Even before I moved to the West Coast, as I child I was already dreaming of whales and sea turtles. Like many kids they captivated me. Even though, I learned in my first high school biology class that I wasn’t going to become a marine biologist. This hasn’t stopped me from finding chances to experience, enjoy and learn more about marine life.
The best opportunity I have found, other than jumping into the ocean itself, is a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A chance to be up close and personal with some of the sea’s most intriguing and adorable creatures.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has the mission to inspire conservation of the ocean, and does so through research and exposing its visitors not just to the ocean far away but what is just below the surface only yards away from where you stand. From the otters to the sharks, the Monterey Bay Aquarium creates an exceptional opportunity to enter the ocean without getting wet.
Whether you are with kids, a twenty-something or enjoying retirement the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great way to spend a day. If you’re visiting the Monterey region be sure to add it to your itinerary, and also if you are traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area taking a day trip is well worth your time.
You’ll find affiliate links in this post which allow me to continue to improve Traveling Nine to Fiver. I hope this article is useful for you.
The Infamous Otters
What the aquarium is most known for is the adorable otters. Stop by the exhibit and watch them play, or if you’re lucky enough enjoy a feeding. There are always two or three otters in the exhibit and you have the opportunity to view them from underwater as well as above the surface.
These creatures have some great personality and are easy to watch for long periods of time. While it isn’t the same you can even stream live video to catch them at home.
A Look Inside the Bay
One thing that sets the Monterey Bay Aquarium apart from other similar places is their focus on showing the visitor exactly what it would be like if you step into the ocean right where you are standing.
It is mind-boggling when you think of what exactly the ocean looks like not far away. Two of my favorite examples of this are the Kelp Forest exhibit and the Open Sea. The Kelp Forests exist throughout the Monterey Bay and are favorite spots for otters. You can see the sharks and fish that live just off the piers. On the other hand, the Open Sea gives you a glimpse of further out, once you get beyond the coast into the open water. The sea turtles, stingrays and gigantic bluefin tuna. I particularly enjoy watching the sharks screw with the big school of fish by swimming through them and watching them scatter.
Personally I would rather be stuck in a tank with a shark than jellyfish but I think most people would disagree with me. And while I find them terrifying you cannot deny that they are also mesmerizing. The jellyfish exhibit includes everything from microscopic ones to others with he long tentacles you typically picture. The colors and incandescent glow of many of them are breathtaking. As they bob against the currents in their tanks you have the chance to see a different side of the ocean, even if all you think of is Dory and Marlin bouncing across their tops.
Beyond the exhibits of the aquarium, one of my favorite parts of my visit is stepping outside. The view of the bay is beautiful and often shows you a whole other set of wildlife. You can find seals or otters swimming around. There are birds flying through the air, and tide pools to view into.
At the very least pop your head out and take a walk. What I really recommend is stilling down and just enjoy the view. It is one of the best you will find on the bay.
Take Your Time and Enjoy
If you have never visited the aquarium before you need to plan on taking the whole day. You can even take a break and do lunch outside, but make sure to take you time. Sit down in front of the exhibits and just watch. The people watching isn’t bad either.
If you want a break, step over to grab a bite at either the cafe, a casual buffet style restaurant or get a table at Cindy’s Waterfront, opened by a James Beard winner. Both spots are right on the water and perfect for a stunning view of the bay. Especially, on a cool day this can be the best way to experience it.
Monterey is one of my favorite places to visit and we just keep going back. The aquarium is only one of the great experiences you can have, and if you’re spending more time in the Monterey area make sure to take a look at some of my other posts on great things to do.
- A One-Day Road Trip from Monterey to San Francisco
- An Afternoon in Monterey County Wine Country
- The AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach
Have you been to the aquarium? If so what is your favorite place? If not what do you want to check out?
For more information about Monterey & Carmel check out these great books on Amazon including Day Hikes On the California Central Coast, Fodor’s Northern California, Lonely Planet Pacific Coast Highways Road Trips, and Lonely Planet Coastal California.