The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s vibrant undersea world is as close to Finding Dory as little kids can get. Though they won’t spot a seven-legged octopus like Hank, they’ll certainly see familiar friends at the Open Sea exhibit. Through its 90-foot-wide picture window, they can catch a glimpse of dozens of sea creatures, including scalloped hammerhead sharks, green sea turtles, pelagic stingrays and sardines, gliding through 1.2 million gallons of water. (You can prep your kids ahead of time for this spectacular attraction with the aquarium’s cool live web cam.) Nearby exhibits feature both puffins and moon jellies. And in the Enchanted Kelp Forest, children can get their hands wet in the 40-foot-long touch pool teeming with sea urchins, kelp crabs, sea stars, and other marine life.
You’ll probably want to park it for a while in the Splash Zone & Penguins area. Here, they’ll spy Nemo’s cousins in the tropical fish tank, watch African penguins feeding, explore hands-on educational exhibits, and work at a water table (complete with waterproof aprons). It’s the Splash Zone’s Coral Reef Kingdom that really sets this aquarium apart. The soft safe zone (even the floor is padded!) gives little kids—they can’t be more than 34 inches tall—exclusive access to a waterbed for making waves, interactive exhibits at eye level, a block area, and a touch pool.