There’s something about hanging out in a museum after dark (with a craft cocktail) that makes you feel a little rebellious. We’re used to visiting when we have the luxury of a day off, so learning something new after we’ve put in a full day at the home/office? That’s a different kind of fun. 

A unique experience for the after-work crowd is what the California Academy of Sciences had in mind when it launched NightLife in 2009 after it opened its new building in Golden Gate Park, says Jeanette Peach, the museum’s communications manager. 

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NightLife is a series of adults-only, science-minded events that run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Thursday night, when people who may not be able to visit during the day get a chance to see all Cal Academy has to offer. 

NightLife resumes its regular schedule starting this Thursday with “Museum at Night,” events that include DJs, outdoor bars and access to museum attractions that include the four-story Rainforest, where birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians live (the last entry to the Rainforest is 7:30 p.m. so animals can get their rest). Visitors will also find the 212,000-gallon Philippine Coral Reef tank, one of the largest living coral reef displays in the world, Peach says. Another benefit of visiting by night? NightLife ticket prices are lower than what you’d pay by day.

NightLife gives adults a place to mingle and learn something new in the city. (Photo courtesy California Academy of Sciences)

And that’s just the beginning. There’s a different theme every week, with special programs and musical acts that tap into what’s new and fresh across the Bay Area, Peach says. Through it all, the spotlight is on science. There’s plenty of that at Cal Academy, which is home the Steinhart Aquarium and thousands of animals, including Claude the albino alligator and a family of dwarf seahorses.

“While a particular weekly theme, musical act or programming partner might help pique someone’s interest in attending a NightLife event, our ultimate goal is to engage all of our guests in a deeper understanding of science, sustainability and the natural world,” Peach says. 

Claude the albino alligator lives in the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences. (Photo courtesy California Academy of Sciences)

Visitors can check Cal Academy’s NightLife events page to learn more and purchase tickets in advance. The Planetarium is also open during NightLife, with four showtimes. 

If getting out to the museum is not in the cards, there is always NightSchool — a live broadcast that brings science to you. 

Here are a few events to keep on your radar:


Cal Academy returns to its traditional kick-off of the Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival on Feb. 17. Visitors can experience the science of sound at the museum with musical performances that will get you moving. 


Peach says the “Women in Science” NightLife is one of Cal Academy’s most cherished annual events. Check it out on March 3, in time to celebrate Women’s History Month, and hear from a panel of inspiring female-identifying scientists, she says. 


On April 14, Cal Academy will host the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and feature student ensembles and “stunning performances in our iconic spaces,” Peach says. 

Learn more about NightLife events and COVID protocols here: