Discovering the Sea at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Over the Easter weekend, we were lucky enough to spend the holiday with Matt’s parents in another beautiful locale: the Monterey Peninsula!

The area is home to the towns of Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel-by-the-Sea, and we spent a little time in each during our 3 days there.

One of the most popular attractions (if not the most popular) in the area is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s one of those places I’d always heard about while we were living in California, but never had the chance to get to. It was too far north of where we were living at the time, and it didn’t make sense to do a dedicated trip from SoCal. So now that we’ve been spending more time in the San Francisco Bay Area, I convinced Matt that we should plan a trip to Monterey for Easter, inviting Matt’s parents to join us.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

We rented a bungalow through Airbnb just a few blocks up from the aquarium. The house came with two membership passes: a nice bonus considering the $40/person ticket price! It’s definitely something to consider if you’re looking for a place to stay in the area; most of the Airbnb’s I looked at did include at least a couple of passes for their guests, and it could definitely make a difference in your travel budget. The other nice bonus of having the membership passes was that we were able to skip the general ticket line and go straight through the members’ entrance (=no lines at all).

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

The Aquarium is housed in a former sardine cannery, an industry that employed virtually the entire city of Monterey in the 1920’s and 30’s. Experiencing an increasing demand during World War I and II, fishermen cast their nets far and wide throughout the bay, processing 1.4 million cases of sardines at the height of the boom.

But there was no way that kind of production could be sustainable, and despite warnings from experts, the canneries remained in full force. In 1946, a year after record productions, the sardine population suddenly disappeared. The whole city fell into ruin as canneries were forced to shut down, and for decades Cannery Row remained a ghost town. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the area became revitalized into the tourist center that it is today. The Monterey Bay Aquarium officially opened its doors in 1984, after 6 years of planning.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

When we got inside, we were a little overwhelmed with where to start, and after unsuccessfully trying to get a look at the sea otters just before feeding time, we headed outside to the Great Tide Pool that rests between the buildings.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip
Can you spot the starfish hanging out?

Next, we went inside to check out the Kelp Forest, a huge 3-story aquarium filled with all sorts of colorful fish, sharks, and (of course) kelp.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Nearby at the Rocky Shore exhibit, Judy tried to get her hands on one of the bat rays in the touch pool, but they seemed to be strategically keeping their distance from the humans.

As lunchtime drew closer, Evelyn became less and less impressed with the fishies, but it was nothing a bottle and a nap in Dad’s arms couldn’t fix.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Meanwhile, we checked out the totally Instagram-worthy jellyfish experience in the Open Sea exhibit.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

The Open Sea was our favorite. Also within the exhibit, the aquarium’s largest tank is full of sharks, bluefin tuna, sea turtles, and a giant school of sardines, among other sea creatures.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

The crowd gasped in horror as the sharks went in for their next meal, scattering the giant school of fish.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

The Aquarium has a ton of interactive exhibits for kids, but we skipped those as Evelyn’s just a little too small to grasp those ideas yet. Instead, we took advantage of the photo opportunities from the many ocean-view decks.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip
Oh, look who’s awake!

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

We were able to catch the Aquarium’s two special exhibits as well: Tentacles and Viva Baja!

In Tentacles, we got an up close look at octopuses (or is that octopi?), squid, and cuttlefish.

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

And while Viva Baja! (an exhibit dedicated to the creatures of Mexico’s Baja peninsula) might not have been as exciting for the adults, Evelyn sure loved it!

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Maybe she was feeling a second wind from her catnap…

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

But whatever it was, these fish were more Evelyn’s style…or maybe just more her size. 🙂

Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

We spent a little over 3 hours exploring the Aquarium (including the break we took to feed Evelyn), but we did skip some of the children’s exhibits. All in all, I think 3-4 hours is a reasonable amount of time to cover all there is to see. It was a great experience that even Evelyn at the ripe old age of 9 months clearly enjoyed as much as the adults. It is definitely worth a special trip to the central coast to see for yourself!

Have you been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium? What was your favorite part?

Read Next: A Family Weekend in Monterey & Carmel

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Why a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium should be on family's California bucket list // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | California Road Trip

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