SAT-SUN 9/6-7 Before cable cars tamed our hills, before Golden Gate Park was built, even before Joshua Norton proclaimed himself emperor, a group of forward-thinking naturalists grew concerned with the Gold Rush's environmental impact. In 1853 they began meeting weekly to study and preserve the city's resources before it was too late. Now, 150 years later, the naturalists' round table has been transformed into one of America's premier scientific institutions -- and the California Academy of Sciences is throwing itself a gala Anniversary Festival in the Park.
The two-day blowout features classic outdoor festival events -- food, music, crafts, and the like -- plus exceptional attractions like the 75-foot Ferris wheel constructed especially for the occasion; visitors who pony up for the $3 ride get soaring, once-in-a-lifetime views of Golden Gate Park all the way out to the ocean. Attendees can also stroll through the exotic strangler fig trees and vanilla orchids of the portable Rolling Rainforest, raise a glass to the Academy at the Euro-style beer garden, and take advantage of a dizzying variety of live science demos -- don't miss the wild cats presentation, which features lynx, cougar, and cheetah appearances. The event begins at 11 a.m. each day in front of the California Academy of Sciences, MLK & Concourse, S.F. Admission is free; call 750-7145 or visit www.calacademy.org. -- Joyce Slaton
Martian Mellow Mars does not attack
It's the celestial body everybody's talking about! You know the one -- the red planet, star of many movies, not home to little green men. These days, everyone who's anyone is on the lookout for the galaxy's most popular other-world, Mars -- it's closer to Earth than it's been in 60,000 years. The place to learn about it is "Mars Day (and Night)," where kids can hear NASA specialists talk about Martian exploration, crawl around in an inflatable planetarium, and make Galileo-scopes during the day. When the sky is nice and dark, the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers share their fancy telescopes and serve Earthling food. The free event starts at 2 p.m. at the Randall Museum, 199 Museum, S.F. Call 554-9600 or visit www.randallmuseum.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser