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Posted by on May 17, 2012 | 3 comments

A Tale of Two Aquariums in San Francisco

Let’s say you are visiting San Francisco and for some reason you have the desire to visit an aquarium.  You may be in the city with kids, you may want to do something different or you may have an interest for underwater creatures.  Or maybe a rainy day limited your sightseeing options.

In that case, where to go?

You have two options, the Aquarium of the Bay or the Steinhart Aquarium. But which one is better?

Today is your lucky day because I am here to give you my opinion on both places.  During my first visit to the city by the bay, I bought a City Pass.  The pass included admission to both aquariums.

Here are my general thought and advice regarding both places.

Steinhart Aquarium

Location: Inside (or integral part) of the Academy of Sciences.

Feather like coral


If I were you, I will pick this aquarium.  Why?  The exhibitions are fabulous and there are tons of exotic creatures.  Because it is part of the Academy of Sciences, you have the opportunity to check their other awesome displays.  I mean you can visit a rainforest, aquarium, planetarium, museum, living roof and many others in one place.  This is one of the top sights in San Francisco and it is totally worthwhile.

However, if you visit, take into considerations the following facts:

  • The admission price is $29.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids.  These prices can be hefty if you have a big family.  Remember, you can save using discounts or a City Pass.
  • To get the most bang for your buck, you have to turn this visit into an entire day affair.  This may not fit your travel plans.
  • The Academy of Sciences is located in the Golden Gate Park.  If you have a car, you will have to pay for parking.  If you are relying on public transportation, take into consideration that you need to take two buses to reach the place from downtown.  The entire trip takes 45 to 60 minutes one way.
  • The food inside the Academy is overpriced and with a generic flavor.  There are not a lot of eating options in the area.
  • Ideal for a rainy day.  Check weather during your visit.  I messed up and did the Academy on a sunny day.  Then, I wasn’t able to have a good look at the Golden Gate Bridge because of fog.

Here are some pictures of the aquarium:





The rare nautilus


Tropical underwater scene


Claude, the famous albino alligator


Claude is the symbol of the Academy.


Colorful mollusks

Aquarium of the Bay

Location:  Next to Pier 39

Tropical corals and fish


I don’t want to be negative but I don’t think this is “must” or “advisable” thing to do.  Adults pay $16.95 (kids $10.00) to get in.  Ok, in theory, it is cheaper than what you pay at the Academy of Sciences.  However, the exhibitions and offerings are very limited (and I didn’t even paid full price).

You can see the place in 1 or 2 hours because there is not a lot to see.  Maybe I am biased because I visited the Steinhart Aquarium first. You get good information about the species living at the bay and see a lot of interesting creatures but I don’t feel the offering is strong enough to justify the price.  Of course, I am not expecting to get well priced offerings in downtown San Francisco.

Let me say I still liked the place.  My favorite part was a video showing how intelligent octopuses are.  Weird but fascinating.

Anyway, you may want to visit because of several reasons:

  • You have discounted tickets.
  • You don’t want to travel with kids to the other side of town (this one is in downtown).
  • You don’t have a lot of time.
  • You are really bored.

Here are some pictures:

Almost transparent jellyfish


Brightly colored jellyfish





Additional advice:  There is no reason to visit the Aquarium of the Bay if you visited the Steinhart Aquarium.

Have you visited one of these aquariums?  What is your advice? Let me know in the comments section below.


  1. I completely agree with you on this one! I was not impressed at all with the Aquarium by the Bay. Plus the twisting tunnel thingy made me feel sick 🙁

    The other great thing about the Steinhart is it is beautiful outside too! Fantastic grounds for a picnic and you are in THE park. Golden Gate park is one of my favorite places to spend time in San Francisco.
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  2. Hi Ruth,

    I work at Aquarium of the Bay and wanted to share a little more info. First of all, thank you so much for visiting us and including us in your blog. I was glad to read that you liked the place, and I love your photo of visitors in our tunnels! I hope your entire San Francisco visit was great.

    I hear where you’re coming from on those things you were less enthusiastic about. We definitely don’t try to “compete” with the Academy of Sciences. Instead, we offer something different. Our collection and exhibits showcase the vibrant local ecosystem of San Francisco Bay, and how we work as a nonprofit to protect and restore the health of California’s water.

    Many visitors also tell us they appreciate our smaller size and lower price as something they can fit in as one part of a great day on the San Francisco waterfront. I think of our aquarium as an especially personable nature center — so I hope you had a chance to talk with one of our interpretive naturalists, who are fun, friendly and knowledgable and love to help our visitors understand what they are looking at.

    Thanks again for coming — I hope next time you’re in San Francisco you give us another shot to make your “must do” list!

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