1. Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach

    My first memory of an aquarium was, as I recall, at the Milwaukee Zoo when I was about five. The various fish on display—especially the poisonous or otherwise dangerous ones—fascinated me; though, being a city boy in America, I didn’t inspect the specimens closely enough to be able to identify them in the future as there was little chance that I would encounter them in nature.

    My second encounter with an aquarium was a few years later, in the garage of one of my brother’s friends. He had a big 100-gallon tank filled with a dozen or so large, ugly fish that my brother swore were piranha. Virtually fearless because I suspected that piranha could neither fly nor eat through glass, I hovered over the aquarium for a closer look, and somehow wound up inside the thing. Once I slogged my way out of the tank with nary a nibble, I blamed my brother for years, despite his pleas of innocence (we were both liars of such renown that neither of us had any reason to trust the other), and developed an abiding fear of catfish—which is what the fish really were—unless fried and smothered in tartar sauce.

    I still find aquariums fascinating, however, though I tend to keep my distance from any large enough to fall into, which I think is perfectly understandable.


    The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, at the corners of Shoreline Drive and Aquarium Way, [phone number (562) 590-3100] has many tanks large enough to soak dozens of kids at a time, though they definitely frown upon such activities. As you enter the facility, a lifesized replica of a blue whale greets you, which simultaneously makes you feel welcome and also wary as you wonder just how strong those cables while hurrying your kids beneath the behemoth.


    If you’re lucky, you may be there when one or more scuba divers enter one of the tanks either to perform maintenance or to clean the glass. The divers are all hams and enjoy interacting with visitors (especially kids) and posing for photographs.


    With 32 focus exhibits featuring 19 habitats, 500 species of fish and mammals and a total of over 11,000 sea creatures, the Aquarium of the Pacific is a great place to while away a couple hours while both informing and entertaining yourselves as well as your children, if any. The various tanks contain animals from the tropics and the North Pacific Ocean, as well as many from the immediate area of the Southern California coast and Baja.


    One of the most popular exhibit halls features many varieties of jellyfish from the vastness of the Pacific, some displaying incredible beauty, others that are just plain ugly yet interesting. But try not to spend too much time in this exhibit hall, for the placid, elegant movements of the jellies can lull you into narcolepsy, and the Aquarium of the Pacific does not offer pillows to guests.


    In addition to the many aquariums inside the facility, a courtyard out back called Shark Lagoon contains a very large shark tank with sandbar, white tip, tiger, nurse and other varieties of sharks all swimming together. You can observe these beasts from above, or walk through a subterranean viewing area where you can get nose-to-nose with the wolves of the sea through the glass.


    They also have three separate shallow pools containing the more docile species of sharks (such as zebra, bamboo and epaulette sharks) along with various rays and skates. Scientific displays teach visitors about the sharks’ senses, reproduction and the role they play in the world’s oceans.


    In the same area, smaller kids can frolic on and around the squid playground sculpture, which squirts water at them to satisfy their water cravings and keep them from leaping into the tank with the tiger sharks.


    My favorite part of the Aquarium of the Pacific, however, is the Lorikeet Forest aviary, an enclosed walk-through birdcage filled with trees and shrubs and about a zillion brightly colored, inquisitive and friendly birds. Don’t be surprised if one or more decide to use you as a perch; but if one lands on your head, beware, for, as birds, they sometimes can’t help themselves but to unload all over your neck or nose.

    As with all good things, there is one teeny drawback when it comes to the Aquarium of the Pacific: it’s expensive! General admission is currently almost $26 (and expect that to go up, probably soon; admission was over $10 cheaper just a few years ago). Granted, the Monterey Aquarium costs $9 more, but it’s also about twice as big and takes considerably longer to tour thoroughly.

    I do not recommend the Aquarium of the Pacific for families on a tight budget, but if your family is visiting the Los Angeles area and you plan to also see the LA Zoo, the Queen Mary or take a Long Beach Harbor cruise, you can get decent deals when combining any of these with a visit to the aquarium. Visit their website for details at http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/visit/prices_hours/.

Leave a Reply