Under the Sea with the Bay Area's Aquariums

Ana Picazo - San Francisco Bay Area
May 22, 2012

Summer is coming, and your little ones are probably counting the hours until they can don swimsuits from sunrise to sunset and splash the day away at the beach. Until then, help your little ones get their fill of the ocean without dipping a toe in the water by taking them to an aquarium, where they can see a sea star, stroke a shart, and let their imaginations dive deep into a watery world. Fortunately for Bay Area families, there are a number of fine aquariums, all within driving distance. Each aquarium has its own unique exhibits and distinct style, and all do a great job of teaching children about the important role that the oceans play in preserving life on earth. Here's a roundup of what you'll find at each one:

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey

With over 623 marine species featured in over 200 award-winning exhibits, almost two million people visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium every year, making it one of California's most popular attractions and the nation's No. 1 aquarium. There's so much to do and see at the aquarium, you'll need at least three hours to enjoy it. Some don't miss attractions are the mesmerizing jellyfish, the swaying kelp forest, the playful otters (especially during feeding times!), and the deep sea fish tank with the giant sunfish. Get your hand stamped and take a lunch break just outside the aquarium at Cannery Row, where you can enjoy clam chowder or fish and chips. Then head back inside and let your little ones run around the Splash Zone, the aquarium's play and discover area for kids, where they can touch sea stars and splash around in the water play area.

Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco

You don't need to charter a submarine to discover what's in the San Francisco Bay—just head to San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay. You'll come face to face with jellyfish, sea stars, and octopuses. You'll get to touch baby bat rays and baby leopard sharks as they swim around in a shallow pool. And nowhere else in the Bay Area will you get a chance to walk through a pair of glass underwater tunnels, 300 feet in length, where you'll be surrounded by 700,000 gallons of filtered San Francisco Bay water and the creatures that live there. Over 20,000 aquatic animals—anchovies, rock fish, sharks, and giant skates, to name a few—are housed in the tunnel, swimming to and fro. Staring at schools of fish right over your head, seeing the sun shining above the the water surface, so far above, it's easy to believe you're right in the middle of an underwater world.  

Steinhart Aquarium, San Francisco

One of the California Academy of Sciences' most popular exhibits, the Steinhart Aquarium is home to 38,000 live animals around the world.   Wander along the walkways on the first floor and see the creatures that live in the shallow tidepools, then go down to the basement to see what creatures lie beneath the water's depths. Visitors can see and touch marine life of all kinds, and walk through an underwater tunnel as sharks, turtles, rockfish, and a host of other underwater creatures swim beside, above and below. Don't miss the gigantic Philippine Coral Reef exhibit, one of the deepest exhibits of live corals in the world, showcasing the diverse ecosystem of corals, stingrays, reef sharks and over 2,000 colorful reef fish.

Seymour Discovery Center, Santa Cruz

For a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a marine scientist, head over to the Seymore Marine Discovery Center at UCSC's Long Marine Lab.  The lab serves as a base for university faculty and researchers to conduct marine field studies in Monterey and the surrounding waters, and the Discovery Center's interior mimics the labs where scientists spend their days. Visitors can join daily tours to see and learn about how scientists are studying the lives of marine mammals and their ocean home. In between tours, visitors can explore the center's interactive exhibits, see the world's largest whale skeleton, peer into lab tanks, hold an assortment of sea creatures in their seawater table, even touch a friendly shark in their shark pool.    

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