When we visited Aquarium of the Pacific, we expected to see a lot of pretty fish (we did). What we got was so much more. Situated on just over 5 acres, the aquarium houses over 11,000 animals comprised of over 500 different species. The vignettes they created told the story of life all they way up and down the Pacific Coast. We were enlightened, amused and immersed in the quality of this well thought out attraction. The Aquarium of the Pacific is an easily accessible way to learn about life under the sea in California for people of all ages.
Long Beach Harbor is a sprawling area that challenges the dexterity of mapping software. We have been to the Queen Mary and Catalina Express terminal and each time the navigator took us on ‘creative’ routes. No worries, it will get you there in decent time if you keep driving. These attractions are sufficiently far apart that you would park at a different location and take a different route in. That is my excuse for not giving better directions in. The Aquarium does have one great advantage over other Long Beach attractions. It has a huge parking garage with validated parking. While not free, it’s certainly a great deal.
Southern California and Baja Gallery
Once inside, we were greeted by a life-size model of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling. You can read in books just how big these creatures are, but it doesn’t register until you see them for yourself. Just past the whale we walked into the Southern California and Baja Gallery. The Blue Cavern tank dominates the scene. It has 142,000 gallons of water and rises three stories above you so you can look eye to eye at life 75’ below the surface of the water. This looked just like diving at Sea Fan Grotto including the giant sea bass and kelp forests.
As we toured this gallery, we remarked about what a great job they did capturing coastal life in Southern California. Everything we saw looked like where we have snorkeled and played here in San Diego the last few years. If you don’t have years to explore the underwater world of So Cal, you can do it here in an afternoon.
Tropical Pacific Gallery
Next, we traveled farther south to the warm, tropical waters of the Pacific. Colorful fish danced in tanks that were artwork in and of themselves. Each tank was so much more than a cage for fish. It was an underwater garden with structure, plants and a collection of animals that operated along a central theme. We were reminded of our time diving in Loreto as we toured here.
Perhaps the most spectacular animal they have is the Leafy Sea Dragon. These little critters are similar to seahorses with camouflage that would make a green barrette proud. They look just like an aquatic plant. Aquarium of the Pacific was the first location to breed these animals in captivity and has had a successful program to supply other aquariums with specimens. As a result, they have dramatically cut down on the wild capture of these precious little guys and helped preserve the wild population for future generations.
Northern Pacific Gallery
Upstairs we traveled to the Pacific Northwest. We entered that gallery through a dense bank of fog that chilled us to the bone and transported us back to when we lived in Seattle. Waves crashed against the rocks in an exhibit next to us in a rhythmic drum beat. We pushed in further and were rewarded with the strangest sights of the day. Tank after tank of jellyfish danced to their own tune. So musical in fact, that there was a computer that tracked their movements and then used it to create a soundtrack to the dance.
Past the jellies were the monsters from the deep. Freaky Japanese spider crabs and giant octopi lurked in dark and murky tanks we slowly shuffled by while we were standing in line for something that really excited us – petting tanks and sea otters. We were so excited to pet sea otters. Have you seen the “Stop Clubbing Baby Seals” or “Let’s Eat Grandma” grammar faux pas? It was something like that. There were petting tanks for starfish and anemones and 100’ down the hall there were sea otters playing in an enormous exhibit. Watched the otters playing for quite some time feeling only somewhat disappointed by our poor grasp of the English language and unrealistic imagination.
Sea otters weren’t the only megafauna encounter. The saw giant sharks and playful penguins. You couldn’t pet the otters but they did have petting tanks for rays and leopard sharks. We often snorkel at La Jolla Cove to play with these guys, and here, they swim right up to you to be petted. There is also walk through a lorikeet aviary. For a small donation, you can get a cup of nectar that these little guys go crazy for. Hungry birds wait at the front of the exhibit waiting for guests to bring them their treats. They will literally eat sugar straight from your hands.
We found Aquarium of the Pacific to be education and immersive. Warning, it’s very kid friendly. Parents can, should and did take their kids to experience life under the sea. If you are going on a weekend (like we did), expect to have a mass of little humanity around you. In total, over 1.5 million visitors come hear every year so be ready.
Even though kids flock here in mass, this aquarium has something for everyone from a family field trip to a romantic southern California getaway. If you are an adult adventure seeker, you can find thousands of leads for future travels and relive memories of adventures past. No matter who you are, you can find something to enjoy here.
Disclaimer: Although our experience was complimentary, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own.