The Monterey Bay has been a center of activity throughout the central coast’s history. Now home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, at the site of historical Hovden Cannery, the Aquarium welcomes close to two million visitors per year. You and your mini aquarists will be captivated by the natural exhibits, marine life and daily educational programs. Dip into our insider’s guide and be submerged in everything this ocean conservation facility has to offer.
If it’s been a while since your last visit to the Aquarium or if it’s your first, be sure to grab a map from one of the friendly staff members at the entrance. There is a lot to see and do, get familiar with the feedings and program times and plan accordingly. Check out the map in advance or download their free app and get the most out of your visit.
(Tip: stop by the information desk at the front and get a security/lost child wrist band for your little ones. They will enjoy picking a cool design and you will rest assured that if you were to separate, security will reach you at the number you provide. Also, don’t forget to mention if you’re celebrating a special event: birthday, anniversary, etc.) Restrooms and Bookstore are nearby, if you want to stop by before getting started.
For the first time ever, anywhere, the animal care staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has successfully cultured the beautiful and fragile spotted comb jelly. These fascinating, bioluminescent creatures are a rare treat to see in an aquarium, due to their extreme fragility that makes their keeping a challenge. The newly hatched jellies are now on exhibit in the Drifter’s Gallery in the Open Sea.
Do Not Miss
The 28 foot Kelp Forest, with up to 2,000 gallons of sea water pumped through it per minute, is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. Watching the swaying kelp will be relaxing to you and your little ones will enjoy playing I spy the leopard shark, California sheephead and various other species that live in this exhibit. Be sure to stop by the touch pools to pet a Bat Ray and catch a Wave Crash.
Up the stairs is the breathtaking Open Sea, the aquarium’s largest exhibit. The 90-foot window gives you a fish eye view of Green sea turtle, Pelagic stingray, schools of shiny Pacific sardine and other amazing marine life. The Ocean sunfish will be a big hit with it’s interesting half-fish body and vertical fins. Don’t pass up the Puffins! These seabirds are not only cute, they’re social and lots of fun to watch. Your little bird watchers will love seeing them come up to the window for some interaction. (Tip: While there explore the Soaring with Seabirds play area. The whole family will learn about the life of a seabird through educational play, including a flight simulator video and a life-size nesting area.)
Nearby you’ll find the many jellies on exhibit: Sea nettle, Moon jelly, Crystal jelly, to name a few. These graceful, translucent invertebrates are quite a sight. Stay together as this is a highly-visited area, with interactive displays and lots to see.
(Tip: If your little beachgoers are fans of collecting Sand dollars, head to the Monterey Bay Habitats and see some live ones. You’ll notice how fuzzy with cilia (tiny hairs) they are and your junior scientists can try to guess how old they are by counting the growth rings on the plates of the exoskeleton.)
Learn Something New
There are various feedings and programs throughout the day, check out the schedule for times and descriptions. The Penguin and Otter feeding are very popular, so arrive early to get a good viewing spot. Our favorite is the Kelp Forest feeding. You will enjoy the live presentation by the diver hand-feeding the shark, fish and other animals in this exhibit. You can also catch a 15-minute Auditorium Program, where you’ll take an in-depth look at the work and research the aquarium is doing. Or consider scheduling a tour, where you’ll go behind the scenes, explore special exhibits and even help feed some fish! There’s even a special Family Tour with hands-on activities, geared toward families with children under 8 years old.
Good to Know: All tours are for ages 6 years and up, except for the Family Tour.
Be sure to visit the Aquarium’s special exhibits, ¡Viva Baja! and Tentacles. ¡Viva Baja! features animals from the coastal and desert habitats of Baja California. Some of our favorites were the Bluespotted jawfish keeping busy digging and spitting out sand from its den with its mouth. The desert tortoise with its dense scales suitable for desert living and the swaying, grass-like Garden eels were also fun to spot. As you head out, be sure to create your own fish to add to the digital coral reef.
