A trip to Birch Aquarium will take you about as up-close and personal to the creatures of the deep as you can get, without getting wet. At just 64,000 square feet (5,946 square meters), it is not a large aquarium, but boasts marine life from 60 different habitats. And plenty of those creatures you can touch and feel.
Established in 1903, its ties to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Research mean the focus of Birch Aquarium is more on education than entertainment. You’ll almost certainly leave with a better understanding of the marine life that inhabits the Pacific Coast. Attractions such as the Kelp Forest Dive Show and public daily feedings will keep all family members engaged.
The Tropical Seas Gallery is one of the more popular exhibits. See flamboyant lionfish, flower-like anemones, nautilus and giant clams. You’ll also learn interesting facts about coral, such as its ability to produce chemicals that may one day help cure medical ailments.
Interactive exhibits include the Tide Pool Plaza, where you can touch sea cucumbers and other creatures that inhabit the shallows. There’s also a strong environmental theme to the aquarium. Two exhibits, Feeling the Heat and Boundless Energy, provide fascinating information on the influence oceans have on global temperatures and energy independence.
Be sure to step outside onto the back patio for spectacular views over the ocean. If you’re here in summer, don’t miss the Green Flash concert series held on the deck.
There are easy public transport links to Birch Aquarium. Driving instructions are available on the attraction’s website, and the aquarium offers three hours of free parking. Due to the frequency of school party visits, it pays to arrive early to avoid lines, although the aquarium rarely gets too busy. It’s open daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.