Lunging out of the ocean and onto the site of a former sardine cannery like an enormous post-industrial sea monster, the Monterey Bay Aquarium brings to life man's tangled relationship with the ocean, and the Californian coast in particular. The aquarium is massive and fascinating and jam-packed with sea life. Whatever your age, you're going to want to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Humans have always enjoyed a complex relationship with the oceans. Today we still know less about the unexplored depths of the planet's seas than we do about the surface of the Moon. Combining a pleasant outing for the family with a serious environmental conservation message, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is Monterey's major attraction.
Some 30 years after it first opened, the Monterey Bay Aquarium continues its mission to educate visitors about California's rich aquatic coastal habitats and its vibrant marine denizens. The Aquarium's 200 exhibits and 34 major galleries featuring 35,000 aquatic creatures drawn from 550 species provide you with an insight into the wonders of the ocean.
Highlights include daily feedings of the family-friendly sea otters, those captivating penguins, and all the other sea life. Set in front of one of the world's largest windows, the feeding-time show provides a close-up view of tuna, turtles, sharks, sardines and a host of other fish being fed in the spectacular Open Sea exhibit.
If you have never experienced the unique combination of thrill and serenity that is scuba diving, the Monterey Bay Aquarium gives you a taste of what it's like under water in this intimate introduction to California's sea world. Every minute, powerful pumps send 2,000 gallons of seawater surging into the three-story kelp forest, re-creating the natural conditions that preside off Monterey Bay's coastline. It's like being under water without getting wet!
From the majestic underwater ballet of the kelp forest — with its parade of leopard sharks, wolf-eels, red octopus, bottom-hugging rockfish and Cabazon and shoals of sardines, weaving through the strands of giant kelp — to the constant motion of the Open Sea exhibit, where Pacific bluefin tuna and predatory hammerhead sharks swim languidly past schools of sardines and occasional sea turtles and brilliantly hued pulsing jellyfish, the Monterey Bay Aquarium brilliantly shows the complexity and daily drama of ocean habitats.
Of course, everyone loves the antics of the rascally southern sea otters as they romp and wrestle all day. From the first-floor windows, you get an underwater view of their balletic acrobatics, while you can catch all the surface action from the exhibit's second floor.
You will also encounter the artful ambush predator, the giant Pacific octopus, master of disguise, each with its own distinctive personality. Kids will love the interactive Splash Zone with its parade of fun penguins and supporting cast of clown fish, moray eels, hermit crabs, and anemones.
Rounding out the amazing range of habitats on display is the Sandy Shore and Aviary. Here, you can explore a seldom-seen world of mud flats and marshes. Stilts, plovers, and oystercatchers keep a beady eye out for tasty morsels, while bat rays glide elegantly through the water as Leopard sharks constantly prowl looking for careless ghost shrimp.
There are a number of tours to choose from at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Kids are well catered to with dive adventures and sleepovers, while adults might prefer the custom Romance Tours. Rounding out the educational experience available at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are five films screened daily at the Auditorium —
The Aquarium Cafe serves casual food that's perfect for the whole family, ranging from brick-oven pizzas, burgers, salads to desserts. All its dishes feature fresh, local ingredients sourced from Monterey Bay and the Central Valley.
Cindy's Waterfront is a full-service restaurant offering seasonal dishes with selections such as Pacific Rockfish Tacos and Cindy's Curried Chicken Salad. It's the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine and take in the spectacular ocean views.
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Visiting here is truly a magical experience, combining entertainment with an educational conservation message. In the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you'll encounter adorable sea otters, cute penguins, and amazing displays of the largely unseen oceanic environment together with the bizarre denizens of the depths. Don't miss it on your next visit to San Francisco.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located in Monterey at the west end of historic Cannery Row, just minutes from Carmel and Pebble Beach. Monterey is approximately 125 miles (208 km) south of San Francisco. We recommend you buy e-tickets in advance (printable at home, before you leave.)
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