By Donna Polizzi

Monterey is less than an hour south of Santa Cruz and four hours north of Santa Barbara, and I highly recommend that everyone visit the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is one of the top things to do in Monterey and it will be a memorable experience for all ages.

Visitors enjoy the kelp forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Unlike typical stand-alone aquariums, this magnificent facility literally sits right in the bay, pumping 2,000 gallons of seawater each minute into the aquarium. This remarkable facility sustains sea life so you can see and touch it. Without this fantastic aquarium, you would need scuba gear to have this kind of magical experience.

The first question is, which way do I go? There is so much to see. Do I want to see jellyfish? Check the time and schedule because you might want to watch a penguin feeding if it’s approaching 10:30 a.m.

This year’s ever-changing exhibition is Viva Baja, Life on the Edge. This new exhibit showcases Baja California and its incredible land and sea animals. Surreal colors of tropical fish like the bluespotted jawfish, desert tortoises, snakes and seahorses are a sampling of things you will get to see.

I think It’s always a good call to stop at the sea otter tank first. The insanely adorable otters play and swim right in front of your eyes with only the glass separating you from their world. If you head to the left side of the aquarium, you will see a cylindrical tank of ever-whirling sardines, which are the fish that gave Cannery Row its name. But that’s another story.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, visitors can get up close and personal undersea views.

Just beyond, low lighting and soothing music add to the drama of staring up at 60-foot kelp beds and scores of fish that inhabit them. Moving along to the “open sea” tank, you will find the amusing mola mola, or ocean sunfish, floating lazily.

Some years, the aquarium has been lucky enough to host a baby great white shark, another important resident of the bay. Exhibits are ever-changing and often include many different native species such as jellyfish, stingrays and sea otters.

Touch tanks allow the most incredible experience. Imagine feeling the rough surface of a starfish or the soft skin of a sea cucumber. I love to watch the expressions on children’s faces when they smell and touch these sea creatures.

Throughout the day, you can watch scheduled feeding times for each exhibit, and I particularly enjoy seeing the scuba divers feeding in the kelp forest tank.

When it’s your turn to eat, make sure you stop by the renowned cafe and restaurant that spearheads the “Seafood Watch” sustainability effort in addition to serving delicious food.

Deep blue water splashing against the rugged coastline in Monterey is a spectacular sight.

Besides the entertainment, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is unparalleled in its importance to this coastline. Visitors gain enriching knowledge about the wonders and mysteries of the Monterey Bay.

The aquarium is at the end of historic Cannery Row. Plan on two to three hours to see all of the exhibits. It can easily be an all-day experience if you fully engage in all of the educational information.

It’s a fun place where you can fill up on clam chowder and saltwater taffy. Adult day passes are $49.95, children 3-12 are $29.95, students and seniors are $39.95 and children under 3 get in for free.

Monterey is also famous for great seafood restaurants and numerous golf courses. This fantastic area boasts more than 20 courses, including world-renowned Pebble Beach and Cypress Point.

The Monterey area is breathtakingly beautiful and the weather is mild year round. The deep blue water crashing against the dark, rocky shoreline makes it one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world.


Travel expert Donna Polizzi is the founder of, a travel advice website.