One of my favorite places to visit in San Diego is the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a fantastic, very family-friendly aquarium and oceanographic museum on a hilltop in La Jolla. There’s plenty to see and do for all ages, with various exhibits showcasing the diverse Pacific marine life, hands-on displays to learn about cutting-edge research discoveries and three outdoor interactive tide pool areas to get up close, touch and learn about San Diego’s local tide pool animals.
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public outreach center for the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, which, founded in 1903, is one of the oldest and largest centers for ocean and Earth science research and undergraduate and graduate training in the world. Part of the Birch Aquarium’s mission is to interpret the institution’s research, while providing ocean science education and promoting marine conservation.
We started off our visit with a look at coral displays, with an example of a healthy coral reef alongside a bleached coral reef showing the effects of climate change and rising temperatures.
“When the temperature rises, corals expel the colorful algae, exposing their white skeletons and transparent tissues. If the current warming trend continues, more than half of all tropical reefs — and the abundance of life they support — may be lost in the next 25 years”
Feeling the Heat
Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge is an exhibit on how climate change is affecting the world’s oceans and presents the latest research findings by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. One display went through various ideas for reducing global carbon emissions, outlining the pros and cons and providing a great resource especially for older children and teens to get them thinking about possible solutions.
There’s Something About Seahorses
We also viewed the There’s Something About Seahorses exhibit which features more than a dozen seahorse species and offers an inside look into their lives and habitats – plus you can view seahorse babies in a special nursery.
Another area within that section was a great one for preschoolers and toddlers, with colored stuffed seahorses that little ones can hang up on matching coral posts. We started off having this place to ourselves but it quickly filled up, so we took that opportunity to move on to view the rest of the aquarium.
Giant Kelp Tank
The centerpiece of the aquarium is the fantastic two-story, 70000 gallon kelp forest tank that houses a wide array of local marine life, including giant sea bass, leopard sharks, eels and garibaldi damselfish. The tank is completely open on top and illuminated by sunlight.
Hall of Fishes
The Hall of Fishes showcases marine life from more than 60 habitats, from the Pacific Northwest to Mexico and the Caribbean.
Little T loves sea turtles so he was thrilled to see the loggerhead sea turtle swimming about in the Hall of Fishes. This turtle was found injured in a cooling canal for a New Jersey power plant and after undergoing treatment and care, she was deemed non-releasable due to her extensive injuries and is now housed at the Birch Aquarium.
Tide Pool Plaza
We moved outside to the plaza, which has sweeping views of La Jolla and the Pacific Ocean and features three living tide-pool displays with volunteers assisting visitors to touch and learn about San Diego’s local tide pool animals, including seastars, hermit crabs and sea cucumbers.
The staff were very friendly and helpful, bringing over a sea cucumber in a tub for Little T.
Little T also enjoyed this area by the tide pools with several rubber figures of lobsters and conch shells, which he gathered and moved around the various crevices.
Along with beautiful views of La Jolla, the Birch Aquarium overlooks the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Scripps Pier, a private research pier used by the institute for marine research expeditions and for pumping out fresh sea water that is used in laboratories and aquariums.
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a fascinating place to visit, from the interactive exhibits to the fantastic displays of marine life to the hands-on tide pool experience. The two-story kelp forest tank in particular is truly captivating. The aquarium and museum offers a great educational day out for families with children of all ages, including some interactive displays for toddlers and preschoolers along with more challenging, thought-provoking ones for older children and teenagers – all the while promoting the importance of respecting and conserving the marine environment.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla CA 92037
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days.
Tickets: Adult tickets are $18.50; child tickets (ages 3 to 17) are $14; children age 2 and under go free. More details and ticket prices for students, seniors and military are listed here.
Parking: There’s a large parking lot on site with free 3 hour parking.
Good to Know:
Have a look at the Plan a Visit section on the website for special talks and presentations, including feedings and a kelp tank dive show.
There’s a cafe right before the entrance, offering hot and cold beverages, sandwiches and snacks.
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