Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and Surrounds
One of the joys of parenthood is cycling back to your richest childhood experiences; it’s always rewarding to find the place that you went to growing up—is still as great as you remembered it.
Cabrillo Beach is this sort of a rich memory for me. There are 5 things I love about this aquarium:
1. The aquarium admission is cheap and the tanks are filled with healthy looking marine animals. At $1 for kids and $5 for adults, this place is a bargain! While this aquarium does not have the multi-story kelp forest and deep ocean tanks at the Long Beach Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, what it does offer are tanks situated at kids eye-level, filled with unique creatures such as lobsters, living shark egg embyros, bright, pink anemonies, brittle stars, camouflaged flounders, and a variety of sharks; these are sure to inspire and educate! During regular daytime hours, visitors can also touch these creatures in the touch tank located in the back of the aquarium. This tank is open several times each day. Also, many of these animals are located in the auxiliary lab building where they can be touch as well as explored more closely under microscopes. The manageable size makes a visit here efficient; the aquarium can be toured in 2-3 hours.
One other feature Angelenos will appreciate–there is plentiful parking that is reasonably priced. Simply walk up to a lot kiosk and pay. The process is a ton easier and less expensive (and less time-consuming) than parking in many other coastal areas.
2. Learn about and witness a grunion run. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium has been leading grunion run experiences for decades. The evening begins at 8:00; families can go in the aquarium during special late night hours, in this case from 8-10:30 or so. The evening my family went there, there was a food truck in the lot with tasty dinner and snack options. The eclectic well-stocked gift shop is also open—full of books and toys kids are sure to love. At 9:30, hear a presentation by aquarium staff giving an overview of why grunion — small silver fish similar in size to sardines — come ashore to spawn, followed by a vintage 1960s film showing the life cycle. Informational and clear, the film is great for people of all ages. After the film and overview, with new found knowledge of the grunion life cycle, step outside onto the courtyard, and in small jars, hatch grunion eggs yourself. At 10:30, gather for a walk to the beach to see these small silver fish come ashore. This event occurs in spring and early summer. Click here for more information about the aquarium’s grunion programs.
Hatching Grunion Eggs
3. The aquarium offers quality marine biology summer camps that are true STEM! The aquarium has a wonderful lab space where campers can touch research specimens, explore them more closely under a microscope, and visit the facility and nearby tidepools and salt marsh areas with enthusiastic marine educators. The camps are 3 hours in length, and will expose young kids in TK-8th grade to various facets of marine biology and more. Click here for more information on summer camps.
4. The city of San Pedro has other interesting attractions. The Korean Friendship Bell, a nearby fort, the Marine Mammal Care Center (seal rescue and rehabilitation center), and numerous battleships can be visited. During the week, the aquarium opens at noon. If you arrive earlier in the day, drive up to the Korean Friendship Bell located off Gaffey Street. At this amazing coastal overlook, have a picnic, fly a kite, take amazing family photos with a beautiful ocean backdrop, play frisbee, and more. Connected to this area, check out Fort MacArthur. The grounds are fun, complete with an artillery bunker and cannons. The museum is open 12-5, and closed Mon, Wed, and Friday, but the grounds are often open longer hours. Or, if you have time after the Cabrillo aquarium, visit the Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles. They have various seals, sea lions, and elephant seals that have been rescued and are undergoing rehabilitation, to be released when they are healthy enough. This facility is free and open during daylight hours. This property is very near to the Korean Friendship Bell; you will know you are in the right place when you get out of your car in the parking lot and hear barking seals. The area is fairly small and can be seen in 20-30 minutes. Also, if time permits, visit the Battleship USS Iowa, and the SS Lane Victory.
5. Finally, a recent addition to the area: Rent Metro bikes in the aquarium parking lot. With these Metro bikes, ride to the end of the fishing pier (adjacent to the parking lot), along the bike path between the lot and the sand, then to the wetlands area, and around to Shoshonean Road, and continuing to the Cabrillo Marina area. Some of the pedestrian areas explicitly say “no bikes,” so be mindful of those areas. Also, riders under 18 are required to wear bike helmets. My kids really enjoyed these bikes!
Stay tuned for our next homeschool curriculum, Earth Party! This aquarium is an excellent location to view many forms of life featured in our upcoming unit study that focuses on the Linnaean system of classification of living things.