Kids sleep with the fishes at Academy’s “Penguin + Pajamas” event

On Friday night, approximately 300 people participated in the California Academy of Science’s first “Penguins + Pajamas” event. Children age 6 to 18 and their chaperones were treated to evening access to the Academy, special programs and a chance to sleep overnight among the penguins and aquatic life.

The first thing that strikes you at Penguins + Pajamas is how empty the Academy is. As I walked around looking for photo ops and attendees to talk to, I felt like I was in a ghost town. It was a welcome change from the crowded frenzy of a typical visit to the Academy.

After checking in for the night under the T-Rex, families left their belongings in the center atrium. Both the Academy Cafe and The Moss Room were open for dinner, so many headed there to fuel up before taking in the many exhibits and programs the night had to offer.

There was plenty to see and do at Penguins + Pajamas. First off was a live snake demo where Academy staff member Clinton held a Darth Vader-esque snake on his lap and invited guests to stroke the reptile (tip: stroke a snake in one direction: from the head towards the tail).

The multi-level Rainforests of the World exhibit was open for the first couple of hours and the richly colored butterflies were on hand to welcome visitors. On the lower level, the tide pools were well staffed to help kids interact with the starfish, sea anenome, and other unusual sea creatures.

At 8pm everyone gathered in the African Hall to catch the penguin show. As the kids and parents piled up on the floor in front of the penguin exhibit, I’m sure the birds were just as intrigued with the evening’s events.

After learning about the penguin’s habits, kids embarked on a quick scavenger hunt. Academy staff spread out items related to the penguins on the floor of the African Hall. To collect their items, kids had to “walk like a penguin” with their knees touching at all times.

Penguins + Pajamas attendees had a choice of three locations to sleep for the night: amongst the penguins in African Hall, alongside Claude the albino alligator in the lower swamp, or with the fishes in the lower Aquarium. Most of the kids I talked to said they planned to sleep with the penguins while the parents seemed to favor the aquarium area (darker?). I’m guessing the kids won that debate…

The night also included an Alligator Program at the upper swamp. Clinton the Academy staffer was back to lead attendees on an imaginary boatride down a Louisiana swamp. There were also plans for telescopes up on the living roof, but the San Francisco fog quickly put an end to that.

Since I didn’t have a kid in tow, I left before everyone bedded down for the night. Still on the schedule was the “Fragile Planet” show in the Planetarium, snack and storytime, a late-night movie, and finally, lights out at 11pm.

Wake-up came early on Saturday morning at 6:30am. Breakfast was served in the Academy Cafe and attendees had to be out by 8am so the Academy could prepare for its regular Saturday opening time of 9:30am.

There are two more Penguins + Pajamas events this summer on July 16 and August 13 and there is space available. The cost is $119 per person for non-members, $99 per person for Academy members (discounts for groups of 10 or more). More info

The price includes overnight parking in the Music Concourse parking garage as well as next-day museum admission, breakfast, snacks, and a special commemorative gift. And don’t think this event is just for little kids; I saw just as many teenagers as I did small kids wandering around the Academy.

If you’re yearning to stroll quietly through the Rainforest, take in a planetarium show without stressing about showtimes, or just want a chance to spend more time with the fish in the Aquarium, then don’t miss out on Penguins + Pajamas. Kids will love the chance to roam around uninhibited in the science playground and parents who normally get shortchanged will love the extra time and space.

Sarah B.