Let the kids be guides! Monterey Bay Aquarium

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We’ve been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few times. I usually plan the day to make the most of it. This time, I let the girls take charge. From when we ate, to what we saw and did. Here’s how it turned out!


Map in hand, my eldest (age 11) took charge and we headed straight to the Kelp Forest. The night before she had spent some time on the web site, checking out which exhibits she thought would be interesting. This was the first stop.

Mum, you’ll want to take some pics here.

She was right. This 28-foot-tall exhibit is one of the tallest aquariums in the world. Schools of silvery sardines were weaving their way through swaying kelp. A leopard shark bumped along slowly on the bottom. Wolf-eels slithered. This must be just what it is like in the wild. (There is web cam if you want to see.)

Did you get a good one?

Well, erm, I think so.

Monterey Bay Aquarium - Kelp Forest

Then our 9-year-old showed me the 10.30 Penguin Feeding she circled on the guide. On our way, we stopped by the Kelp Forest Tide Pool, where volunteer Jim encouraged the girls to touch the orange starfish and purple sea urchin (but they wouldn’t go near the furry crab, even though he said the pinch wouldn’t hurt)  He put his finger on the prickly purple sea urchin, to show us how it gathered it’s needles together to give us a “kiss.” We were so engrossed with his knowledge and stories, we nearly missed the penguins.


Personally, I’d give the advertised feedings a miss; they are always crowded. But I wasn’t in charge of this tour! So we arrived late to the Pengiun Feeding, and ended up standing in the back. The girls found the make your own bookmark exhibit, where they used stamps of penguins and sea urchins as we watched the penguins getting their breakfast. 

What a sight! A museum employee was inside the glass exhibit taking questions, while a colleague fed the pengiuns. Her knowledge was impressive, fielding all kinds of questions. Do penguins see in black and white or colour? (Colour). She even made a joke about eating frozen fish and getting a “brain freeze”. My 9-year-old loved this.

Monterey Bay Aquarium - touching a Bat Ray

Next, off to touch some Bat Rays, my 8-year-old’s request. She stood at the side of the waist-high exhibit and waited for a Bat Ray to swim by, so she could touch him (her?). After changing locations a few times, she finally settled on a spot and on queue, a Bay Ray swanned by, letting the all youngsters “pet” them. Not sure why my daughter was surprised her arm got wet.

Our 11-year-old then told us we have just enough time to catch the “In the Swim” show on the large outdoor deck. The high-spirited musical included 5 professional actors portraying jellyfish, penguins, and albatross and taught us about the similarities between ocean animals and humans. If you get bored (you won’t) the deck offers panoramic views of Monterey Bay. A group of kayakers gathered to watch the show too. 

We left with the girls chanting the jelly fish song (Eat. Drift. Don’t Get Eaten) and headed (subliminally?) to The Jellies Experience, a far out world where jellies, dance, glow, bloom and sting! This was a favourite. It was “suggested” I take more pics, and the girls found all kinds of things to do, including drawing their own jellyfish and launching it on a wall-sized computer screen.

Monterey Bay Aquarium - Jellies

Next, the Secret Life of Seahorses where we saw 15 species of these charismatic animals.

Just when I was starting to get a little tired, our 9-year-old looked at the agenda and said she wanted to see the next show (yes, we could sit!). “Think Big” was a puppet show (with the same five actors) which drove home a “if we all work together we can make a difference” theme. My youngest, our make-it-girl, noticed the puppets were made of recycled materials. Look mum, the sardines are made out of tins and an old umbrella. There was an albatross with used paint brushes for feet. My girls loved it.

Monterey Bay Aquarium - Plastics exhibit

My most memorable exhibit was the Plastics Exhibit in the Ocean Travelers Gallery. The whole exhibit is art installations and photo collages dedicated to educating the masses about all the plastic rubbish that ends up in our oceans and how plastic debris impacts ocean animals. Ever wonder where that plastic water bottle ends up? Floating to the Pacific Gyre, where it is broken into colourful confetti, where sea creatures such as albatross mistake for food.  My youngest took it all in. It’s pretty mummy, but it’s bad.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940 +1 (831) 648-4800 www.montereybayaquarium.org/

Point Lobos State Reserve 62 California 1  Carmel, CA 93923 +1 (831) 624-4909 www.pointlobos.org/‎ A personal favourite. Check out tide pools, hike through coastal brush (but be careful to avoid poison oak!) It’s not unusual to see migrating whales and their dolphin groupies.

