Updated: May 21, 2015
Monterey Bay and Monterey Bay AquariumIf you live in or are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area and are looking for an aquarium to explore the underwater life that surrounds the region, you have a few choices. In San Francisco itself, there is The Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 (a major tourist site right on the water of San Francisco Bay) and the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences. The Aquarium of the Bay (aquariumofthebay.com) is fairly new, opening in 1996, and has a great Under the Bay Experience with underwater tunnels that surround you with water and aquatic creatures all around. If you are only in SF, we recommend that one. But if your vacation or time in California permits, you should be driving out to the Monterey Bay area anyways, and a stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium will be even more rewarding. Monterey is about 120 miles from San Francisco, and less than 80 miles from Silicon Valley, an easy day trip but also a great place to stay and see more (its about 360 miles from Los Angeles). Monterey is also right next to Carmel and Pebble Beach, so there is plenty to do and see.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium sits on the old site of Cannery Row, made famous by the Steinbeck novel. No longer just a home to sardine packing factories, Cannery Row today is a restored historic waterfront with tourists in mind with shopping, restaurants, and plenty of history. The MBA (Monterey Bay Aquarium) is located right at the end of Cannery Row at Cannery Row and David Ave - you can't miss it. The Aquarium opened to great fanfare in 1984. While the Monterey area had always been a tourist draw for its natural oceanside beauty, this world-class aquarium became a major tourist draw, bringing in people from all around the world and the Bay Area. They've gained fame over the years for many things, including being the only aquarium to host a great white shark for more than 1 month (they often die in captivity), though none are currently on display. Their website is also a good resource for information on the marine mammals and sealife that live in and around the bay
Monterey Aquarium Info - Ticket Prices, Directions, HoursWhere is the Monterey Aquarium? How do I get there? How much are tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Patience.. we will get to all that. The MBA is open every day of the year except for Christmas, 10AM to 6PM (in summer they open a half hour earlier, and on summer weekend they stay open until 8PM). You get there by taking Hwy 1 along the coast towards Monterey. Follow the signs for Monterey Aquarium Exit, which will take you to Del Monte Ave. and lead you past Fishermens Wharf and onto Cannery Row Parking. There are 2 parking lots within a few blocks of the Aquarium, and parking is 75 cents per hour. Tickets are not cheap - $25 for adults and $16 for children 3-12 (under 3 free). There is a whopping $2 discount for students and seniors. You can get an annual family membership for $120 if you live in the area and plan on visiting more than once a year. Their official website is MBAYAQ.org or montereybayaquarium.org. One of our favorite features on their website is the live webcams. The underwater kelp garden with its huge viewing windows is awe-inspiring in person, but this webcam shot will give you at least an idea of what to expect. From that page you can jump to the sea otter cam (a recent Friday showed them clamoring around on the rocks and water), the penguin cam, the Monterey Bay cam, Outer Bay cam, and Bird/Aviary cam. The sea otters are another reason people come to the aquarium - they provide literally hours of entertainment with their antics, and who can resist those adorable bearded faces! The giant octopus exhibit is another amazing display -- just the way these creatures moves and change textures and colors is unbelievable. And the penguins are another crowd pleaser. You can see a map of the Monterey Aquarium here.
How long should you plan for your visit? The average family spends around 2-3 hours, though if time is of the essence you can see most of the exhibits in an hour if you work at it. Keep in mind there are often crowds, especially in the summer. Tues-Thurs are the best summer days to avoid crowds. Sometimes just the line to get a ticket and get in can take 20 minutes or more. We advise that you buy your tickets in advance if possible to skip the ticket line onsite and go straight to the entry door.