14 Things to Know Before Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey, California, and it's surrounding neighborhoods (Carmel by the Sea, Pacific Grove, ect.) are some of the most beautiful places on earth. The only problem? Everyone knows it.

Well, sorry.  Not everyone. But a decent amount of people. 

Thousands of tourists visit Monterey every year.

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Here is the thing - while Monterey is a lovely town, few people actually visit downtown Monterey. Most tourists stick to Cannery Row, which is 1.5 miles north of Downtown Monterey. Cannery Row is very touristy, but still quaint and charming. 

And the reason everyone goes to Cannery Row? To visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Although though it's undeniably magical, a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is easier said than done - the place is huge, crowded, and expensive. 

Click here to read my packing list for Monterey Bay!

Here are some...

 Tips for visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium: 

1. There is SO much to see - you won't have the energy to see it all in one visit

The aquarium is huge, and you'll exhaust yourself trying to read every sign. Prioritize your sights and create a POA to ensure you see the good stuff.... and still have the energy to appreciate it!

 Keep scrolling down to see my suggested prioritization. 

2. Expect crowds

Especially in the more popular areas, there are going to be a lot of other people trying to see the exact same thing you are.  Expect to wait in line to see some things, and if you ever get an exhibit to yourself... don't expect it to last long.

3. Tickets are not cheap - come in with a plan to get your money's worth  

You can't see it all in one trip, so to get your money's worth, be smart about your plan. 

Keep scrolling to see my suggested priority of exhibits.

4. There are a lot of children... and a fair amount of negligent parents. Just saying.

If you dislike children, mentally prepare yourself because they are everywhere. It's great to know the kids are learning... but parents actually keeping an eye on them would also be great.

5. Remember the wildlife that can be seen for free in the real Monterey Bay

You can see otter and seals in Monterey Bay for free, anytime you want. I usually skip the otter exhibit (even though it is great!) for this reason.

otter monterey bay
otter monterey bay

6. Listen to the music

They've hit the nail on the head with the soundtrack at each exhibit! I LOVE the music and wish I could get it on Spotify. 

7. Take a break with one of the shows

They have a daily schedule of shows in the auditorium. These shows are interesting, informative, and an easy way to sit down to take a break.  

8. Read some Steinbeck before arriving

It may seem hack, but it will truly give you some important perspective on the area/neighborhood.

9. If you hate people, avoid the live demos  

No, literally, get as far away from them as possible. Other parts of the museum will be less crowded when a live demo (fish feeding, ect.) is going on!

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10. Don't miss the Cannery row history exhibit

A: It isn't very crowded, and is a great place to escape the madness. B: Don't leave without understanding the history of Monterey's canning industry!

11. I once saw a woman changing a diaper on a bench in the aquarium

And there was a bathroom like 15 feet away. I just remembered that while writing this article and had to share. 

12: Don't miss the gift shop

It's really spectacular. 

13: Areas that are less crowded:

History of the Museum

Right near the lobby, this area explains the history of the building/Cannery Row (spoiler: they did a lot of canning). 

3rd Floor Kelp Forest Overlook

On the top floor there is a small (outdoor) observation area that looks over the top of the Kelp Forest exhibit.  

Vanishing Wildlife room

Sadly, not too many people visit the "Vanishing Wildlife" exhibit. However, this space shows the bottom of the Open Sea tank, and has big benches to sit on (or change diapers, I guess). 

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14. Exhibits to Prioritize:

In a particular order....

1. Jelly Fish and the Open Sea

This exhibit is worth the admission price for the entire museum.  Be sure to get to this section when you still have a lot of energy. The jellies are the best part of the aquarium.

It is impossible to leave this area without developing a slight obsession with jellyfish. 

The jelly exhibition ends with "the Open Sea," which, as you guessed it, mimics the open ocean sea (ie: it is a very large tank that appears endless).  This area has floor to ceiling windows, and a ton of larger sea animals (sharks, turtles, ect.) 

2. "Monterey Bay Habitats"

This is behind the Kelp Forest. After the jellies, this is probably one of the coolest areas in the aquarium. There are tiny exhibits (like sand dollars and shrimp), as well as another big tank with some interesting fish.

3. Octopus by Kelp Forest

If you are facing the Kelp Forest, on your left (before you enter Monterey Bay Habitats) is a tank with a very active octopus.  

Every time I went the octopus was cruising all around his tank/the glass. 

4. Kelp Forest

I would avoid it during the demos. 

5. Tentacles

This place is rough because it gets SUPER crowded, but there are some big octopus and squid, as well as interesting creature like cuttlefish.  There also provide a lot of information on the history/myths associated with tentacled creatures throughout humanity.   

BONUS: Before visiting, please , I implore you to watch this video:

Have fun! Here is a map of the aquarium!

Click here to read my packing list for Monterey Bay!

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