The last time I went to an aquarium was about a year ago, and as a pretty casual tourist, I tend to stroll and amble and wander around establishments like this rather than making a beeline for the best exhibitions and elbow my way through crowds for the best views. We showed up to the Monterey Bay Aquarium about an hour and a half before closing time, and the cashier scanning our tickets was quick to tell us that we should probably save the trip for tomorrow.
"Really? How long does a person typically spend in this aquarium?" I asked.
"At least three hours."
As surprised as I was, by the time we got through all three floors of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I totally understood.
We arrived just in time to see the last otter feeding of the day, which is probably one of the more popular events as we could barely get a peep through the window (and I only got video, no photos of the little cuties—sorry!), but that was the only crowd we ran into all day. That's what you get for traveling to Monterey in the middle of winter—no lines! From there, we went to the Kelp Forest, a two-story tall tank that looking up at makes you feel like you're standing right at the bottom of the ocean. The colors of the water, fish, and vegetation are stunning. I've always been fascinated by the underwater world, like millions of others out there—which I guess is why aquariums exist in the first place. At the Kelp Forest, we got to see the leopard shark feeding, which is what the scuba diver is doing above. They coordinate an amazing show, and not just for the kids—Michele and I were mesmerized!
A few steps away, there is an adorable alcove called the Penguin Peek that puts you in a little bubble right inside the penguin habitat. If you've seen that one Super Bowl commercial with Melissa McCarthy, you know how cute these tiny, fancy birds can be. I was melting as I made friends with the little guy closest to me.
At the last aquarium I visited, the jellyfish exhibit had just closed (to the dismay of my friend I was there with), so it was my first time seeing these magical, floating orbs up close in several years. They were so beautiful I FaceTimed my friend so she could have a chance to see them while I was walking through! One of the tanks had a cool feature that shut the lights off in the tank, showing you exactly what jellyfish look like in the wild. It was pretty spooky, because they nearly became invisible. For both safety reasons and aesthetic reasons, I much preferred seeing them glitter in the shimmering lights as they waft by.
As for the clown fish and blue tangs, everyone (including me) just pointed through glass shouting "Nemos and Dorys!"
Photography by Michele Equitz
After you walk through all the spaces, there's a stunning viewpoint out back where they've created a bay of enormous tidal pools for animals from the natural ocean to find their way into. We even got to look through the telescopes and see a few sea lions resting lazily on a buoy floating about a quarter-mile away. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was definitely one of the coolest ones I've ever visited—I loved the indoor and outdoor aspect, especially since the weather in Monterey is so temperate, even in the middle of winter! We were there February 1, and it was a solid seventy degrees outside. As we stood out on the observation deck admiring our surroundings, the announcement came—the aquarium would be closing soon.
The hour and a half had flown by. Unsurprisingly, Michele and I looked at each other and agreed: "So...we're coming back tomorrow, right?" The Monterey Bay Aquarium cashier definitely knew what she was talking about.
Thank you to See Monterey for sponsoring this post.