Fisherman’s Wharf #1  Monterey, CA 93940 Used as an active fish market until the 60s, now it’s a tourist attraction with ships and restaurants. Stroll to the end of the wharf to see Sea Lions, and sample clam chowder on the way.

Lovers Point Park Located at the end of 17th street in Pacific Grove. Lots of photo opps in this landscaped community park of 4.4 acres.

17 Mile Drive A scenic coastal drive through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove to Carmel. Bring a picnic for Spanish Bay or Seal Rock. $9.75 per car.

Carmel Mission 3080 Rio Rd  Carmel, CA 93923 +1(831) 624-1271 http://www.carmelmission.org/ A National historic landmark, this Roman Catholic mission church was build under the guidance of Father Serra. You can visit the museum, attend mass on Sunday, and don’t miss the farmers’ market immediately following.

Hilton Garden Inn Monterey 1000 Aguajito Rd, Monterey, CA 93940 +1 831 373-6141 I thought this hotel was 4 stars, but it’s actually 3. We came back each afternoon and lazed by the pool. Complimentary cookies 5 – 6 pm.

Great Wall Chinese Restaurant 724 Abrego St  Monterey, CA 93940 (831) 372-3637 http://www.greatwallmonterey.com/ Old favourites such as Sweet and Sour Pork and Beef Broccoli share the menu with Chicken Lettuce Wraps.

El Torito 600 Cannery Row  Monterey, CA 93940 +1 (831) 373-0611 www.eltorito.com It’s been around for ages, but it still serves the best fajitas and margaritas. Ask for a table with a view overlooking Monterey Bay.

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  1. 19/08/2013 / 18:30

    Thanks Gretta, will do!

  2. Susanna
    13/08/2013 / 16:36

    It’s a fabulous Aquarium, I never tire of the exhibits. Plus they always have a new one, such as Jellies.

  3. Susanna
    13/08/2013 / 16:26

    I’m still thinking about all that plastics artwork – and I remind the girls of it each time they want to buy cheap plastic tat. x

  4. 13/08/2013 / 15:49

    Looks like a fantastic day out. I love the photo of the jellyfish – the colours are amazing.

  5. 12/08/2013 / 21:35

    Looks like your girls chose some great things to see. I love that you gave them control for the day, and what a perfect place to do that. All the exhibits look amazing!

  6. 12/08/2013 / 21:06

    oh my what an amazing trip, book marked it as a subtle hint to Mr HPMcQ!

  7. MummyNeverSleeps
    12/08/2013 / 20:38

    That looks like the sort of place you’ll spend a whole day at and still miss something! That artwork really makes you think, eh? x

  8. 12/08/2013 / 19:49

    Looks like an awesome trip and day out, I’m very jealous x

  9. 12/08/2013 / 19:39

    I’m a big advocate for letting children have a say in what they do on holiday. If they are allowed some choices, they are far more amenable to parents’ decisions!

  10. 12/08/2013 / 18:28

    The blue lighting in the tank made a great back drop!

  11. 12/08/2013 / 18:15

    That sounds great! Interesting and educational, and I love that picture of the Jelly fish! So beautiful! 🙂

  12. 12/08/2013 / 16:56

    I’ve visited several times, and each time find something new. x

  13. Andrea @loveandcake
    12/08/2013 / 16:52

    This looks amazing! LOVE aquariums!

  14. 12/08/2013 / 16:50

    I found it really hard to not to butt in and do some of my own planning. But I think it worked out in the end. Thanks for your comment. x

  15. Liz Burton
    12/08/2013 / 16:47

    What an amazing day! I love that you let them organise and plan the whole day.
    I might try this with my daughter when we are away – although it won’t be as exotic as your day.
    Those hands-on experiences look brilliant.

  16. 12/08/2013 / 16:45

    They jellyfish were one of our favourites, and they are very photogenic!

  17. 12/08/2013 / 16:17

    Those jellyfish look amazing, what a great experience. I love aquariums. They’re opening your eyes to a whole new world x