Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is already beloved for its fabulous location, environmental stewardship and shockingly affordable admission price (five bucks for adults and kids for free = best aquatic deal in town), and it just got even better with a cool new watershed exhibit that teaches kids about the impact we have on the ocean – not to mention a promotion in partnership with Cirque du Soleil during the month of February.

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This Land Is Your Land…So Don’t Mess It Up!
If you haven’t already checked out the aquarium situated below one of SoCal’s most iconic landmarks (and let’s be honest, it’s easy to miss after you’ve spent a day of frivolity on the carnival rides atop the pier), now’s the time to go. The aquarium recently remodeled its Dorothy Green Room, named for Heal the Bay’s founder.  The new space doubles as a classroom and includes a brand spanking new interactive watershed exhibit that illustrates the human impact on the ocean environment, complete with tanks of riparian and estuarine creatures (if you want to know what those words mean, go visit!).

watershedwallThe colorful and tactile watershed “wall” lets kids experience for themselves the impact of human pollution as water travels from the mountains to the sea, collecting trash and contaminants along the way. The exhibit uses marbles and ball bearings to illustrate the process, and includes plenty of practical tips for the whole family about how to do their part to reduce waste and pollution.

Other big hit with the wee ones: the baby shark hatchery behind the museum’s entrance desk. This don’t-miss tank shows shark embryos in various stages of development and, believe or not, they’re actually kinda cute. Aquarium visitors can also watch the volunteers feed the (fully grown) sharks on Sundays at 3:30 p.m.

What’s Under That Tent?
Thanks to a partnership with Cirque de Soleil’s current show Totem (perhaps you’ve noticed the giant striped tent that sprung up in a parking lot next to the pier?), you can experience the new watershed exhibit, along with other aquarium attractions such as the touch tanks, arts and crafts and sea star feeding, all for free on Fridays during the month of February. Go fish!

piertouchtankAs Long As You’re Here…
A trip to the Santa Monica pier wouldn’t be complete without a spin around the carousel, located just above the aquarium, and a scoop from the delightfully old-timey Soda Jerks Ice Cream Fountain right next to the merry-go-round. Swings and gymnastic equipment are located on the sand just a short walk south of the aquarium and offer a perfect opportunity to tire kids out before heading home.

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
Located at beach level under the Santa Monica Pier
Phone: (310) 393-6149
Online: healthebay.org/santa-monica-pier-aquarium
Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: $5 adults, free for kids and free Fridays in February

-Erin Harris

Photo credits: The Santa Monica Bay Aquarium and Erin Harris.