Tentacles is a hub of all things cephalopod. From art, sculptures to creating your own cephalopod selfie, you’ll be engaged with these fascinating creatures. Some of the highlights include Giant Pacific octopus, Flamboyant cuttlefish and Chambered nautilus.
(Tip: While there, stop by the Vanishing Wildlife exhibit, to get a better understanding of the impact our food consumption has on wildlife. The interactive, educational visuals will keep the kiddos engaged and you can grab yourself a Seafood Watch guide.)
photo: Nella DuBon-Koch
Keep an Eye Out
Ever wonder what it’s like to explore the deep sea? You can get an idea when you visit Mission to the Deep. A 360-degree video projection takes you deep into the oceans’ midnight zone. Learn about the incredible animals that inhabit those depths, the Aquariums’ Research Institute and get an interactive, close-up view of a robotic Remotely Operated Vehicle, key in gathering data from the seafloor.
Here families can explore over 45 interactive exhibits in English and Spanish. Have fun in the Coral Play area, dive into the kelp forest touch pools, explore a rocky shore and meet the Penguins! Babies 0-3 months can safely learn and discover in the Coral Reef Kingdom, an area specifically for infants and toddlers up to 34 inches tall. (Tip: Make use of the stroller parking here and enjoy everything hands-on)
photo: Nella DuBon-Koch
Take a Break
Exploring can be tiring, thankfully the aquarium caters to families with children of all ages. You can find restrooms on every floor, with changing stations, nursing chairs and electrical outlets for your needs. Next to the Soaring with Seabirds play area, you’ll find a private nursing nook with comfortable club chairs, soothing video visuals, nursery books and spacious changing area, ideal for nursing moms with babies. You can also find various remote bench areas throughout the aquarium, perfect for a break from the crowds.
Visit the Family Activities page for downloadable activities to do before or after or to bring with you on your visit. Critter Go Fish, ABC Search and Make a Shark Headdress were lots of fun.
When to Visit
The Fall and Winter months are the Aquariums’ less-visited times. You’ll also find fewer visitors on weekdays and after 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to visit during the peak summer months.
photo: Nella DuBon-Koch
What to Bring
The close proximity to the coast can make weather conditions variable—layers are your best bet, even in the summer. There are lockers for personal use on Hovden Way, just beyond the members’ entrance. There’s a lot of area to cover so wear comfortable shoes and bring a water bottle to fill at the various refill stations. Strollers are welcomed except in the aviary and mezzanine of the Otter exhibit. No food or drink may be consumed inside the Aquarium, however, there is plenty of outside seating where you can enjoy a packed picnic and take in the views.
The Cafe is the Aquariums’ self-serve eatery, offering casual foods including brick-oven pizza, made-to-order burgers and fresh salads. There’s plenty of seating with views of the Bay. The Restaurant is a full-service spot offering seasonal dishes such as Whole Roasted Trout, Sautéed Mussels, a full wine list, children’s menu and beautiful ocean views. The Coffee Bar is centrally located with an assortment of drinks, organic coffees and pastries.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located in Monterey at the west end of historic Cannery Row. Hop aboard the MST (Monterey-Salinas Transit) trolley for a fun and free ride to the Aquarium. The trolley stops in downtown Monterey, Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Aquarium. Parking is available in the Downtown East Garage at 340 Tyler Street in Monterey, for a flat rate of $7 a day. There’s a trolley pick-up point located across from the garage. Click here for more trolley and parking info.
General admission: $49.95/Adult; $39.95/Students 13-17 or college ID; $39.95/Seniors; $29.95/Child 3-12; children 3 and under are free.
Members are always free and get to skip the lines! Membership is a great option for families as it typically pays for itself in two visits.
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Summer hours: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. with extended Saturday hours for members
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
What is your favorite exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Please share with us below!
Photos: Monterey Bay Aquarium, except where noted.