Oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Though we can’t all be underwater explorers, aquariums are a great place to observe and learn about marine life without having to put on a wetsuit. California offers multiple opportunities to come up close with fish, crabs, turtles, sharks, penguins, sea otters, and other creatures. Here are Culture Trip’s seven favorite aquariums, from San Francisco down to Long Beach.
Aquarium of the Pacific
Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific showcases animals from the Pacific Ocean, housing over some 500 species from the SoCal, Baja, and Tropical Pacific regions. In addition to numerous types of fish, guests will also see seahorses, turtles, sea lions, otters, and penguins. There’s also an area full of colorful Lorikeet birds. Visits can be followed by a stroll in Shoreline Aquatic Park.
Aquarium of the Pacific, 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA, USA, +1 562 590 3100
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
The aquarium is tied to the Scripps Institute for Oceanography at UC San Diego, displaying discoveries made by Scripps scientists that pertain to ocean science and climate. Birch Aquarium, established in the early 1900s, is now home to 380 species with exhibits including the Hall of Fishes, Shark Reef, Tide-Pool Plaza, Coral Reef, There’s Something About Seahorses, and Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps, 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA, USA, +1 858 534 3474
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium showcases marine life found in Monterey Bay, displaying 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, they released what may very well be the first video of a baby nautilus hatching.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA, USA, +1 831 648 4800
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
This aquarium is on the smaller side, and only one of many attractions found on the famed Santa Monica Pier. There are about 100 species of animals and plants, including fish, crabs, sea urchins, and seahorses. A bonus here is that admission is free for children 12 and younger, and only $5 per adult.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
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. Guests can also come for the seasonal “grunion run,” which is when the small fish arrive at high tide to fertilize and bury their eggs in the sand. Admission is reasonable: a $5 suggested donation for adults and a $1 donation for children.
Aquarium of the Bay
The Aquarium of the Bay features 20,000 animals, including several sharks and river otters. The venue’s Under the Bay exhibit features 300 feet (91 meters) of mesmerizing acrylic tunnels where guests can gawk at the marine life surrounding them.
Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences houses nearly 40,000 animals representing 900 species. Of note is a swamp habitat where Claude, an albino alligator, lives. Nearby, visitors will also find the Kimball Natural History Museum, an impressive rainforest exhibit, and the Morrison Planetarium.
Steinhart Aquarium, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 379 8000