Word to the wise: book during work hours. Tell your boss you're sick or schedule some emergency dental work with a doctor who never keeps schedules, but going to the California Academy of Sciences for a Behind-the-Scenes Tour during work hours almost ensures that your tour group will be tiny, if not non-existent such as it was for me. Guided tours are awesome, but private guided tours are the best!
My tour guide was Lee from Minnesota. Lee led me up to the living roof as in roof that has plants living on it, not roof with a couch and TV and tacky pictures of in-laws first and onto a part of the roof where no one else could go where she showed me the whale bones they were bleaching for preservation. Apparently, the California Academy of Sciences is part of a beached whale watch group and will travel for beached whales up and down 500 miles of California coastline. Everyone needs a hobby, yeah?
From the roof, we went into the biology wing, where I let into both plant and mammal sample storage rooms. In 20 minutes' time, I saw and held samples from the original academy, saved by a scientist who ran into a burning building during the earthquake in 1906 and then walked through a hallway of ethanol-filled jars preserving mammals not for the squeamish.
All throughout the tour, Lee peppered me with information not only about the science I was witness to, but also the history of the building and the practice of the academy. Technically not a museum, the research done at the academy disqualifies it from such a classification. Rather than just be interested in preservation, the scientists there ask where, when, how, and why about every what.
To the person who watches a movie, play, or even magic trick and wonders, 'how,' this is the perfect tour. Five stars to Lee, five stars to the California Academy of Sciences, and five stars to the albino alligator who I'm pretty sure was named Frank.