From its perch on a craggy beach, the Monterey Bay Aquarium provides up-close-and-personal access to some of the sea’s most fascinating creatures. The bay itself, part of a National Marine Sanctuary that stretches about 5,300 square miles, is home to a variety of marine animals from the 0.8-inch acorn barnacle to the 100-foot long blue whale. Kids of all ages will love hobnobbing with the sharks and sturgeon of Monterey’s own bay, or diving deep into the mysteries of the enigmatic seahorse (the only species in the animal kingdom where the male gets pregnant).
The “Giant Pacific Octopus” exhibit is great for learning about this intelligent master of disguise, and lucky ones will catch marine biologist Adam Frantz challenging the 11-pound creatures with treats hidden in plastic mazes, balls and jars during his “enrichment program. ”The “Behind-the-Scenes” tour, with its fun stories from the keepers themselves, is a great option for anyone who’s ever been tempted to sneak behind those “Staff-only” doors. And “petting pools” and sea otter and penguin feedings are another great way to get in on the action. When it’s time for “people-feeding,” the aquarium offers a full-service, window-walled restaurant (with binoculars on loan for spotting whales and seals) or the more casual self-serve café. The menu caters to all tastes offering pizza, fresh seafood, vegetarian options, ethnic specialties and wine. A tip: Buy your tickets online ahead of time if possible to avoid waiting in long lines.
Most public transit options take upwards of three hours, so the best bet may to find a rideshare on Craigslist or drive in with a group.
Those looking to make a day of it can take BART to the San Francisco Airport (about 20 minutes) and catch the Monterey Salinas Airbus (approximately 2.5 hours) and then get the free WAVE bus from downtown Monterey to the Aquarium.