The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a crowd-pleasing favorite that most visitors enjoy. Built into a former sardine cannery, it focuses on the rich underwater life of the Monterey Bay that's just outside its back door.
If you're thinking about visiting, this guide will help you make the most of it.
Scenes from the Aquarium
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Monterey Bay Aquarium Photo Tour
Monterey Bay Aquarium Exhibits
- Giant Pacific Octopus: This creature is so amazing that it has an exhibit all to itself.
- Jellies Experience: Don't make the mistake of thinking this colorful exhibit is just for kids. People of all ages can find things to enjoy, from hands-on play learning to intriguing animal exhibits. Our top pick is the drawing area where you can sketch your own jelly creature and see it float away.
- Kelp Forest: It's one of the biggest tanks in the aquarium, where you can look through the world's largest window to get a diver's eye view of a kelp forest and its inhabitants. Divers feed the fish in this exhibit twice daily.
- Monterey Bay Habitats: Sharks, sturgeon and 200-pound giant sea bass are only a few of the swimmers in this exhibit that highlights five different habitats beneath the bay.
- Open Sea: This giant tank holds more than a million gallons of sea water and makes you feel like you're suspended in the mid ocean,. Once a day on selected days of the week, you can watch the fish getting fed. And the viewing balcony upstairs is a great place to grab a rest.
- Rocky Shore: Get close to creatures that live in the border between land and sea: anemones, hermit crabs, monkeyface eels and more. You'll find the Touch Pools here, along with a fun walk-through tunnel where you can let a wave crash over you without getting wet.
- Sandy Shore: This is the world of mud flats and marshes and you can enjoy bat rays and other creatures in the touch pools.
- Sea Otters: See the otters above and below the water at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Feeding time is especially popular - and fun to watch.
- Splash Zone: Decorated in colors as bright as the coral reefs on display, this area includes a large kids' play area and is home to the aquarium's penguins, who are fed twice daily. Touch pools are in this area, too.
- Special Exhibits Every few years, the aquarium mounts a large special exhibit that runs for several years. Since early 2014, it's Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes. Along with just about every kid in the place, we especially enjoyed trying to find the well camouflaged creatures in their tanks. The best octopus in the place isn't in that exhibit, though, it's on other side of the aquarium near the Kelp Forest - and it's a definite don't-miss sight.
Before You Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Many visitors worry about long lines and crowding at a place this popular. The good news is that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a big place. Even on the most crowded days, you can still get to see everything, but you may need a little patience to do it. These tips will help you enjoy your visit to the fullest.
- Avoid standing in line at the ticket office. Order Monterey Bay Aquarium tickets online and pick them up at the Will Call window.
- Behind the scenes tour are a great way to learn more about what it takes to run this place. Reserve them in advance (extra fee).
- If you will go more than one time per year, a Monterey Bay Aquarium membership will save you money. To make it even better, members enter through the side entrance, avoiding lines. Members also get a monthly newsletter, invitations to members-only nights, early admission days and other special activities.
- If you visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium during summer or on a school holiday, lines are longest in the middle of the day. Arrive early and you'll have more time to enjoy the place.
- You can download their app to learn more about the animals, plan your visit and even find some images to share with your friends.
Tips for Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium
- It will take you several hours to see everything at the aquarium, depending on your level of interest. If you don't have that much time, try these tips for seeing the aquarium in a hurry.
- As soon as you get inside, check the feeding schedules and the times for the films shown in the auditorium and schedule the rest of your exploration around them. You can also get text alerts about unscheduled feedings by sending the word "feeding" to 56512.
- You might miss it in the fine print on the map, but if you're celebrating a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon, stop by the information desk.
- If you want to get hands-on in the Touch Pools arrive early and go there first, then tour for 1.5 to 2 hours, break for lunch and start again.
- Each of the stores inside the aquarium has a theme, so if you see something you like, either make note of its location or buy it on the spot.
- You'll find two places to eat inside the aquarium: Cindy's Waterfront and the Cafe, both with menus developed by Napa Valley chef Cindy Pawlcyn. The restaurant gets great reviews, but it's very popular and if you want to eat there, make reservations ahead of time. The cafe also serves very tasty dishes that are served quickly, so you can get back to the exhibits without too much delay.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Review
Anywhere you read about the aquarium, you'll see that almost everyone loves it. The things they mention most often are the kelp forest, sea otters and the awesome bay views from the deck. The biggest complaints are about crowds, parking. Our tips above can help with those issues.
Some folks think a few things are in need of maintenance and other think it's too expensive. And oddly, we've seen more than one review where people complain because it's "just a gigantic aquarium with fish." We can't quite figure out what they thought they'd see in a place named "Aquarium," but we're hoping that you don't think it's a bird cage, a dog kennel or a traveling circus.
We rate the Monterey Bay Aquarium 4 out of 5. First, there's the irony that more than 35,000 strange and colorful ocean creatures live inside a former cannery. Unlike previous workers in this building who packed sardines into cans, today's employees and volunteers now care for the marine life. They do it so visitors can see the animals and learn more about the ocean and its riches. And they do a brilliant job of that.
More than 580 of our readers rated the aquarium in a poll. 42% rate it good or awesome, but 47% said it was only so-so.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Details
- Hours: Open every day except December 25
- Cost: Admission charged Check current prices
- How Long: The average visit is 3 hours, but if you're short on time see our one-hour guide
- Best Time to Visit: Any time, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium is less crowded on weekdays when the kids are in school
Getting to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
831-648-4800 (main number)
Monterey Bay Aquarium Website
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is at the west end of Monterey's Cannery Row. You will find parking meters (some with as much as a four-hour limit) and also several paid parking lots nearby.
During summer and major holidays, the area is very busy. If you have trouble finding a parking place near Cannery Row, tr parking in downtown for the free WAVE visitor shuttle to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It runs from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day.
Next: How to Visit the Aquarium in a Hurry