Visitors to San Francisco have a choice of three major options when seeking an aquarium. Fortunately, there’s no way to go wrong – all three are terrific.
Aquarium of the Bay
The Aquarium of the Bay, first opened in 1996, houses dozens of exhibits holding thousands of animals. There are hundreds of interesting species on display – everything from nearly invisible sea horses to all too visible sharks.
The moving walkway takes you down through two glass-lined tunnels, 300 feet long. Behind the walls are 700,000 gallons of filtered water from the San Francisco Bay. Those tanks are home to over 23,000 aquatic animals of the sort divers might encounter near the shore or off the coast. Species run the gamut from angel sharks and giant Pacific octopi to the tiniest of shrimp.
Further on, there’s an array of multi-colored species from tide pools near the coast where visitors can actually touch the animals. Anemones cling to coral as leopard sharks and bat rays glide by.
The Aquarium is located at Pier 39.
The Steinhart Aquarium
The Steinhart Aquarium downtown is home to a similar variety of species, but with some delightful variations. Everything from poison dart frogs to alligator snapping turtles to penguins find a home here.
Eels are a specialty of the aquarium with many curious and obscure species on exhibit. There’s the fairly common moray eel, but the aquarium also houses several wolf eels that grow up to seven feet.
The Steinhart has its own tide pool display, jam-packed with sea stars and hermit crabs. (Best not to pet the crabs, though!)
Elsewhere, get a close up look at giant sea bass or sturgeon, or come find out what a gar looks like. Still around after millions of years, the long-snouted, leopard-spotted fish has an array of nasty needle-like teeth.
And be sure to check out the penguins as they clumsily groom themselves on the ice shelf or swim gracefully by under the surface. Birds just don’t get any funnier.
Steinhart Aquarium is at 875 Howard Street located between 4th and 5th Streets.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Two hours south by bus from downtown is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The jewel of the San Francisco area aquariums, the site is both a tourist exhibit and scientific research center.
Here visitors can see thousands of near-transparent jellyfish floating gracefully around a tank or go outside and see live seals sunning themselves on the rocks.
Now released, the aquarium once housed a live Great White shark. Extremely rare to catch live, and with a poor survival rate in captivity, the exhibit displayed the animal for nearly two years.
Undoubtedly young, given its length of five feet (1.5m), the Great White was re-introduced to the Gulf of the Farallones at 6 ft 4.5 in (194cm) at 162 lbs (73.6kg), having gained 100 lbs (45.4kg). Several parts of the exhibit show the history of interaction with this fearsome predator.
Outside there are dozens of seal and sea otters to view and they appear to appreciate the frequent applause their antics inspire.
Several companies offer bus trips to Monterey and back. Though long, the trip is well worth it for those who enjoy world class aquariums. Those driving from the south will find it an easy detour. Monterey has a number of other attractions as well.
Enjoy your visit to San Francisco’s aquariums, but stay dry!