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Spot sea otters, sea lions, and—if you’re lucky—migrating whales at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a popular stop along the California coast for families and fans of marine life. The acclaimed aquarium sits right along Monterey Bay and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where you can catch a glimpse of sea life in action while atop the aquarium’s wildlife viewing station.

Inside, there’s plenty more to soak in. Allison Soergel, the aquarium’s manager of conservation interpretation, offers up some insider tips for making the most of your visit in the latest California Now Podcast.

Go Below the Surface

You can’t pass up the 28-foot underwater Kelp Forest Exhibit, one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. “It's one of those exhibits that the longer you look at it, the more you find in there,” says Soergel. Watch sea bass, sardines, leopard sharks, and wolf eels weave their way through blades of swaying colorful kelp. “You can start to see that it really is a community and there's different animals that live in different neighborhoods,” says Soergel.

Plan to Stay Awhile

Whether you want to spend a day or night (sleepover, anyone?), give yourself at least three hours to take in the nearly 200 exhibits like Viva Baja! and the penguin-filled Splash Zone. Penguin and sea otter feedings start as early as 10:30 and you don’t want to miss programs like Project White Shark and Luna: A Sea Otter’s Story. “If you time your visit right and you're able to be at the aquarium at 11 a.m. we do an open sea feeding in our Open Sea exhibit,” says Soergel. Watch tuna, sea turtles, and sharks fuel for the day inside this mini pelagic ocean, the largest habitat on earth.


Get Real-Time Tips with Text Alerts

When you visit the aquarium, text the word “experience” to 56512 and you’ll get the scoop on spur-of-the-moment activities that you won’t find on the scheduled program. If a California gray whale is swimming within view, for instance, a text alert will guide you to the best viewpoint. Or watch the brainy and bashful giant Pacific octopus score some dinner (mainly crustraceans and other mollusks).

Don’t Forget the Little Guys

Top predators like sharks and tuna can hog all the attention but at the very bottom of the food chain are just-as-cool plankton, which are so small you can’t even see them. “All this life is contained inside a single drop of seawater,” says Soergel. Peer into a magnified drop of seawater at the Tiny Drifters station to get a crustacean’s eye view via multiple HD projectors. “It's so high resolution that you can actually stare into the eyespot on a copepod and watch it swimming around,” says Soegal.

Grab a Seafood Watch Card on Your Way Out

This wallet-size card helps you choose seafood in grocery stores and restaurants that are fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment. The red list tells you which species to avoid, yellow are better alternatives, and green are the best to enjoy. “It allows us to all work together as a community, and it allows us to send a really strong signal to businesses around the world that we're interested in sustainable seafood,” says Soergel.