Last fall, while roadschooling in California, we took a trip down the coast to check out some of the coastal cities. Our plan was to visit some great beaches. We tend to steer towards the outdoors as our source of fun and educational activities. National parks and off the beaten path type of adventures really get us excited. But, the weather didn’t cooperate and we ended up spending a rainy day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium instead. We enjoyed this so much and saw some marine life that just wowed us.
This place is built for kids and there are so many fantastic areas designed to let kids explore. The aquarium offers FREE admission from December 2nd – 10th for all local residents, so try to make it a field trip during this week if you can. I’ve listed some of our favorite parts to check out on your aquarium visit.
But, don’t worry if you can’t make it in person. I’ve listed the links to some of the aquarium’s fantastic free resources so you can check out this amazing marine life from home.
Our first view of marine life happened outside the aquarium. From the sidewalk walking up to the front doors, we could see a group of harbor seals sitting on the beach near the back of the aquarium on the Pacific coast. It was all fenced off, but the kids were still thrilled to see them, even from a distance. The aquarium itself doesn’t offer parking, so you’ll have to find a lot and walk in. We were lucky the day we went and we were able to find a rare space on the street. Make sure to be on the lookout for harbor seals as you’re walking in. Learn more about Harbor Seals.
Aquarium Touch Tanks
My kids favorite part of this aquarium were the touch tanks. There wasn’t just one either. There were several places for them to walk up and put their hands right in and explore. The staff behind the tanks answered all our kid’s questions. And, they had a lot. I love the sensory, hands-on aspect of touch tanks. We spent at least half of our time near the tanks. My kids definitely had pruney fingers when we left.
The jellyfish were my favorite. They are just beautiful. I was mesmerized by their colors and movements and how many different kinds there were to see. Jellyfish are something you either don’t come across or don’t want to come across in nature. So, being able to really see them up close and in detail was incredible.
Check out some these jellyfish fact pages from Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Viva Baja! Life on the Edge Exhibit
This exhibit was an unexpected treat. It is dedicated to marine and land animals from coastal Baja. The juxtaposition of desert and sea was fascinating. We walked through and explored desert animals and the ocean life that lives so close. Learn more about this beautiful part of the world.
Whale Room & Play Space
There were two areas of the museum that I felt were great for the under 5 crowd, although my oldest enjoyed them too. The first is a room dedicated to everything whale where your kids get to interact with different sensory centers. There is a spot to listen to the songs of a humpback whale, interactive displays where kids can make whales swim, and even a whale standing on its tail to measure yourself next to. On the marine mammals page, you can check out some cool facts about the whales that pass through Monterey Bay.
The second area is a designated play space where parents can let their kids roam around in fish tank tunnels with other young kids and hopefully get a few minutes break from toddler chasing. They really made the space beautiful with giant fishtanks as part of the structures they crawl through. It lets them stop and explore these mini-ecosystems that are put right at their level.
While we were there they had an art installation that I don’t know is permanent, but is worth looking for if you visit. There were sculptures made of recycled plastic with plaques talking about the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans and the destruction it can cause. It was very eye-opening for our oldest. We ended up having a very long discussion about it. There is just something so much more real about it when your kids see that much plastic piled up. It really gets them thinking.
Observation Areas & Waterfall
Don’t forget the observation areas outside. There are great photo ops and beautiful views of the California coastline. There is also an indoor waterfall area. You stand inside the aquarium underneath an arched area and get to watch the water outside rushing down on the glass. My kiddos couldn’t get enough of it. It runs at intervals, so they would stand there looking up in anticipation for the next flood of water.
FREE Admission Days
December 2nd – 10th
Residents of the tri-county, Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito can receive FREE admission during the annual Community Open House!
Free to Learn Program
Another option is the Aquarium’s Free to Learn program for families whose income qualifies them for free admission.
The aquarium is definitely pricey so if you can, try to go when they’re offering cheaper admission.
FREE Resources from the Aquarium
If you can’t make it in person the aquarium offers many educational resources for you to use at home.
Visit me on Instagram to see cool up close pictures of jellyfish from Monterey Bay.
Have a blast learning about the marine life in Monterey Bay! And, let me know if you go.