When was the last time you got to see turtles, sardines, and sharks hang out together, swimming as they do in the open ocean? What about African Penguins? Have you spent much time with them lately? And jellyfish – have you had an opportunity to de-stress as you watch them gracefully dance and float through water?
Believe it or not, all of this and more is just a short drive from Fresno.
Located just 2.5 hours from Fresno, the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row in Monterey, CA, has hosted nearly two million visitors each year since 1977. Owned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation, a public non-profit, the aquarium’s primary goal is to inspire conservation of the ocean. However, if you’ve ever visited, you know the inspiration goes well beyond conservation.
Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium is like having a fish-eye view of the ocean and being privy to things you’d never otherwise be able to see. Exhibits at the aquarium allow visitors to see not just fish, but also birds, otters, invertebrates, octopuses, marine mammals, reptiles, and some of the coolest and craziest plants (and algae) you’ll see anywhere.
A recent trip to the aquarium as a chaperone with my son’s fourth grade class allowed me to enjoy seeing everything with new eyes, as I hadn’t been to the aquarium since I was a child myself, and I also could see things through my son’s perspective as we viewed each exhibit together.
Some of the exciting exhibits you can see at the Aquarium include:
The Open Sea
This HUGE exhibit (largest in the aquarium) allows spectators to view massive schools of sardines, giant sea turtles, brightly colored jellyfish, sharks, and rays all coexisting — all through one of the largest single-pane windows in the world. Feeding time is at 11 a.m. each day, and aquarium staff and volunteers not only educate but entertain as they explain why each sea creature likes what it likes and how it eats. You can look in on this exhibit from the comfort of your own home anytime by watching the live cam! (Live hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
The Splash Zone and Penguins
There are 45 interactive exhibits in this part of the aquarium, including my personal favorite – the penguins. (I LOVE penguins!) The exhibits in this area are all bilingual (English and Spanish) and give visitors many opportunities to interact with the sea world. You can climb inside of a penguin’s egg, divert the flow of water from waves to create tide pools or peek into the penguin habitat through domed viewing areas, getting right in on the action. Like the Open Sea exhibit, you can enjoy watching the penguins waddle around from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily on the Penguin Cam.
The Rocky Shore
Want to reach out and touch someone? Or, some creature? You’re in luck. In the Rocky Shore area, you can touch starfish, pet rays and (gently) pat a crab! Thanks to helpful volunteers, children and adults alike can interact directly with more than 12 different species as waves create a simulated tide on the Rocky Shore.
Outdoor Classroom and Picnic Areas
If you want to enjoy some of the most beautiful views you’ll ever take in, be sure to take time to go outside and look around while you’re visiting the aquarium. The panoramic bay view is tough to beat with its clear, deep turquoise and blue waters, and distant cliffs. Some days you can even spot wildlife from the balconies, including otters, pelicans, and even whales!
So Much to See and Learn
The exhibits mentioned here are just a tiny taste of what awaits you when you take the short trip to Monterey from Fresno. Also a big hit with aquarium fans is the otter exhibit (the Monterey Bay Aquarium takes in rescue otters that are no longer able to survive in the wild), the Pacific Giant Octopus, the Tentacles exhibit (which features squid, cuttlefish and more octopuses), and of course, the graceful jellies.
There are enough things to see at the aquarium that you could easily spend an entire day there. In addition to the animal exhibits, there are shows and feedings, tours, and both a casual café and a full-service restaurant. (The online reviews of the café are very favorable!) If you prefer to bring a picnic lunch of your own, that’s no problem – there are three gorgeous picnic areas right near the aquarium: Lovers Point, Berwick Park and San Carlos Beach. Plus, plenty of places to eat along Cannery Row, or even at nearby Fisherman’s Wharf.
Connecting with the Monterey Bay Aquarium
The aquarium has an incredible and extensive online presence. For a truly in-depth experience at the aquarium, try touring it with their app on your phone or mobile device. You’ll be able to learn even more about each animal and exhibit.
You could also spend a great deal of time on its website. Check out these cool online offerings:
- Aquarium Podcast. Topics range from cooking seafood to learning about individual animals to guessing strange sounds found at the aquarium.
- Live Cams. I told you about the Open Sea and penguin cams, but you can also watch birds, jellies, sharks, and even a cam that focuses on the Monterey Bay itself — all from your home!
- Family Activities. Including printables, games, flashcards and more.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s social media is also very impressive. You can follow them on just about every social platform, including:
Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium
As the weather continues to warm, and we all begin to get antsy to hit the road and vacation, I hope you’ll consider making the Monterey Bay Aquarium a destination on your list. I really believe you’ll be glad you did.
Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940.
Hours: Check the website for daily hours.
Tickets: Adults $49.95, Kids 3-12 $29.95, Kids under 3 free, Seniors $39.95. Check the website for military and credit union discounts.