7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

by Culinary Spelunker / Jun 24, 2019 /
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Reimagined from the bones of an old fish cannery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, stands apart as one of the top aquariums in the world. The expansive 3.3-acre, 320,000-square-foot facility melds into the Monterey Bay taking advantage of its unique position as part of a National Marine Sanctuary.

7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

In other words, the aquarium encompasses a history museum mixed with interactive exhibits (hello, touch tanks!) included with lessons about conservation and biology, all with indoor and outdoor views of Monterey Bay, one of the most outstanding examples of marine life on the planet.

Exterior image of Monterey Bay Aquarium. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Exterior image of Monterey Bay Aquarium

Yeah, it’s a pretty spectacular place.

And for families? A treasure trove of experiences to fill a day … or two, or more.

Interior Monterey Bay Aquarium. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Interior Monterey Bay Aquarium

If your plans include a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium – and I’d highly recommend it – here are a few ideas for making your trip even more memorable.

Kelp Forest Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Kelp Forest Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Tip #1: Start your day at Loulou’s Griddle In the Middle.

Or a similar breakfast spot along the wharf – there are plenty mom-and-pop spots sprinkled throughout the area. Fill up your kids with a hearty breakfast so they’re ready to explore. We opted for Loulou’s for its laidback vibe and the promise of crab cake eggs Benedict. The quirky breakfast joint was obviously a favorite of both locals and out-of-towners. We found the wait staff to be friendly and welcoming – full of good suggestions like cinnamon-soaked French toast topped with fresh strawberries and chocolate chips that melted into a creamy sauce when they served it to our table. Dee-lish.

Strawberry and Chocolate French Toast. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Strawberry and Chocolate French Toast

Tip #2: Walk to the Aquarium.

If possible, park at the wharf and walk to the Aquarium. Why? Because the Aquarium gives you a peek behind the curtain so to speak for all the sea life in the Bay, and walking there will offer you a chance to see otters, sea lions, and other sea creatures from afar before learning more about their habitats.

The route also takes you by beaches and parks, along with informational markers that guide you through the history of the area.

Informational marker. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Informational marker

You’ll also pass right by Cannery Row, once an avenue of bustling sardine factories that’s been turned into a shopping and food district. Ghirardelli ice cream sundae, anyone?

Tip #3: Get to the Aquarium early. And late.

On average the Aquarium greets 1.8 million visitors a year. 1.8 million! Meaning no matter what day you go, there will be a crowd. One strategy is to get to the Aquarium as close to opening time as possible, 9:30 a.m. And hey, you’ll be up anyone after having breakfast at a local spot, right?

Prioritize the exhibits you most want to see first. For example, if your kids are set on touching a bat ray, head to that touch tank area first.

Touch Tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Touch Tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Keep in mind, you can enter and exit the Aquarium by getting your hand stamped when you leave. After a few hours exploring, take a break, go get some lunch and then come back later in the day to hit any of the exhibits you didn’t have a chance to see before. Or, if some of the exhibits were particularly crowded, try checking them out again.

Tip #4: Don’t expect to see everything in a day.

There are almost 200 (yes, 200!) galleries and exhibits at the Aquarium. All the exhibits add up to more than 35,000 sea creatures and plants representing about 550 species. Whew! That’s a lot to see. Our strategy was to visit all of our family’s can’t-miss exhibits first and then meander through all the larger exhibits, such as The Kelp Forest and The Open Sea.

Saying hi to penguins. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Saying hi to penguins

If you stay at an area hotel, purchase your ticket there for a special two-for-one offer. Your ticket will be good for two consecutive days at the Aquarium.

Tip #5: Get Aquarium texts during your visit.

Opt to receive text alerts when you’re in the Aquarium so you’ll know about everything from Octopus feedings inside to a heads up that dolphins are swimming past outside.

Alternatively, you’ll get an information sheet when you arrive listing out all the feeding times – there’s usually one taking place at one of the exhibits every 30 minutes to an hour. (We used that info to avoid areas where the crowds were gathering.)

 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Tip #6: Take your time exploring the area around the Aquarium.

The area surrounding the Aquarium is lined with quaint shops, parks, beaches, and cool eateries. One not-to-miss stop is Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Go left out of the Aquarium past Cannery Row to get there.

Old Fisherman's Wharf. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Old Fisherman's Wharf

The touristy Wharf is worth a visit. Walking past shops and restaurants, expect to be bombarded with restaurants offering samples of their version of “the best clam chowder.” You can easily down four to five samples along the way. I didn’t think I was a fan of clam chowder until I tried Scales Café & Market’s version, which had big pieces of clams drenched in a heavy cream broth mixed in with finely diced potatoes.

Walk all the way down the Wharf – at the end you can take the stairs up to a viewing area of the Bay and challenge your kids to spot otters and sea lions. We came up short on sea lions when we went up there, but we did see a couple otters that seemed to be playing hide-and-seek between boats.

Lovers Point Park and Beach. From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Lovers Point Park and Beach

Another route to take, going right out of the Aquarium, or northwest, walk about a mile to reach Lovers Point Park and Beach. Depending on the time of day you go, you’ll be able to see sea lions sunning themselves along some of the beaches on the way to Lovers Point.

Tip #7: Prepare to be inspired. And surprised by what inspires you.

Anchovies. Of all the exhibits and sea creatures within the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I became mesmerized by the shimmering silver anchovies that moved as a single unit through the Kelp Forest. I could have easily spent the entire day just watching them. As much as I enjoyed seeing several Sevengill and Leopard sharks swim past in other exhibits, it was the anchovies, and later the sardines, that drew my interest – and fascinated my kids too.

Anchovies! From 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Anchovies

Another stand-out exhibit for my crew was the Jellies. The darkened exhibit is dotted with areas of various species of jellyfish that seem to float like surreal, breathing flowers right before your eyes. We stood transfixed before one group of jellies, declaring that group the most beautiful we’d ever seen, before spotting another one that was equally stunning.

Get a peek of the Monterey Bay Aquarium anytime by checking out one of their live cameras. And yes, one of them is a Shark Cam!

 

 

Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines and Kids Editor for Wandering Educators

All photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough

 

 

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