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.
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in Santa Monica
GoExploreNature.com has a full family review of this aquarium with touch tanks.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro
GoExploreNature.com suggests pairing this with a trip to the Pt. Fermin tidepools and a picnic at the beach.
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.
- ExplorOcean – in the Balboa Fun Zone. This place has a small touch tank with a sea hare (think sea snail with no shell), a sea star, and even an urchin.
- Back Bay Science Center (BBSC) – open only for community days on Sundays from 10am-2pm. Talk to high school interns and learn more about our local ecological reserves.
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