Have you ever wanted to spend the night at a museum? Sleeping near an exhibit in a room crowded with strangers, snorers, and other people's children? If your answer is “Yes” then you will love having a night to sleep at Cal Academy of Sciences in San Francisco! For real, the Penguins+Pajamas program is top notch. I feel lucky to have been invited along for a media visit to this very special splurge of a night. I was joined by my nine-year old son for this adventure.
What we loved about Penguins+Pajamas:
When you check in, the staff hands you a schedule of evening activities. I was super impressed with the breadth of activities available: a magic show, two movies, planetarium, honeycomb tasting, crafts, a snack, and story time, all in addition to the regular exhibits which were mostly open. So cool. With such a full agenda of activities, we were bummed to miss some of them.
Milo most enjoyed the magic show, the collaborative Pangea exhibit, watching the pendulum swing, and the planetarium show. I most enjoyed the rule-breaking thrill of sleeping in a museum exhibit, straight out of an episode of Friends. I'm still giddy thinking about it.
What we didn't like about sleeping at the Cal Academy of Sciences:
Crowds and lines. Would you believe that an exclusive after-hours event still has long lines in the cafe and for the shows? I was surprised. Milo and I estimated that a few hundred people were in attendance; it definitely felt full.
Late bedtime. Holy cow! How did I not mention first that you have to go bed no earlier than 11pm? Your nighttime items are not accessible to you until well after 9, and the museum lights are all blaring until 11:15. Wow. My nine-year old usually goes to bed at 8 pm so this was a real stretch. Pair the 11:30 pm bedtime with the mandatory 6:30 am wakeup (all lights on with loud speaker announcement!) and we were both a little grumpy the next day.
Advice to make the most of Penguins+Pajamas:
Visitors to Penguins + Pajamas museum sleepovers choose their assigned sleeping room upon check-in. If you really care about your accommodations, try to get there early. Alternatively, be prepared to manage your kid's expectations. Each location has its pros and cons. The African Hall was Milo's third choice after the aquarium and the swamp, but those were already full when we got to the registration table.
Make the most of your money by planning the next full day to visit the Cal Academy because your overnight gets you a hand-stamp to reenter later in the day without paying admission prices again (currently about $35 per adult and $25 for kids). Staff will kick you out of the museum for about 90 minutes between wake-up and daytime opening; anyone with energy can run it off in the Golden Gate park before coming back.
What to pack and what to leave at home:
You do want your sleeping bag and nighttime comforts. I suggest you bring a Therm-a-rest or sleep pad because the Academy of Sciences floor is hard! Some even brought seriously plush full-size air mattresses because plugs are available. Like, whoa. Super smart parents — who were not me — wheeled their gear using a collapsible wagon.
The staff offered us ear plugs — take them! I was glad I brought along an eye mask, too. You won't need a flashlight because ambient museum lighting is on all night.
You don't need to bring any food. Dinner is for sale in the cafe. Both breakfast and 10:30pm snack are included. (Just like you, I often give my children cookies at 10:30pm, so I was totally like, “Yeah, whatever, have another cookie,” when it was offered. #VacationRules)
Keeping it real: who does this?
My recommendation would be for small duos and trios. The price at about $110 a head is steep especially as the groups get bigger ($550 for my whole family to sleep on a communal floor? No thanks!). Milo and I were on a 1:1 parent/kid date, a special privilege since he is one of three kids. We saw several other pairs like us. I also spied several whole families, a fifth grade graduating class, a thirteen year old birthday party, and a troop of Cub Scouts.
Plan your overnight visit to the Cal Academy of Sciences:
- For children ages 5 to 17. One adult chaperone is required for every group of up to five children.
- Price: $89 per person for members or groups over 10; $109 per person for non-members (includes meal, snack, and overnight parking)
- Many dates are offered, you can register through the website.
Thank you to the Cal Academy for providing me a media visit to the program; our admission was covered (Gulp, $109 per person). All opinions are my own.