Monterey Bay Aquarium Travel Review and Guide

things to know visiting monterey bay aquarium in monterey california

January 14th, 2022

About the city of Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey California is a scenic seaside city at the Northern California coast and is typically one of the stops when doing a road trip along the Pacific coast highway. And if time permits, a stop in Monterey should include a plan to spend some time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium - a large and impressive aquarium with a variety of exhibits from sea otters and coastal birds to many varieties of sea life including schools of jelly fish and even large ocean dwellers. However be aware that reservations are required in advance in recent days due to the coronavirus pandemic and the daily slots tend to fill up very quickly as this is probably the most popular attraction in Monterey. In addition, proof of vaccination is required for entry.

Highlights of the Aquarium: Multitude of exhibits including many large areas housing a variety of large fishes like Rockfish and Sharks - of note the relatively new section on the deep ocean which house a large tank with many shoals of both larger and smaller deep ocean dwelling fish like Tuna, Hammerhead Sharks and Rays. Numerous smaller tanks exhibiting a sheer variety of sea life from tiny crustaceans to radiant Jellyfish. Other exhibits dedicated to water life other than the fish variety including popular sea otter and penguin sections and one of the first Kelp farm exhibits. There are also temporary exhibits that change and can be of interest at the time of your visit.

Considering a trip:

  • Reserve a slot in advance before the day you plan to visit if possible. Daily slots can fill up very early during the day especially during weekends and holidays as this is probably the most popular thing to do in Monterey.
  • Vaccination proof is required.
  • Go 20-30 minutes ahead of your time slot as it takes time to get entry with every person being checked. Getting a membership with the Aquarium gets a lot of perks including faster entry.

How long do you need?: 2-3 hours should be sufficient to hit most of the exhibits. If taking one's time though there is enough to spend several hours, including time at the outside areas overlooking the spectacular rugged coastline of Monterey.

In a hurry: Reconsider visiting. The entrance fee is not cheap and you will probably have to spend 20+ minutes waiting to gain entry.

Other activities: Enjoy a walk down the Cannery row on your way to the Aquarium and see and experience some of the other highlights of the town.

Monterey Bay Aquarium - Location and Entry

monterey bay aquarium entrance

The entrance is located at the end of Cannery Row - which is the main street of the town with plenty of highlights including shops and restaurants and statues and exhibits highlighting the town's history. As suggested above, have a leisurely walk through Cannery Row on your way to the Aquarium to enjoy the sights. Unfortunately you will have a "leisurely" wait getting entry into the Aquarium, so plan on going 20-30 minutes ahead of your allotted slot as that is how long you might have to wait before they finally get to checking your tickets and vaccination record.

However, the wait is worth it because the Aquarium is quite impressive and you will enjoy the next couple of hours of your stay there and probably longer if you are taking your time.

Spend time watching the large sea life

One of the largest exhibits will be there prominently in front of you as enter. This is a multi level tank located centrally that you can view from the upper levels too. And being large, you will have the benefit of finding spots where you can stand and view the fishes without crowds interrupting your view or photo attempts. The large rockfish are probably the highlight of this tank, but there is so much variety including sharks and rays. But as impressive as the fish here are size wise, the largest sea life is actually going to be in the open sea exhibit which is pretty massive and is shaped like a movie or theater hall and shows a large number of massive fish including Tuna and Hammerhead sharks.

monterey bay aquarium fish 1

An impressive rockfish

monterey bay aquarium fish 2

monterey bay aquarium fish 3

The aquarium even houses sharks

But don't ignore the other exhibits

For some of these tinier exhibits, you might have to wait your turn or just jostle with the crowds of people peeping to try and spot that camouflaged crab, but par for the course. Some of these are very interesting and you might just find one where you can view some tiny crustacean without the jostling masses of humanity. My personal favorites were the Jellyfish exhibits with their radiant color effects pictured below. As you might expect however some of the exhibits like the frolicking sea otters and the Penguin enclosure are always crowded.

monterey bay aquarium jellyfish 1

monterey bay aquarium jellyfish 2

The Jellyfish exhibits were among my favorites

And don't forget to take a pause and enjoy the view outside

Monterey is a truly scenic spot thanks to the rugged beauty of the coast in front of the town - the Monterey Bay Aquarium is right on the waterline. Between exhibits, go outside and enjoy the view. If you are lucky there may even be sea lions barking nearby.

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