Birch Aquarium

Visiting La Jolla's Birch Aquarium

Leafy Sea Dragon at the Birch Aquarium
Dan Tentler/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Smaller and more intimate than some of its larger and better-known cousins, the Birch Aquarium is a place where you can get close to the animals, and take your time to enjoy them. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been working here for more than 100 years, and the Birch Aquarium opened in 1992, funded by Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation.

Because of its intimacy, children and adults alike are energized by the Birch Aquarium. Watch a leafy sea dragon float through the water like an animated tree branch or check out a shark's egg. Kids seem to enjoy being mesmerized coming face to face with Moray Eels and Leopard Sharks at the two-story Giant Kelp Tank.

Also because it's smaller and less crowded, the Birch Aquarium makes a nice break from all the big, busy attractions in other parts of San Diego.

Half of the Birch Aquarium is a series of small to medium-sized displays that illustrate sea life along the Pacific Coast of North America. Feeding times for many exhibits are open to the public. Check the schedule you get when you arrive.

Things to Do at the Birch Aquarium

Interactive exhibits at the Birch Aquarium teach the history of oceanography. The exhibits change periodically.

Outside and behind the building, you'll find the touch pools, where you can find out what some of the local tide pool inhabitants feel like. Stick around to watch the daily tidepool feeding, and see lobsters emerge from hiding places, or learn the weird way a sea star eats. 

You'll also find Boundless Energy in the outdoor area. It's an outdoor exhibit that highlights the innovative ways we can use natural forces to power our lives.

The back patio offers some great views of the ocean and nearby town of La Jolla. In summer, the aquarium sponsors outdoor concerts here (extra fee required).

The Birch Aquarium Gift Shop has a wide variety of ocean-themed merchandise like toys, games, decorative glass figurines, jewelry, and a nice selection children’s themed and scientific books.  

Tips for Visiting the Birch Aquarium

  • If you want to take photographs of the Birch Aquarium exhibits, beware of reflections on the glass. Move in close (about a foot away). Use your body to block the light or ask a friend to do that for you. But don't get so carried away taking photos inside the Birch Aquarium that you miss the spectacular view outside.
  • During the school year, try to go in the afternoon to avoid school field trip groups. Allow one to two hours for a casual visit.
  • You can bring a picnic lunch or purchase coffee, snacks, or food from Splash Cafe by The French Gourmet. There is plenty of seating and umbrellas available outside.
  • You are welcome to leave and re-enter the Birch Aquarium within the same day. When leaving, guests may receive a hand stamp or use their tickets for re-entry. 

What You Need to Know About the Birch Aquarium

Admission prices and hours vary. ​You can find ticket prices and hours on their website. Parking is free up to 3 hours. Only trained service animals are permitted inside the Aquarium. 

Getting to the Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium
2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, CA
(858) 534-3474
Birch Aquarium Website

The Birch Aquarium is north of San Diego and west of I-5. The best way to get there depends on where you're coming from. You can get customized directions at their website

You can get there by public transportation on San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Bus Route 30 or North County Transit District (NCTD) Bus Route 101, but from the nearest stop on either one you'll have walk a few minutes to get to the aquarium (and the walk back out is a steep, uphill climb).