When traveling to northern California, the Monterey Bay makes a nice destination. At 2 hours from San Francisco, 75 minutes from San Jose, and 45 minutes from Santa Cruz, you can even turn it into a day trip! If you make the trek to this delightful region, the Monterey Bay Aquarium may rise to the top of your activity list!
On a busy weekend, traffic and parking in Monterey can be tight, but less so if you arrive early or walk a bit. The Monterey Bay Aquarium lists several garages and parking lots along Cannery Row that might make good parking options. Or you can check Monterey’s city website for more parking options.
Check the website to see if you need to reserve tickets ahead of time!
- Adult/Senior $50/$40
- Ages 13-17/5-12/0-4 $40/$35/Free
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is open every day except December 25th.
While typically open between 10am-5pm, hours vary by day/season, so make sure you check the schedule for the day of your visit. The schedule also has a list of feeding times, tours, and other programs.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is widely recognized as one of the best aquariums in the world and is probably best know for its efforts in keeping their exhibits both ethical and environmentally friendly. They are famous for their efforts in helping people know whether their seafood choices are sustainably sourced.
One time, Jeremy and I were about to go canoeing on a fairly sheltered bay in Alaska and we were suddenly surrounded by hoards of bright red jellyfish. I was terrified that the surf was going to tip our boat and that we were going to die by multiple jellyfish stings! We were fine, but jellyfish are much better to admire from the safety of the aquarium!
Monterey Bay Exhibit
Given the unique location of this aquarium, an exhibit not to be missed is the Monterey Bay Exhibit!
The Kelp Forest
Before Covid, there was a nice touch pool area next to this exhibit. We always enjoyed letting the boys play with the hermit crabs, decorator crabs, kelp, and more, while we watched the fish. Hopefully they are able to reopen the touch pools soon!
Open Sea Exhibit
I also really like the Open Sea Exhibit, although between the crowds and the prohibition on flash photography, it is really hard to get a good photograph on a phone.
There are many more exhibits to explore! One of our boys always likes the sea otters.
If the octopus is out of hiding, he is always fun to see.
And there are plenty more exhibits and animals to see!
You can also go out on the balcony and enjoy the natural Monterey Bay environment through the Life on the Bay Exhibit!
A few years ago, one of our kids did a scuba class in the waters pictured above. Unfortunately, the aquarium does not appear to be running the Underwater Adventures program, but hopefully it will come back once Covid is better controlled!
Near the Aquarium
If you are looking for other activities near the aquarium, consider taking a walk on Cannery Row, walking along the Coastal Recreation Trail to Lovers Point in Pacific Grove, walking the other way on the path through Monterey, or visiting the Dennis the Menace Park.
There are tons of other attractions in the nearby cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Santa Cruz. Beaches, hiking options, museums, art galleries, wine tasting, and more, are all possibilities. Whether your California travel plans take you to Monterey for a day or a week, you are sure to have plenty to do!
Bonus: Other Aquariums around the World
While the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of our favorite aquariums, here are a few others that we’ve enjoyed when traveling.
The Osaka Aquarium is in our opinion at least as good as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and depending on what you like to see, it is a toss up for which you might like better. Of course, distance to the destination is quite different! Travel to California may be much easier than Japan!
New England Aquarium
The New England Aquarium is the closest Aquarium to our current home in Massachusetts. While this one is much smaller than either the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Osaka Aquarium, it does make a nice rainy day or escape-the-cold/heat type of activity. Boston weather can be quite varied!
Bejing Zoo and Aquarium
When visiting China, the Beijing Zoo and Aquarium has a lot of interesting sea creatures, but we found that the conditions for the animals to be quite poor. If you are looking for an ethical aquarium, this one is far from the mark. As an example, see the tiny dolphin tank below.
Fortunately, the highlight of the zoo is the pandas, and they do appear to treat these particular creatures much better! Too bad the other animals don’t get the same treatment.
That said, while most of the exhibits seemed to have adequate cages, but the penguin exhibit made me want to cry. Decide before you go whether you are okay with this.
On the plus side, zoos in other countries often let you get much closer to the animals than in America. Our kids were delighted with hippo feeding time! One of our boys seriously considered touching the hippo’s tooth. Fortunately, he decided to ask first!
Sea World in San Diego, while not really an aquarium, does have some amazing exhibits. (Admittedly, its reputation was somewhat tarnished by the “Blackfish” film; we liked visiting the park, but understand why some folks skip it). Our favorites are the sharks and the polar exhibits.
Let us know if you have a favorite aquarium and maybe we will try to visit it next time we are nearby!