Birch Aquarium at Scripps, located in La Jolla, offers a fantastic (and much more affordable) alternative to Sea World for families looking to explore Southern California’s marine life minus the crowds and shows. The aquarium, part of UCSD, is dedicated to education and conservation.
Much of the aquarium is indoors and air-conditioned. Tanks in the Hall of Fishes display marine life from regions of the world, focusing mainly on the Pacific. The Scripps Explorers Gallery takes up an entire wing and is dedicated to climate challenges we face today and their effect on marine habitats. Interactive exhibits will keep your kids entertained and, for the older ones, learning. One fascinating section contains a seahorse nursery – incredible how tiny these amazing creatures are when they are released to fend for themselves!
Outside on the expansive patios you can enjoy views of Scripps Pier and La Jolla Shores as well as explore the tide pools.
Volunteers aid in gently interacting with starfish, sea cucumbers, and all sorts of other marine life.
There are also several interactive exhibits that demonstrate the energy water can create. Every time we go I have to drag my kids away from the water flow table – they love to create their own paths and let their boats loose over and over!
Another favorite spot is the Kelp Forest Tank – a 70,000 gallon tank where the aquarium’s scuba divers occasionally take a plunge.
Each time we’ve gone, crowds have been moderate. During the school year the aquarium is often a field trip destination. As with many places in San Diego, go early to beat the crowds. A few hours, or half a day, gives you plenty of time to explore everything here. Splash Café is located at the entrance to the aquarium and offers a good variety of snacks and drinks as well as a variety of gourmet catered sandwiches ranging from $6 to $12. Several picnic tables have umbrellas for shade. Watch out for the seagulls – we saw one sweep away half a gourmet sandwich that was resting between bites on a table less than a foot away from its hungry owner! Bathrooms are easy to find, accessible, and clean.
Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Days.
Admission: $17 for adults, $14 for teens (13-17), $12.50 for children (3-12), FREE for ages 2 and under. Discounts are offered for seniors, college students, and those with AARP, AAA, or Go San Diego cards.
Parking: Free for 3 hours
Events: Check the website. Feedings occur throughout the day. The shark feeding, as well as the scuba divers in the large tank, are worth checking out. Get to these early to ensure a place to sit and see.