Located along Long Beach’s Rainbow Harbor, the Aquarium of the Pacific is Southern California’s largest aquarium and a must-do Long Beach activity for all ages. Home to more than 11,000 animal exhibits, the aquarium explores three distinct waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Before You Go
While most aquariums are good for a quick drop-by as part of your weekend plans, that’s not the case with the Aquarium of the Pacific. Before you head to Long Beach, you’ll want to check several items off a list. First, make sure you have reservations as the aquarium gets busy and occupancy is limited. Second, plan to carve out a good chunk of the day for the visit. With so many exhibits and activities to explore, you’ll leave wishing you had done more if you’re short on time. Finally, download the app on your mobile device so you can see the current exhibits and hours, then map out a plan for the visit.
When You Get There
Start in the Southern California/Baja Gallery where you’ll find the 142,000-gallon, three-story-high Honda Blue Cavern that features ocean inhabitants found off the coast of Catalina Island. You’ll also want to visit the Seal and Sea Lion Habitat and the Ray Touch Pool. Highlighting habitats in and around the Bering Strait, the Northern Pacific gallery features a collection of graceful jellies, four playful otters in the Sea Otter Exhibit, and the largest species of octopus in the world, the giant Pacific octopus, which can be more than 20 feet long.
Then head to the warmer waters of the Tropical Pacific Gallery and the largest exhibit in the aquarium—the 350,000 gallon Tropical Reef Habitat, which can be viewed from three locations and holds thousands of colorful fish, coral, sea turtles, and two kinds of sharks. Don’t forget to stop by the seahorse and sea dragon exhibit to see if you can find these camouflaged creatures hidden among the seaweed.
In addition to the three main galleries, the aquarium also features outdoor exhibits, including an interactive Shark Lagoon, the Lorikeet Forest aviary, penguin habitat, and a horseshoe crab touch lab.
If you’re looking to dive in further, the aquarium offers many educational, exclusive, and behind-the-scenes experiences. You can get up close and personal with animals such as stingrays, sea lions, and penguins, or dive right into an exhibit (certification required). If your kids have dreamed of staying overnight next to a gigantic fish tank, you can do that too.
The latest addition to the aquarium is Pacific Visions, a wing that helps aquarium visitors better understand the challenges the ocean faces and the opportunities it holds. The expansion, sheathed in a striking blue-green biomorphic shell, includes a state-of-the-art interactive theater, a larger exhibit gallery with live animals, and an art gallery.
You’ll undoubtedly get hungry during your visit. Outside food is not allowed within the walls of the aquarium, but there are picnic tables located on the plaza if you’d prefer to bring your own lunch and snacks. For dining within the facility, the aquarium’s Café Scuba serves sandwiches, salads, burgers, and pizza. The stop is a destination in itself as it overlooks the Seals & Sea Lions. Insider tip: Download the Door Dash App, place your order ahead of time, and have your food waiting for you when you’re ready.
After Your Visit
Keep an eye out for unique events at the aquarium. Sign up for the annual Aquarium of the Pacific 5K in October to run (or walk) past the aquarium and other Long Beach sites on a flat, scenic course. Bonus: All participants get a $5 voucher for admission to the aquarium. You’ll also find several holiday-themed festivals for families (like the Scarium of the Pacific at the end of October) and unique night-out opportunities for adults (like the Sea Fare Chowderfest). Be warned, all aquarium events are popular and tend to sell out early.