Monterey Bay Aquarium

I moved to California from Utah when I was 12.
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That same year we were welcomed to the South Bay by the Loma Prieta ’89 earthquake. I lived about an hour and a half from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and this year was the first time I had been inside of it. My parents had taken us to Monterey when we were kids, but we focused primarily on historic Cannery Row.

As a mother I get to do all the things I wanted to as a kid, but with my children in tow. It’s quite liberating.

My daughters love spontaneous adventures. They love nothing more than to leave the house, stay somewhere new, and explore. They also prefer it if I don’t “ruin the surprise” by telling them where the family field trip, or adventure will take place.

We recently visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium on a weekday. I’d heard so much about it. Everyone told me it’s one of the best aquariums you can find. We stayed at The Portola Hotel & Spa for one night. It’s right there in the hustle and bustle of Monterey. Upon check-in they gave us these giant, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and each of my girls received a white seal bath toy. My daughters love their baths. They were thrilled. I ate all three cookies, over two days. My daughters only tried a taste and decided it was too sweet for them. So, I was really being conscientious and not wasting food, right? Riiiight?

That night I knew we needed to hit fisherman’s wharf and feed the girls some clam chowder. Clam chowder is one of their favorite soups. I asked the concierge for a recommendation and they made us a reservation at Old Fisherman’s Grotto. It was barely a five-to-seven minute walk from the hotel to the wharf. When we got to fisherman’s wharf we discovered, to our delight, that the restaurants all have pots of hot clam chowder outside their establishments to entice you in for a meal. I just get such a kick out of things like that. There were quaint shops, salt-water taffy candy stores, and other little twists and turns I wanted to explore. It only solidified in my mind, that we need to make a much longer, return visit.

The girls enjoyed their chowder and the hotel gave me a coupon for a free appetizer. We went with the artichoke and calamari dish. The girls loved the calamari. When I finally told them it was squid, my 6YO said, “EW! I can’t believe I ate something that scary.”

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The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast at the little Italian cafe by the hotel, and then took the free MST trolley to the aquarium. The trolley stand is right out in front of the hotel, by the bus stop. The free trolley runs every 15 minutes, and we were able to take it back from the aquarium too. If we had more time in Monterey I would have liked to walk from the hotel, but the concierge told me that it’s a good 15-minute walk at minimum. The trolley would be fantastic for exploring the city as well.

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If you bought an admission ticket from the hotel, you would get two days for the price of one. Unfortunately, we only had one day to spend at the Aquarium. If we lived in closer, we’d be all over the season pass. Why? The Monterey Bay Aquarium really isas amazing as everyone told me.

The first thing I thought of when I walked in, was how clean and organized the space was. There were plenty of places to observe, and then interact, touch, play, ask questions, learn and experience. Maybe it’s the fact that I often still feel like a kid, but man, I had a blast with my girls. We were running around pointing at the jellyfish, dunking our hands to play with hermit crabs, watching in awe at a video of a daddy seahorse giving birth, laughing during the penguin feeding, falling in love with tool-using otters, and discovering wave, upon beautiful wave of our oceans.

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I also signed up, and paid for an extra tour. The aquarium provides extras, not included in the entrance price. Feeding fish, diving, sailing, sleepovers, etc. We chose to do the “behind the scenes” tour. They took us, behind all the beautiful exhibits and showed us the pipes for the raw sea water, and the filtered sea water. They filter it so the tanks stay nice and clean for all of us, then at night they pump in the raw sea water for the nutrients all the residents of the aquarium need. We also got to see an octopus tank. Did you know they cover the inside of the tanks with AstroTurf? Apparently, those wily octopus creatures are as smart as three-year-olds. One aquarium kept finding that the fish in one of their tanks kept disappearing overnight. They soon discovered that the octopus in the tank next to the fish, was climbing out at night, using its powerful suction tentacles to scale the plexiglass walls, have its meal and then return back  to its tank, like nothing happened. Dude. I dig octopus personalities, even if they can be deadly.

We learned how sea stars eat, and we learned about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program. This program is phenomenal. There are “working sea otter moms” in the program who help orphaned otters from the wild. This program successfully helps to return otters back to the wild. The aquarium is able to do this by keeping contact with humans under a black poncho, and a welder’s mask. In the past, when the otters could see the humans, they’d learn to be too friendly and would not return to the wild successfully. Their new method of surrogate moms is working wonders.

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I could keep writing about all the information we learned, but that would require far too much time and space. If you haven’t been, please, find the time to go. My kids are in kindergarten and second grade, and they loved it. In fact, I was a little sad they weren’t young enough to enter a play area for toddlers. If you have visited, please share your favorite exhibits, tips, and experiences.

Places like this make me so happy. This is how education should be. I love priceless learning moments.

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