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In Monterey, we spent the afternoon at The Monterey Bay Aquarium, a crowd-pleasing favorite that visitors enjoy. Built into a former sardine cannery, the aquarium focuses on the rich underwater life of the Monterey Bay that’s just outside its back door. If you’re thinking about visiting or planning a field trip to aquarium, this guide will help you make the most of your visit.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Exhibits
The Aquarium has 11 exhibits for visitors to explore.
Giant Pacific Octopus – Beautiful, bashful and brainy, the Giant Pacific Octopus leads a life of mystery. With a personality that’s as complex as its appearance, this animal is a master of disguise that can solve a maze, recognize our aquarists, and has the power to jet across the exhibit in a whoosh of water.
Life on the Bay – The Aquarium sits perched on the edge of Monterey Bay. Their ocean-view decks offer a great vantage point to spot wildlife, from sea otters to humpback whales. In the Marine Mammal Gallery, you’ll find life-size models of whales and dolphins swimming overhead, and learn about life on the bay.
Kelp Forest – Here discover an underwater forest 28 feet tall. The Kelp Forest is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. You’ll get a diver’s-eye view of sardines, leopard sharks, wolf-eels and a host of other fishes as they weave through swaying fronds of kelp, just like they do in the wild.
Mission to the Deep – Take a virtual dive with the aquarium and discover an amazing underwater world. A 360-degree video projection takes you far below the ocean’s surface, where amazing animals inhabit the dark, cold depths. You’ll learn about the cutting-edge science of their partner institution, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), where scientists and engineers are working together to monitor the pulse of the ocean.
Monterey Bay Habitats – This hourglass-shaped exhibit is over 90 feet long, and highlights five different habitats beneath the bay and the amazing creatures that live there – sharks, sturgeons, 200-pound giant sea bass and flatfish nestle.
Open Sea – This is Aquarium’s largest exhibit, a place where tuna and sharks speed past, sardines swarm in huge, glittering schools, and sea turtles swim lazily across the 90-foot window. Nearby, colorful puffins await their next meal, and brilliant jelly fish pulse through the water.
Rocky Shore – The shoreline is the border between two worlds, a fluid boundary where the water advances and retreats with the rhythm of the tides. Here, barnacles stand on their heads and wave their feathery legs in the currents and brilliant ochre stars ply the rocks.
Sandy Shore & Aviary – Investigate a world of mud flats and marshes rich with life, a place where long-legged birds ply the sands and flounders lie flat to keep from being found. Watch the birds forage for insects, just as they would in the wild, and gently touch the back of a bat ray as it skims along the bottom of their touch pool.
Sea Otters – Enjoy the antics of the playful southern sea otters as they romp, tumble and wrestle like they do in the wild. On the second floor of the exhibit you can watch them swim at the surface, while first-floor windows give an underwater view of their lively acrobatics. They were quite playful when we were there! You can also watch the aquarium’s staff feed the otters on a daily schedule.
Splash Zone & Penguins – At the Splash Zone, with over 45 interactive exhibits in English and Spanish, you can dive into a kelp forest, visit a coral reef kingdom, explore a rocky shore and visit with the aquarium’s resident sharks and African Penguins. We enjoyed watching the penguins during their twice daily feeding.
¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge (opening on March 19)
Discover slithery, scaly and showy animals from land and sea in this special exhibition featuring creatures from the coastal habitats of Baja California. Life here thrives on the edge of sand and surf, where rugged desert coastline meets the sapphire waters of the Pacific.
Tips for Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a big place and host thousands of visitors per year. However, even on the most crowded of days, you can still enjoy the sites if you have enough patience and time.
First, to avoid standing in line at the ticket office, order your Monterey Bay Aquarium tickets online. Then simply pick up your tickets at the Will Call window when you arrive.
If you visit the Aquarium during the summer or on a school holiday, the lines are longest in the middle of the day. So plan to arrive early during this time. Another great tip for parents and teachers is to download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s app to learn about the animals and plan your visit ahead of time.
It takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to see everything at the aquarium. When we visited during our vacation, we also spent a good amount of time in the children’s play – Flippers, Flukes & Fun.
To see an animal feeding, you can either check the feeding schedules and times online or visit the guest services desk. You can also get text alerts about unscheduled feedings by sending the word “feeding” to 56512.
There are two places to eat inside the aquarium: Cindy’s Waterfront and the Cafe, both with menus developed by Napa Valley chef Cindy Pawlcyn. The restaurant is the most popular, so advance reservations are recommended.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Field Trips
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s FREE Field Trip programs are designed for students (PreK – 12 Grade) to learn, have fun and discover their connections to the ocean while exploring the Aquarium’s exhibits and programs. To be eligible for a free field trip, school groups (with the exception of PreK) must be visiting in conjunction with a regularly scheduled class for which they receive a transcript grade or comparable academic credit. Reservations must be made at least two weeks prior to the visit date.
Home school groups of 10 or more school-age children may make a reservation to visit together through the Aquarium’s Field Trip school program on a date other than on Home School Days.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Home School Days
The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers six homeschool days throughout the year. Each home school family may make a single reservation for up to 10 participants and include at least one school-age student (ages 3-18) and no more than four adults. Children ages two and under are admitted free of charge and do not need to be included in reservation numbers. Families may only make one Home School Days or Field Trip reservation per school year; each family must have its own reservation.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Hours
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is open every day except December 25.
- Adults (18 – 64) – $39.95
- Children (3 and under) – Free
- Children (3 – 12) – $24.95
- Students (13–17 or college ID)
- Seniors (65+) – $34.95
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located at 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940.
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Happy Field Tripping!