Image by Valerie Stimac Lonely Planet
Architect Renzo Piano's 2008 landmark LEED-certified green building houses 40,000 weird and wonderful animals in a four-story rainforest, split-level aquarium and planetarium all under a 'living roof' of California wildflowers. After the penguins nod off to sleep, the wild rumpus starts at the kids-only Penguins+Pajamas Sleepovers ($109 including snack and breakfast; ages five to 17, plus adult chaperones; 6pm to 8am) and the over-21 NightLife Thursdays ($15; 6pm to 10pm), when rainforest-themed cocktails encourage strange mating rituals among shy internet daters.
Butterflies alight on visitors in the glass Osher Rainforest Dome, penguins paddle the tank in the African Hall, and Claude the albino alligator stalks the mezzanine swamp. In the basement Steinhart Aquarium, kids duck inside a glass bubble to enter an Eel Forest, find Dorys in the tropical-fish tanks and pet starfish in the hands-on Discovery Tidepool. Glimpse infinity in the Morrison Planetarium and ride the elevator to the blooming Living Roof for park panoramas.