tour of the monterey bay aquarium.

I’m not exaggerating in any way, shape, or form when I say that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of my favorite places on the planet. Seriously. I mentioned before that as a kid we spend time in Pacific Grove {right next to Monterey} in a little cabin across the street from the ocean, and that it feels like home to me as much as anywhere else in the world. We used to have annual passes to the aquarium and all we’d do for two weeks at the cabin was tide pool, and wander the aquarium all day. Those were some happy times in my life, let me tell you.

Taking my own kids to the aquarium and watching them experience the aquarium was a really cool moment in my life. Taking them behind the scenes? Mind boggling.

As a kid, I wanted more than anything to be a marine biologist for the aquarium. That didn’t exactly pan out, but I’m still riveted by all things oceanic. Especially marine animals. We were able to wander the aquarium for a few hours before going on a bucket-list-fulfilling behind-the-scenes tour.

Karen, our lovely hostess took us to the feed room to see where the aquarists {a person who maintains an aquarium} get everything washed and weighed before feeding. I was happy to note that even marine animals have to have vitamins hidden in their food, not unlike children, who actually are very similar to animals in many ways.

The feed room isn’t all that big, but the freezers are filled to the brim with fish of all sizes, shapes, and colors and it takes a bit of prep work before feeding time.

And fish, not unlike most humans, are all on some kind of special diet. Wheat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free. I’m kidding about the gluten free, but seriously you don’t want to mess with the animals’ diets, a lot of work goes into them. How funny are all the side notes “Swim n’ Out”. Ha.

These are little calamari that were being prepared for a deep sea ray on the roof. Yes, the aquarium has animals on the roof. Who knew?

The squid had to be de-spined before they got to the ray though, one at a time. Their “spines” reminded me a lot of Capri Sun straw wrappers. In fact, they were the very same texture and consistency. Kind of flimsy.

After the feed room show we went to the roof to feed the turtles. I could have stayed and watched for days, it was really fascinating to see people come and go, getting meals ready for their animals. Sort of how mothers come and go in and out of the kitchen all day preparing meals for her little animals. In fact, we mothers even get menus together for our little animals and post them in our kitchens so no one gets confused.

Here are the turtles who are rehabilitating on the roof in the same hot-tub-sized enclosure as the deep sea ray. The turtles had numbers not names, so as not to anthropomorphize them. I think I would have called them Sally and Sue if I were their keeper, which I am not.

These girls both really love the squid the ray gets, but they’re on a diet. Figures. They had to eat lettuce and bell peppers instead, but they didn’t complain.

The kids almost lost their minds feeding the turtles their lunch. I have to admit, it was one of the coolest moments of my life. I’ve always had a thing for turtles.

In case you were wondering, when Sally and Sue eat water comes squirting out their noses. This was delightful to the kids on many, many levels.

C was so close he could touch the turtles. I don’t think he did, but I was so distracted by my own euphoria I didn’t notice. Also, I was trying to make sure he didn’t *accidentally* throw himself in with the turtles and the ray. He was hopeful.

The turtles were amazing, gorgeous, graceful creatures. I could have stayed with them all day too, but eventually we ran out of lettuce and peppers and their interest in us waned.

Next up we went to the Outer Bay exhibit. Only we went behind the scenes, or rather above the scenes. It was all I could do not to squeal like a little girl, but I remained a professional and the squealing was all internal.

See that dark spot in the middle? A Leopard Shark perhaps? Maybe a giant tuna? It was unbelievable to see the animals in the enormous tank from above. Honestly, I had an overwhelming desire to jump in and swim around with the animals. I was using a lot of restraint to stay behind the scene rather than *in* the scene.

Eventually we had to leave. We were starting to irritate the animals because they thought we had food, and we didn’t. I didn’t want to be held responsible for hungry, irritated Leopard Sharks, so we moved on. To the Jellyfish!

The Jellies are *grown* in tanks behind the exhibit and when they’re ready, they head out front for people to enjoy. They’re spectacular.

C had a front-row seat to watch the Jellies grow. You can’t really tell in this photo but the tanks are cylindrical so the jellyfish tentacles won’t get stuck in corners and tear off. No one wants that to happen.

This is what the Jellyfish exhibit looks like out front. It’s the most relaxing place in all of California. The exhibit is dark so you can really see the jellies all lit up, pulsing around their tanks. It’s a peaceful, zen-like experience to sit back and see all the tanks full of jellies gliding around.

I dragged out the behind-the-scenes tour longer than was absolutely necessary {or polite} and bid adieu to our wonderful tour guide/PR maven Karen. Thank you Karen, you helped me cross a wish off my bucket-list.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the aquarium. It really does take at least a day. There are so many cool interactive exhibits for everyone, so when you go plan for a full day.

After we left the aquarium we went to see the sunset down the street and around the corner from Lover’s Point.

Can you believe the sunset? It’s always hard to say goodbye to Monterey.

Next stop: Pismo Beach

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Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!


  1. KJ :

    the aquarium is awesome. love those jellies

  2. resa troyer :

    what an amazing experience. thanks for sharing.

  3. The Jacobsen Family! :

    I went a few times as a kid and then went again a few years ago. It was also as fun now as it was then. =) Someday we'll take our kids.
    Love all of your pics! Lucky that you got to take a behind the scenes tour!!

  4. Mike Chamberlain :

    Hi all,

    Love the entry. I work at the aquarium, and we offer behind-the-scenes tours every day. To be clear, Her tour was a bit 'extra-special', so don;t expect to feed turtles, but I CAN guarantee that you will go behind-the-scenes, hear amazing stories, and learn what it takes to run the aquarium!

  5. Petit Elefant :


    Thanks for clearing that up. It's true, my tour was "extra special" but I hear the regular behind the scenes tour is really amazing!

  6. likeschocolate :

    It looks like your family had a fantastic time.

  7. meg duerksen :

    we wen there this summer too! it was amazing. so clean and it was gigantic! we loved it. it looks like you go to see even more than we did. there were no sea turtles during our visit.