Monterey Bay Aquarium
The first aquarium of its kind in the country, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row, 831/648-4800, www.mbayaq.org, daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m., adults $24.95, children $15.95) is still unique in many ways.
From the very beginning, the aquarium’s mission has been conservation, and they’re not shy about it. They have taken custodianship of the Pacific coastline and waters in Monterey County down to Big Sur, and take an active role in the saving and conservation of at-risk wildlife in the area. Many of the animals in the aquarium’s tanks were rescued, and those that survive may eventually be returned to the wild.
All the exhibits you’ll see in this mammoth complex contain only local sea life. If you fear that the tight focus might make the tanks dull, you needn’t worry. The exhibits and shows put on by the residents of Monterey Bay delight children and adults alike.
The aquarium displays a dazzling array of species. When you come to visit, a good first step is to look up the feeding schedules for the tanks you’re most interested in. The critters always put on the best show at feeding time, and it’s smart to show up several minutes in advance of feeding to get a good spot near the glass.
The living, breathing Kelp Forest is just like the kelp beds outside the Bay proper—except this one is 28 feet tall. Try to time your visit for either the 11:30 a.m. or 4 p.m. feeding time, when the fish in the tank put on quite a show.
The deep-water tank in the Outer Bay exhibit area always draws a crowd. Inside its depths, a monster bluefin tuna that’s been an aquarium resident for many years rules the roost. Even the fierce hammerhead sharks and odd-looking enormous sunfish steer clear of the tuna and its brethren.
The Wild About Otters exhibit gives visitors an up-close and personal view of rescued otters. The adorable, furry marine mammals come right up to the glass to interact with curious children and enchanted adults. You can watch aquarists feed and train the otters daily at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m.
In addition to the many exhibits, be sure to check out the life and times of local tidepools, surflines, and even the ecosystems that surround the pillars, cement blocks, chains, and trash of the Monterey piers.
It’s easy to spend all day at the aquarium. If you get hungry, try for a table at the full-service restaurant and bar, complete with white tablecloths and a view of the bay. A self-service café offers sandwiches, salads, and ethnic dishes. You’ll hardly be able to escape the souvenirs as a different gift shop sits in a corner of almost every exhibit hall.
If you possibly can, plan your visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on a weekday rather than a weekend. The aquarium is a wildly popular weekend destination. Especially in the summer, the crowds can be forbidding. Weekdays can be less crushing (though you’ll run into school groups during much of the year), and the off-season is almost always a better time to visit. The aquarium has facilities for wheelchair access to almost all exhibits.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition