Southern California aquarium trips and touch tidepools are almost rites of passage for California kids. Most feature local sea life, and some include tropical highlights from Mexico or the South Pacific.
Southern California Aquariums
Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla
My very favorite and more manageable with small children. Outdoor views of La Jolla Cove with touch tidepools on one deck and hands-on exhibits at the other.
Heal the Bay Aquarium Under Santa Monica Pier
Explore this aquarium with touch tanks.
Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach
We like to meet here with LA family friends. I often find it crowded with field trips, but that’s just part of an attraction being in LA. Outdoor ocean-themed play area.
Sea Life Aquarium at Legoland in Carlsbad
Feels like a theme park extension with bold exhibits that are very hands-on for kids where there are opportunities to touch, crawl, and even ride a small slide.
Sea World San Diego Aquarium Exhibits
In spite of all the negative media attention, I would be remiss for not mentioning the expansive aquarium exhibits like Aquarium del Mar and the Shark Encounter.
Ty Warner Sea Center in Santa Barbara
Can’t beat the location on Stearn’s Wharf and lots of jellies!
Touch Tanks in Orange County
- Ocean Institute – only open on weekends and for special events. Kids can see ocean life in a real research setting and sometimes have the opportunity to watch feedings or dissect a squid.
Free Fish Watching
- Ocean Institute Gift Shop – small aquarium in the store
- Any pet store or specialty tropical fish/aquarium store
- Bolsa Chica Wetlands Interpretive Center – small tanks, plus easy to see fish (and, if you’re lucky, stingrays) from the bridge that crosses the wetlands
- Doheny State Beach Interpretive Center/Aquarium – small tidepool exhibit
Originally published in August 2014.