Just two hours from my home is one of the most famous aquariums in the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I have a confession, even though I’ve taken my kids all over the world, I have never, ever been to the aquarium. In fact, I hadn’t been to Monterey since I graduated from my MBA over 11 years ago. 😯 In my defense, I quickly discovered that my kids are not that into animals. I bought a Oakland Zoo membership on a whim one year, and regretted it. Every trip to the zoo my kids kept asking me when they could stop looking at the animals and go on the rides. The rides were not included in the cost of the membership. We went two or three times (enough to get my money’s worth) before I abandoned taking them to any zoo or aquarium. We were even in San Diego earlier this year by the San Diego Zoo and we never stepped foot inside. However, my kids are now 8 and 6 and I realized would soon age out of the aquarium. I decided we needed to go at least once, to at least to say we did it.
The kids were excited about the aquarium all the way the ride to Monterey, at the hotel the night before, and bouncing down the block after we parked. As we waited to go in, my son asked “Are there any rides at the aquarium”. I resisted the urge to run, and went in anyway. Inside, they had many workers on hand to hand out maps and give out helpful hints. We were there during Labor Day Weekend, so as I expected it was a mad house. But we got the map, decided on what we wanted to see, and made our way around.
The Sea Otter are in a two story tank and are all rescues who can’t go back into the wild for one reason or another. We were close at hand at the time of the Sea Otter feeding. My son was able to squeeze up to the front, but my husband and I hung out in the back with my daughter (who wasn’t feeling the crowd) and watched from the monitors. The marine biologist did a great job of talking about the otters, teaching everyone about otters’ behavior, and of course, letting everyone watch them jump up and eat.
Open Sea Exhibit
Seeing how crowded the feeding was for the sea otters, my daughter and I went ahead and secured front row seats for the Ocean Life feeding, of which there is only one a day. After walking through dark corridors, you end in a huge, 2 story room with a floor to ceiling glass tank, showing you what it looks like just five miles out from the shore. There were mackerel, tuna, other large fish, and schools of sardines swimming around. We sat fascinated for a while just watching the fish swim. Once the feeding started, we got a lot of insight into the types of fish, how they all co-exist in the wild and in the tank, and then we got to see the fish eating as they were fed shrimp, squid, and ironically enough, chopped up sardines. Then they put pellets of nutrients in the water, and we watched the school of fish go through it. Apparently the fish breath in the nutrients and let some pass through their gills for the fish in the school behind them. And that’s how the whole school gets fed. It was fascinating.
Before the Open Ocean exhibit were the Jelly Fish tanks. The hallways were intentionally dark, and the tanks backlight to mimic the deep sea. In there you saw school of bright, iridescent jellyfish, swimming around. They were so mesmerizing, none of us could tear our eyes away.
The Kelp forest was another two story exhibit, which had giant reeds of kelp, and fish that live in those areas. In the tank you saw schools of fish, red octopuses, and even sharks! We had the luck of also being there when the tank was cleaned, so we saw scuba divers who loved to play with those watching.
An aquarium wouldn’t be any fun unless you could touch some of the marine life. We got a chance to touch the surprising playful bat rays, as well as some urchin, kelp, etc. Next to the pools was a curved glass wall, where you could see a wave crash over you. It was cool because if felt like it would hit you, and the kids shrieked with pleasure every time it crashed and they weren’t wet.
Sandy Shores and Aviary
Around the touch pools was the Sandy Shores and Aviary. There there was more pools showing sharks and fish. However, what was really neat was seeing the sea birds that were on the recreated shore line, as they would in the wild.
The kids liked the sea otters, but the cutest animals I saw were the penguins. There was a fun area, where they came right up to the glass, and I got to interact with one that shared my middle name. I think she wanted to hang with me too.
While we visited there were two special exhibits, Tentacles, which focused on squids, cuttlefish, octopus and nautilus, both real and in art from, and Viva Baja, which showed all the wild life in Baja California, both on land and in the sea.
My kids never met a play area they didn’t like. We spent a good amount of time at the Sea Birds play area. There they climbed in and out of eggs “hatching”, used the computer to simulate flight, and played with the other interactive exhibits. There are interactive elements all over the aquarium, but this one was purely focused on kids having fun.
Throughout the day there are 15 minute auditorium programs. Here they show a video while a marine biologist discusses what you are seeing in a Ted Talk like fashion. We went to “Mysteries of the Deep” and got to learn all about cool fish that live in the deep deep ocean, and the adaptations they have developed to survive in the dark. It was a favorite of everyone’s.
All good museums have a good gift shop! While there were many gift shops that were exhibit specific throughout the aquarium, the main shop held some of the nicest items in my opinion. They had people housewares showing various different fish, lots of nice shirts and bags, and even had quite a bit of sale items as well (something you don’t often see in these stores). My daughter picked out a purple seahorse as her souvenir and my son a cute t-shirt that shows the Avengers as sea animals.
I have to say, I am glad we made this trip and I’m glad I did it at this age. My kids were still, days later, talking about some of the cool facts they learned during the lectures, feedings, and even just reading the exhibits. They actually enjoyed looking at the animals. And there were enough interactive exhibits to keep them from asking me if there were rides. I’m glad we finally made the trip, and I encourage you too to visit, even if your kids are not into animals like mine. I promise, there is enough there to keep them happy!
- Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
- Hours: Generally Monday – Sunday, 10AM – 5 PM
- Costs: Adults – $49.95, Children 3-12 – $29.95, Seniors 65+, Students with a school or college ID – $39.95. If you plan to visit more than once in the year, a membership is only slightly more and can be worth your while in as little as two visits.
* Stared photos taken by Atma Photography