Monday, September 22, 2014

Hidden Monterey ~ The Monterey Bay Aquarium

Ok, so I know what you are probably thinking...the Aquarium? Hidden? Yeah...I don't think so. And to a large extent you are exactly right. I mean this is one of the most famous aquariums in the whole world right? The crown jewel of Monterey? THE attraction when you think of Monterey, right? But not many people are aware that the aquarium changes all of the time! (ps. don't forget to click on the little photos to see the full size version of them!)

Like an art gallery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium changes their exhibits in order to share new species from the ocean world. This means that each time you make your way to Monterey the chances will be good that the Aquarium has changed in some way and you will get to see something new!

Warning: The MBA is definitely a splurge. Adult tickets are $39.95, children 3-18 are $24.95 with kids under 3 free. The good news is that this aquarium is large enough that you will spend a good part of a day exploring and enjoying it so that makes it more worth the expense. There are some coupons out there but it's rare. A better way to save money on the aquarium is to book at a hotel that offers an "Aquarium Package". 

 Start out your day early so you can beat the crowds at the aquarium and for parking. So why not start with breakfast at a great hidden treasure? First Awakenings is, literally, one block from the Aquarium. There is street parking but you will want to bring your roll of quarters with you! We were lucky and found easy parking and happened to have some quarters on us. The cashier will sell you more but there's a limit so come prepared. 
 This is one of those places that if you didn't know it was there you would drive right on by it without even seeing it. From the street you can sort of see a sunken patio with some umbrellas but you may well miss the signs. So here's your tip...GO. It's a cute little diner with indoor and outdoor seating and amazing food!
 Seriously AH-mazing food! This Sonoran Frittata cost around $10 and included all of this food! (ps...I'm a coffee nut and the coffee is really good!)
 If pancakes or french toast are more your speed in the morning they have you covered! Their raisin bread french toast is incredible! And if you are looking for some healthier choices you will be able to find something there too. Just check out their menu HERE!

 After breakfast take the short, pretty, one block walk up to the Aquarium. 
 Right now the exhibit is "Tentacles" as well as the new "Jellies Experience". Huge blow up octopus legs wiggle in the wind over the top of the buildings. The kids loved it!
When we first started going to this aquarium 25 years ago there use to be a turnstyle and cashiers booth. Now there is a whole room with a queue because of how many visitors the MBA gets each year. We were there on a Thursday morning so there were no lines and it was quick and easy to enter this front door to the main lobby of the aquarium.
 Normally we head straight to the Jellyfish exhibit and the "blue room" but with this new exhibit we couldn't wait to see it!
 Obviously when you hear the word "tentacles" you think of an octopus. This little guy was in a circular tank and he took a liking to me. Every where I would walk he would follow. I kept trying to get a shot of the little shrimp guy but Mr. Octopus decided that this was HIS closeup instead!
 We had never seen a pink octopus before and this one seemed very content to ignore us and take a nap instead.
 But the cuttlefish stole our hearts! I don't know if they are cute or so ugly they are cute but either way we were totally charmed. I loved the zebra print design on their backs too.
We had never seen an Nautilus before and they were equally cool and creepy to us. Obviously they live in the darker parts of the ocean since the exhibit was lighted in a dark purple. Take the time to read some of the plaques around each exhibit, you can learn a lot!

 But, for us, the "Blue Room" has always been a place where we spend the most of our time at the aquarium. Every baby has simply adored it because it just glows!  And the jellyfish are just a magical.
The large tank is always crowded but, if you wait patiently, you can get up to the tank and get a great photo of these wonderful animals. My wish is that, someday, they will place benches in this part of the aquarium so I can just sit down and hang out here and watch the jellies float.
If you stand there long enough and really look at these natural marvels they will astound you. From the transparent domes to the curly tentacles they are truly something wonderful to watch.
 There are so many different types of Jellyfish in that area. They range from pinpoints to the large orange Pacific Jellies. The moon jellies are some of my very favorite. They look so delicate and their luminescence is amazing!
So, I imagine you can guess how much we love jellyfish so I'm pretty sure you can appreciate how happy we were to see the new exhibit: The Jellies Experience!
Even the lights in this exhibit are Jellyfish themed! There were a few pieces of "Jellyfish Art" in the rooms that we thought were very cool.

But the new jellyfish were the ones we were amazed with the most. We saw jellyfish from all over the world that we had never even heard of before! The white spotted jellies are about the size of you palm. They remind me of incredible alien spaceships floating in the water.
The blue spotted jellies were my biggest thrill. I didn't even know blue jellyfish existed! I must have taken 2 dozen frames just to make sure I got one of these gorgeous animals. Blue. BLUE!
 But that tank wasn't where the blue love affair ended. I stepped into the next room and found light blue jellies and dark blue jellies and BROWN jellies! Seriously! Just too cool.
 Have you ever seen so many different colors of jellyfish? Did you even KNOW there were these colors of jellyfish? Nope, me neither. 
And just when you are muttering to yourself or to each other "just too cool" you step into what we called the "Groovy" room! These cylinders look like huge Lava Lamps with their moon jellies floating from top to bottom and from bottom to top! So much fun!
 I've spent a good deal of time talking about the new exhibits because these are the ones that will change quickly. If you miss them at least you got to get a glimpse of them. However there are plenty of regular exhibits at the aquarium to enjoy like the Puffins! 
 In fact there is a whole section of the aquarium just for seabirds. You will see all types including sand pipers, avocets, curlews and Phalarope. This is one of our favorite parts of the aquarium. 
 There are a few very dark areas of the aquarium I wasn't able to capture for you this trip. I really don't like using flash and you can't use tripods in the aquarium so long exposures are not possible. But there are plenty of exhibits there to go see and benches to rest upon so you can soak it all up.
Being child-free this trip I didn't head up into Splash-Zone (people really don't like you photographing their kids anyway) but it's a great place where there are toys and water and even penguins for your kids to enjoy. Then head back downstairs and enjoy the anemones!
 The inside isn't the only attraction here. There are all sorts of sights to see outside on the decks as well. This gravity defying seal was all too happy to soak up the sun and our adoring attention!
The main deck has bench seating and they have scheduled shows that will teach you about the otters and the ocean environment. Even when a demonstration isn't going on this makes for a great place to soak up the wonderful Monterey weather and views.
Back inside you will find the huge whale sculptures on the ceiling and the sea otter tanks. This isn't the best place in Monterey to see the otters but it is probably the closest you will get to them. Unfortunately the tanks are pretty well water splashed so you may not get as clear of a look as you had hoped. Stick with this series and next week I'll take you someplace where you can see the otters up close in the wild.

When you are all done at the Aquarium head on up the street toward Hwy 1 and stop in at Layers for a snack. This is the best bakery we have found in the area. Let me put it this way...I'm a professional custom cake designer and this is where I went to get our wedding cake.  Yes, it's that good.
If you are very lucky they will have one of their "Princess Cakes" as their "cutting cake" of the day. If they do, grab a slice! It's amazing. No, seriously, AHHH-mazing. Not that we've ever had anything bad here but, well, Princess Cake is THE cake. If you can't get a piece of Princess Cake there will plenty of this "Baby Cake". Lemony goodness that just melts in the mouth. Oh, and the coffee is great here too!

Next week we are heading outdoors to see the wildlife of Moss Landing. We'll have a great bite to eat too but it's all about the Sea Otter Estuary there!


No comments:

Post a Comment