When I was growing up, a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium was a special treat – generally saved for school field trips and when family came to visit.
It’s safe to say the place holds a special place in my childhood memories.
So, when we were in America on holiday last month, some friends suggested we spend a day at the aquarium. I thought Pumpkin was a little young to enjoy it properly, but it also sounded like a great day out anyway, so off we went.
When we first arrived, we spent a bit of time outside while we waited for everyone else to arrive.
The aquarium sits right on the bay – on the site of an old sardine cannery – and visitors can enjoy some beautiful views out over the water.
Its location also enables the aquarium to use fresh water taken directly from the sea (during the day, the water is filtered for viewing clarity – but at night, raw water is used). As you walk through the ‘old end’ of the building, there’s a maze pipes overhead that transport the water in and out.
Using sea water like this is unusual for aquariums, but means MBA is able to sustain certain creatures and plants (particularly the giant kelp) that it couldn’t otherwise.
While we waited, Pumpkin had a good look around outside. We saw some seals sunning themselves on some rocks, as well as lots of birds.
At one point, a seal swam right past us, about 10 feet away from where we were standing. I would have missed it, but Pumpkin started doing her “dog” sign like crazy. I had a look around for dogs, but then I realised what she was saying and spotted the seal just has he dove under the surface. (Clever girl! 🙂 )
Once everyone arrived, it was actually getting close to lunch time. So, we postponed going into the aquarium and headed to Bubba Gump’s for lunch.
That’s right, a Forrest Gump themed restaurant. It specialises in seafood and is full of memorabilia. The staff also come around to quiz diners on their trivia knowledge of the film.
Since I’m not a fan of seafood, don’t really care about the movie and have a strong dislike of being tested while trying to enjoy a relaxing meal, I must say, this particular restaurant is not my first choice.
But, the food was okay (overpriced, but everything near the aquarium is). And, the whole experience seemed not quite so bad after I had a few sips of my cocktail.
Also, it was loud enough that nobody really noticed Pumpkin screaming bloody murder about half-way through the meal. Bonus!
Once we were done eating, it was time to head back to the aquarium.
We started by going to the newer side of the building first.
The first thing you see as you enter this part of the aquarium is an enormous, round tank (like a doughnut). You stand in the middle and can watch a school of anchovies swimming in circles around you. There’s a current in the water for the fish to swim against.
From there, you go on to an enormous jellyfish exhibit.
After the jellyfish, you find yourself face-to-face with a really huge fish tank.
This thing holds 1.2 million gallons of water and has one of the world’s largest single-paned windows.
Inside, there are tuna, hammerhead sharks and even a sunfish, apparently (although we didn’t see him).
Basically this tank holds some REALLY massive fish – occasionally, they even have a great white shark.
From there, we had a choice of where to go next. And we went to see more jellyfish.
It seems a bit odd that after all the jellyfish in the permanent exhibit, they have a special exhibit also about jellies. But this one was aimed more at kids, with interactive bits – and the two two-year-olds that were with us had a great time running about.
Pumpkin wasn’t quite so sure about it all, but there was one bit with light-up tentacles that she really enjoyed – I was too busy chasing her around in the crowded dark to be trying to take pictures though.
Then, we went on to the Tentacles exhibit, which had a big focus on octopuses, but also had other creatures too.
After that, there were a few seemingly random tanks with shrimp, fish, birds and BABY SEA TURTLES. I could have watched those little guys all day.
Finally, we headed over to the other side of the aquarium. This is MBA from my childhood and it was wonderful experiencing it with Pumpkin.
This includes a few tanks where visitors can touch things like starfish, sea cucumbers and kelp.
Since she loves to poke her finger through squishy things these days, I decided to keep her away from the living creatures. But she was just as happy to play with a piece of kelp and the docent didn’t mind her taking it out of the water for a few moments to have a good look at it.
I made sure the dummy was in her mouth for this bit to keep other items from going in. 🙂
She also had a good little splash in the water too.
Then, we went to have a look at the kelp forest display. The tank is 28 feet tall and if you sit down and watch it, you can see the kelp sway with the current. There are various fish and sharks inside, including a huge school of anchovies (or maybe sardines).
You can regularly see divers in this bit, as they have to trim the kelp – it grows up to four inches a day!
Pumpkin was in desperate need of a nap at this point and Daddy-man and I were thirsty, so we headed to the cafe for a drink while the rest of our group went to find the manta rays – which you can pet.
That bit is always really crowded and Pumpkin definitely wasn’t old enough for it, so we decided to give it a miss. It wasn’t long before she was asleep and I enjoyed a walk on the decks outside with the pram.
Then it was time to go. As we were leaving, I took a few moments to watch the sea otters. This was always one of my favourite bits as a child it’s so much fun watching them swimming around under the water – they can often be seen playing with diving rings and other items too.
As I expected, a 16-month-old toddler wasn’t quite old enough to really enjoy her day at the aquarium, but there were plenty of items that caught her interest and she seemed bemused by a lot of it. She certainly enjoyed playing with the kelp and banging on the models of giant jellyfish.
And I’m definitely looking forward to another visit in a couple of years – I hope she’ll love it as much as I did when I was little!