Rated the nation’s No. 1 aquarium in the Zagat Survey U.S. Family Travel Guide, the Monterey Bay Aquarium will put you closer to sea life than ever before. With 550 different species of marine creatures circulating through 2,000 gallons of sea water every minute, these elaborate ocean displays get you up close and personal with life under the sea. A great family activity, an average visit to the aquarium lasts 2 to 3 hours, but you can easily spend the whole day there and still have more to see.

Photo Credit: Bob Aronson

Must-See Exhibits

Kelp Forest - The first aquarium in the world to exhibit a living kelp forest, get a diver’s-eye-view of sardines, leopard sharks, wolf-eels and a host of other fishes as they weave through swaying fronds of kelp, growing on average four inches a day. Underwater scuba diving gardeners are employed to manage the kelp as it can grow up to 100 ft. tall in the wild-the same height as a city skyscraper.

Open Sea Exhibit - The Outer Bay Waters exhibit holds 1.2 million gallons (4,542,494 liters) of sea water. When it was built, the main view into this exhibit was the world's largest window at 56 feet long and 17 feet high (about 17 m long and 5 m high). It was welded together seamlessly from five pieces of acrylic glass 13 inches thick. See colorful puffins, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, and tufted puffins in their natural sea habitat.

Sea Animals - From the two level sea otter exhibit to the bay animals outdoors, the Aquarium has wildlife attractions of all shapes and sizes. If you’re lucky, dolphins can be seen on occasion from the deck of the Aquarium, with orcas being an even rarer occurrence. Gray whales pass by mid-November through March and Humpbacks spring through fall; where both can be spotted from the Aquarium's outdoor viewing platform. Blue whales are found outside of the bay August through October. Harbor seals and sea lions can be seen daily from the Aquarium's decks, as well.

Special Exhibits - As is the case for many aquariums and museums, Monterey Bay keeps things fresh with a number of special rotating exhibits. From one of the nation's largest collection of seahorses, to the incredibly diverse flora and fauna of the Baja Peninsula, to rare tentacled creatures, your visit is sure to yield several unique and exciting underwater discoveries. If you want to find out what’s on display before you go, check in with the aquarium’s exhibit page.