Are you looking for a fun place to take the kids, parents or visiting relatives and spend a couple hours of real “quality” time?  Look no further than the amazing sights, sounds and textures at the waterfront Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.  Here your entertainment dollars go much further, and you just may learn something about what lives under the water and why we need to protect these wondrous and beautiful sea creatures.  Here you get to discover, explore and experience marine life up close and personal.

Eight years ago, in June of 1998, a group of ambitious public and private sector leaders helped to pass a $90 million dollar bond and open the doors to the Aquarium of the Pacific with a simple, yet ambitious goal: “To instill a sense of wonder, respect and stewardship for the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants and ecosystems.”  Since its opening, the Aquarium has hosted cultural festivals, lectures, panel discussions and more for visitors who come from all over to participate in its unique programs. 

Sting Ray learning tank.

Of all the aquariums in the United States, this is the most successful because its competitive edge is that it is not only an educational facility, but it is a conservational facility that’s fun, too. 

Sure, 70% of the visitors come from within 30 miles of Long Beach, California, but the remaining 30% of visitors come from elsewhere to experience what this non profit institution has to offer.

For each of the last four successive years, the Aquarium of the Pacific has had increased attendance, and it’s on track for its fifth year as well.  Congratulations Aquarium of the Pacific, since they’re the only aquarium in the United States that’s doing this!  With more than 200,000 kids coming to visit this land, er ocean, of wonder on school trips, this facility is already looking to expand: more space, more boat tours, and more ocean experiences all aimed at reconnecting people with nature. 

Sea Horse daddies.

Do you think it’s just for kids?  30% of their attendance is comprised of adults without kids.

Here you get to discover nearly 12,500 animals from almost 1,000 different species.  I’ll bet you didn’t know that they have over 175 scuba volunteers alone to help feed the animals and clean their tanks.  Aside from the astounding numbers that will wow you, come check out their hands-on exhibits that will dazzle even the most jaded.

Shark Lagoon.

The Aquarium of the Pacific is organized into three main galleries, plus a special exhibits gallery and an outdoor Explorers Cove, with Lorikeet forest and Shark Lagoon.  The main galleries highlight the major regions of the Pacific Ocean:  Southern California/Baja, the Northern Pacific, and the Tropical Pacific.  As you explore the Aquarium, be sure to stop by their hands-on Discovery Labs to touch marine life and hear interesting facts from some of their hundreds of education volunteers.

Starfish and Sunflower Anemone.

These touch tanks allow you to touch every kind of ray, shark and star fish you’d ever imagine.  By the way, the Aquarium of the Pacific was the first aquarium to allow visitors to touch sharks.  Not only can you touch, but you can learn even more about their animals at special Discovery Presentations held throughout the day at major exhibits.

Be sure and save time for their additional adventures, too.  Some may have additional fees, but are certainly worth your time.  AnimalVision 3-D is a film that combines stunning state-of-the-art 3-D technology, fun-loving animal characters, and important environmental messages.  Monsters of the Abyss 3-D lets you dive into the depths of the ocean in this compelling 3-D film. 

Exhibits are found throughout the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Discover one of the most hostile places on the planet….where there is no sunlight, it’s near freezing and life is unlike anything we have ever experienced.  One adventure Kim and I would love to do some day is the Ocean Experience.  This lets each passenger become a marine biologist for a day as you get to join the crew of a 90-foot ocean research vessel in collecting and identifying local marine life.  Are you getting the feeling that this is not just a one visit location?  No way!  Prepare to come again and again.

Danger from the deep - Jellyfish.

The most recent exhibit, "Dazzling + Dangerous", allows visitors to tour land and sea environments, from Southern California to Australia, to safely view some of the planet’s most deadly creatures.  Why?  To teach you about scarey land and water animals that most people are killed by and deathly afraid of.  Do you know how to avoid getting stung by a sting ray?  It’s easy, just do the sting ray shuffle, or shuffle your feet as you walk in the ocean water.  This will scare them away from their camouflaged hiding spots.  Sorry kids, this is one exhibit that you cannot touch.  But, you can safely see and experience the many beautiful jelly fish, rattle snakes, scorpions, Gila Monsters, and Tarantulas in this brand new exhibit.  I thought this exhibit was very interesting as it not only featured water creatures, but also incorporated land creatures as well.

Painful to touch Lionfish.

As you wander inside and outside, there’s lots to see.  Sometimes you need to stand and stare at a huge tank for a long time just to see all the water creatures inside.  Some of the tanks are so huge that it takes a while for the fish to swim around and around.

One exhibit lets you watch California Sea Lions gracefully gliding through the water as kids are enthralled, and polka dotted Harbor Seals are doing their thing.

The Aquarium of the Pacific is located at 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802,  Their hours are 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily.

By Kim and Don Tatera, Los Angeles Jetsetters Magazine Correspondents.

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