A visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

by Jan
Sign for Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California

On our recent visit to Monterey in California, a visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium was top of our list of things to do and we weren’t disappointed.  We went looking for“Flashy fishes, colourful crustaceans and riveting reptiles” and that is exactly what we found.

Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits are bright and alluring and will leave you wonderstruck by the beauty of the mysterious underwater world.  Find out about our family trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium and what you can expect to see if you visit.

The Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium can be easily found at the west end of Cannery Row in Monterey.  It really is a must-see attraction if you are in Monterey. We parked in Ocean View Boulevard and walked there via Cannery Row.  Alternatively, there is closer parking in Cannery Row Parking Garage.

Today, Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the world’s most well-known and popular aquariums.  It is also one of the most important world centres for ocean research and marine conservation. However, it was previously a sardine cannery from the times of Montrey’s thriving sardine production industry.

Monterey Bay Aquarium opened to the public over 35 years ago in 1984.  If you want to learn more about the history of the aquarium and the local canning industry, head for its special walk-through section.  Here, you’ll find information boards and machinery from the former sardine glory days.

The aquarium is a non-profit making organisation, with a mission to inspire the conservation of ocean life.  Although the entrance fees aren’t cheap, the money goes back to the protection of local marine life and research programmes.

For more information on other things to do in Monterey, read our post:-

A visit to Monterey, California

The exhibits at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Two brown turtles, Monterey Aquarium in California

Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to 35, 000 marine creatures and has something for everyone. As well as viewing marine life in tanks, there are talks, presentations and plenty of interactive experiences.

This carefully-planned aquarium is spread out over 2 floors and divided into sections, making the whole place accessible and easy to navigate.

The Open Sea

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sardine Shoal

At 90 feet high, Open Sea is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s largest exhibit.   The space is immense, and provides a habitat as close to the open sea as possible.

This is great for visitors as you can get a close-up view of the fascinating ocean life at the bottom of the sea.  Within minutes, we had seen a school of sparkling sardines, hammerhead sharks and a green sea turtle.

The Open Sea exhibit provides a great insight into the mysteries of life at the bottom of the ocean.  Honestly, the whole experience in front of this enormous tank was just mesmerising.

If you love turtles too, you may enjoy reading our blog:

A trip to Turtle Island, Borneo

The Kelp Forest

Have you ever wondered what happens under the sea in a kelp forest?  At Monterey Bay Aquarium, they have built a three-storey exhibit, which will show you exactly that.

The Kelp Forest exhibit is 28 feet tall, giving plenty of space for the fast-growing kelp.  This reflects the exact ecosystem of Monterey Bay outside.  In fact, some of the creatures come directly from the bay when the sea water is pumped in.

Once again, we were able to enjoy to a very close up underwater view.  Our favourite sights were the leopard sharks and octopi, but there were many more kelp-loving creatures to be seen.

Feeding sessions at the kelp forest are at 11:30 or 4:00 pm.

Splash Zone

If you are visiting Monterey Bay Aquarium with children, make sure you visit the Splash Zone..  This area on the second floor is dedicated to play zones and over 45 interactive exhibits.

The Splash Zone is a completely child-friendly learning experience, with things to touch and colourful information boards.  Plus if you keep your eyes out, you’ll be able to find everyone’s favourite clown fish, Nemo!

And of course, the best bit here is the penguins.  Who doesn’t love to watch the antics of these quirky birds under the water and on the rocks?  Check the timetable for the feeding times.  However, be warned – it does get very busy!

Rocky Shore

Stingray at Rocky Shores, Monterey Aquarium, California

Another of the best interactive zones at Monterey Aquarium is the Rocky Shore exhibit.  This area replicates the edge of the sea, where it meets land.  The children loved this area as you can put your hands in the water and touch.

Yes, that’s right.  The touch tanks provide the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with the marine life of the rock pools.  Plus, see first hand crabs, star fish, snails and urchins, as they carry on oblivious to their admiring crowds.

Even better, put your hand in the ray tank and have a stroke.  Who would imagine that a bat ray could feel so smooth?

If you are wondering why the sea sounds so close, it will be the sound of the giant wave crash gallery.   This exhibit pumps out 600 gallons of water so that it can “crash” against the window every 30 seconds.  It makes a very realistic replica wave and you wouldn’t be alone in thinking it was real.

Luckily, you can enjoy the crashing waves for the safe distance of the glass tunnel.  Moreover, if you are patient you could get a photo of the waves, but you have to be quick!

The Great Tide Pool

The Great Tide Pool is an outside area with a view of the open sea.  It is a superb viewing point for watching sea birds and other marine life outside.

Even better, it has a tiered seating area and made a great spot for our picnic break.

Monterey Bay Aquarium view point

Animal Feeding Sessions at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sea Otter swimming on his back
Feeding Time, Monterey Aquarium in California

Throughout the day there is a programme of feeding.  This provides a fantastic opportunity to watch the trainers interact with the animals and learn information about the  marine life. Sessions include penguin feeding, kelp forest feeding and open sea feeding, but our absolute favourite was the sea otter feeding.

We immediately fell in love with the cheeky, sea otters.  These marine mammals look so delightful swimming round on their backs.  They can’t help enchanting their audience, just centimetres from where you are standing.  We even returned to the aquarium at the end of the day for a cheeky extra glimpse and a fond farewell.

Top Tip: Get to the sea exhibit 15 minutes early if you want a good view of a sea otter feeding session.

For more details of all the other wonderful animals we saw on our road trip in California, read our post:

Amazing animals in California

Daily Shows at the Aquarium

As well as the live demonstrations, there is a daily programme of 5 short shows in the aquarium’s auditorium.  The shows give information about Monterey Bay marine life and the aquarium’s conservation work.

They are family-friendly presentations, but very informative.  They are well-worth a visit. even if it is just to put your feet up for a break!  The films cycle, so we watched 3 consecutively.  Our favourite was the memorable, true-life story about Luna the sea otter.

Top Tip: Plan your day around the feeding schedules and films, so that you can fit everything in

Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Cam

Alternatively, if you can’t travel to Monterey, you can still enjoy watching animals live via the aquarium’s live web cam.

For 12 hours a day, you can watch your favourite underwater exhibits from the comfort of your own home.  They have live web cams in all the major areas, from sea otters to open sea.


Sea Birds, Monterey Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium combines a mixture of fun and learning and is a magical place for grown-ups and children alike. The displays are awe-inspiring and the colours are brilliant.  Quite honestly, it is really one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids.

Realistically, you need to allow quite a few hours if you want to see everything.  However, there is a café and restaurant and plenty of areas for a break.  Alternatively, you can even leave the aquarium and come back later, if you fancy a change of scenery.

In conclusion, we would definitely recommend a visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium for visitors of all ages.

We hope you enjoyed this post and that it has inspired you to make a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California?   If you have any questions or tips of your own, please comment below.

Are you planning a trip to the USA?  Read all our articles about the USA in our

California Road Trip Guide

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