The Best Aquariums in California

San Franciscos Aquarium of the Bay offers an immersive tunnel experience
San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay offers an immersive tunnel experience | © EmmePi Travel / Alamy Stock Photo
Juliet Bennett Rylah

Right on the Pacific coast, California offers plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with all sorts of sea life. Fortunately, you don’t always require a wetsuit or steel cage. Here are the top aquariums in the Golden State, from San Francisco to Long Beach.

Aquarium of the Pacific

Aquarium, Park

Aquarium of the Pacific Waterfront Center Long Beach California
© Ron Niebrugge / Alamy Stock Photo
Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach showcases animals from the Pacific Ocean, housing more than 500 species from the SoCal, Baja and Tropical Pacific regions. In addition to numerous types of fish, the zoo has seahorses, turtles, sea lions, otters and penguins. There’s also an area full of colorful lorikeet birds. Follow up your visit with a stroll in Shoreline Aquatic Park.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps


Birch Aquarium At Scripps La Jolla California SD
© Citizen of the Planet / Alamy Stock Photo
This aquarium is tied to the Scripps Institute for Oceanography at UC San Diego, showcasing discoveries made by the Scripps team with regard to ocean science and climate. Birch Aquarium, established in the early 20th century, is now home to 380 species with exhibits on everything from fish and sharks to coral reefs and seahorses.

Monterey Bay Aquarium


The famous giant kelp tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
© Jamie Pham / Alamy Stock Photo
The Monterey Bay Aquarium showcases local marine life, with a display encompassing some 550 species. Exhibits include a three-story kelp forest, an aviary and habitats for penguins and sea otters. They frequently rescue and care for sea otter pups and, in late 2017, released what may very well be the first video of a baby nautilus hatching.

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium


Santa Monica pier California
© AP Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
One of many attractions on Santa Monica Pier, this aquarium is on the smaller side. Still, there are about 100 species of animals and plants here, including fish, crabs, sea urchins and seahorses. A bonus is that admission is free for children 12 and younger.

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Aquarium, Library

The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro showcases marine life from Southern California, with key areas including an exhibit hall, aquatic nursery and research library. Come for the seasonal grunion run – when the small fish arrive at high tide to fertilize and bury their eggs in the sand.

Aquarium of the Bay


The tunnel under the sea in the Aquarium of the Bay
© EmmePi Images / Alamy Stock Photo
The Aquarium of the Bay features 20,000 animals, including several sharks and river otters. The Under the Bay exhibit features 300ft (91m) of mesmerizing acrylic tunnels where you can gawk at the plethora of marine life on show.

Steinhart Aquarium

Aquarium, Museum

Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences houses nearly 40,000 animals representing 900 species. Of particular note is a swamp habitat housing Claude, a rare albino alligator. Nearby, you will also find the Kimball Natural History Museum as well as an impressive rainforest exhibit and the Morrison Planetarium.
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