe a lot of the local sea creatures up close, without the variables of poor visibility, cold water, or the necessity of following a dive plan.  Like with the toucan, I find myself more interested in observing the fish in the aquariums after diving with their wild counterparts.  In turn, my aquarium visits make diving outside more interesting and meaningful.

The next time the weather thwarts your outdoor plans, consider visiting your local aquarium, garden, zoo or science center.  I especially love visiting zoos in winter, because I’m usually one of the few people there.  And if it’s cold, you can always slip into the Borneo exhibit or the reptile house for a little warmth.

Gaining a new perspective at the California Academy of Sciences

If you have the flexibility, visit these places during a weekday, or time your visit to avoid the stroller set–even if you are the stroller set!  It’s always more fun to watch the sea dragons when you’re not being jostled and knocked against the glass.  Finally, if buying a membership makes sense, do it! It gives you the flexibility to pop in for a few hours here and there and avoid the lines.  Memberships often come with special members-only extended hours, lectures and special events.  As an added bonus, you’re also supporting the educational and conservation mission of the organization that you join.

Clownfish at the Long Beach Aquarium

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