Kids are mesmerized by colorful fish––and a visit to Birch Aquarium at Scripps will spark wonder while teaching them about the beauty and mystery of what lies beneath ocean waters. Each exhibit offers a kid-friendly and awe-inspiring glimpse into the underwater world, which the Aquarium delivers to guests via hands-on and interactive experiences and encounters (no wetsuit required!). Get ready to dive in to fun discovering the giant kelp forest or by beholding the shark feedings or witnessing the bioluminescent light of deep waters. Read on for our guide to making the most of a visit to this fantastic locale.
photo: Beth Shea
Newest Exhibit: Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, it’s a … Giant Tube Worm? Be in awe at the Aquarium’s newest exhibit Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections, a comic book-inspired exhibit that highlights the astonishing adaptations (aka super powers) of ocean species. Oddities is created in partnership with the team from the Scripps Oceanographic Collections, where millions of specimens allow scientists to understand some of the amazing adaptations marine creatures have developed to survive. From super vision and invisibility to protective armor and the ability to create electricity to zap prey, real marine creatures do amazing things every day that stretch even the wildest imagination. The interactive exhibit will include examples of some of the most unique creatures from all depths and highlight how they have inspired everything from cinema and pop culture to medicine and engineering. You’ll learn what it takes to collect scientific samples and have the opportunity to test out some of these unique adaptations through creature cosplay!
Shows and Feedings
We highly recommend planning your day around the Aquarium’s shows and feedings. You can check the daily calendar to find times. The giant Kelp Forest Dive show is a must-see. The Kelp Forest contains over 70,000 gallons of water! In the show, divers feed the animals and answer kids’ questions from the tank. The Elasmo Beach shark feeding (out on the side patio) is another cool experience that littles will love to watch. And finally, if you’re there on a Tuesday or Thursday, be sure to catch the training and feeding of the rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle.
Good to know: Arrive 20 minutes before the start of the Kelp Forest Dive show. It’s popular and seating goes quickly!
Sally Ride Gallery
What is it like to be an ocean scientist and work on a research ship? Find out in the Expedition at Sea: R/V Sally Ride Gallery! This research ship honors Sally Ride, the youngest American female astronaut. Kiddos can dress like an ocean research scientist, explore (online) the different sections of the ship and touch deep ocean artifacts. Also, you can watch video interviews of each person on this research vessel that docks out of San Diego–– to learn about their jobs and how they work together.
Infinity Cube Exhibit
On the bright side in a room of darkness, you’ll find a bioluminescent world. This exhibit answers questions like: “what fish do you find deep in the ocean?” Many of these underwater fish light up. One preserved fish has a body lantern to lure prey and another has razor-sharp teeth to snag (and keep!) the rare prey that floats by. You’ll also find a super cool infinity cube designed via collaboration between an artist and an ocean scientist. Step in and surround yourself in the beauty of bioluminescent light. The light is made by tiny dinoflagellates who light up to sounds like the human heartbeat and music in this imaginary deep sea cube. Hurry in to see this exhibit, it’s truly magical.
One of the best parts of touring the Birch Aquarium for kids is the hands-on interaction with the sea critters. If you head out the back to the Tide Pool Plaza, not only are there amazing ocean views, but also kiddos can touch the sea life. Pat a purple starfish or watch the hermit crabs, or feel the squishiness of a sea cucumber. Further, this is a great photo opportunity! For smaller kids, sometimes volunteers offer little containers of sea life to get an up close look and gently touch.
Another family fave is the outdoor Boundless Energy exhibit which teaches how natural forces power our lives. In this highly hands-on exhibit, kids discover renewable energy from the water, sun and other sources. For instance, you can ride a stationary bike to power a water fountain. Another favorite is setting up boat channels on the water table. And finally, you’ll discover the giant Elasmo Beach fish tank with sharks and stingrays moving about.
Eat up before or after your Aquarium adventure. The Splash Cafe is run by The French Gourmet, a favorite Pacific Beach eatery. They serve breakfast items like the egg and bacon panini on freshly baked ciabatta bread. For lunch, you’ll find sandwiches like turkey and avocado or a hot dog. There are vegan items also and for dessert, cookies, donuts or ice cream. Sit on the colorful chairs under an umbrella and take in the view of ‘The Legacy’ whale fountain.
A really cool time to come to the Aquarium is during their special events throughout the year. You’ll find ocean science learning and tons of additional aquatic fun. Discover what lurks beneath the ocean at the Haunted Aquarium event. Or during the Seas ‘n’ Greetings event, see Santa dive in the giant kelp forest and the aquarium transform into a holiday wonderland. Further, no baskets needed for the Spring Eggstravaganza where kids search in an underwater egg hunt and enjoy other festive activities.
You can park for free up to three hours in the parking lot next to the Aquarium. This gives you plenty of time to experience the Aquarium. Without a doubt, the parking lot fills up, so it’s wise to arrive earlier in the day, or you may have to wait for a spot.
Cost: $18.50/adult; $14/kid; free for kids two and under
2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, Ca
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