I have been focusing on my crafting and planning a lot lately but we are still finding new adventures around the Bay. One of the more surprising gems we visited is San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay. Located right by the entrance of Pier 39, it’s definitely worth a look. My husband and I joked that we have seen more Aquariums in our tenure here (7 months) than our lifetimes so far. But each has definitely left it’s own impression on us. Here is what Aquarium of the Bay had to offer.
The Aquarium of the Bay opens at 10 am and charges roughly $27.00 per adult to get in. Kids 3 and under are free so we were able to take advantage of that. You are able to get a stamp which will allow re-entry into the Aquarium. This is great since you can come and go as you please while you explore the Pier. With that said, the Aquarium is actually quite small so you may not need to go back but there are some really cool features you may want to see again.
Since there’s a natural flow to the layout of the Aquarium, you never get the sense that you are missing something. From the main floor, you are wander through smaller exhibits to an elevator. Before reaching it, you are able to have your picture taken in front of a green screen (where they add effects after), with the option to purchase in the gift shop – pretty standard at SF’s better known tourist attractions.
Once at the elevators, don’t bother pushing the call button. They are controlled by a guide who takes you down to the bottom floor while providing information about the Aquarium. Each floor is a loop that leads you back to the elevator to take you to the next floor. Once you reach the top floor again, you are led into the gift shop and exit.
It is definitely interesting in it’s own way. I think Monterey Bay Aquarium is still my favourite (so far), but here’s what Aquarium of the Bay had to offer.
Upon entering the Aquarium, you are greeted by examples of the wildlife and environments that can be found around the San Francisco coast. This is pretty standard and similar to what we saw at the California Academy of Sciences. It was still well set-up and interesting to see, but nothing mind blowing. It was the ground floor that really impressed us!
The elevator doors open up to a dark floor with an eerie blue light. After walking past all of the jellyfish exhibits (I’m a sucker for jellyfish exhibits!), you turn to see a long, underwater tunnel. The fish are swimming all around you and over you and it was such a great experience. There is so much to see and it truly feels like you are underwater. The Aquarium sits right up against the edge of a pier so, when inside, it feels like you are walking under the Bay.
There are some great fish to see including anchovies, bay rays, and sharks. You can definitely spend a lot of time down here trying to see everything. As expected, there are plaques giving more information on the animals that you’re seeing. The only issue would be that you may not necessarily see the fish being referred to as it’s swimming all around, where ever it wants.
After looping back to the elevator and reaching the next level, we got to see the “Touch the Bay” exhibit. It’s pretty self-explanatory – you get to touch the rays and sharks (small ones!), and various corals and plants found in the bay. The sharks were super shy but the rays didn’t mind us nearly as much. This exhibit also has frogs for viewing as well as turtles.
The next section of the Aquarium was okay. They had a river otter exhibit and these guys were so playful and fun to watch. They were the best part of this section. In addition to the River Otters, there is a room with a projection screen. On the screen, you can see yourself playing with various animals on an ice berg. Penguins, polar bears, whales, all swim up to you and appear to be interacting with you. The entire interaction is recorded by the staff and emailed to you. When we went, this attraction was free as they were trying to figure out some issues with the software. It was fun but we wouldn’t pay for the experience.
Around the next corner is the gift shop and the exit. Overall a very short and sweet experience.
Upon exiting the Aquarium of the Bay, you have Pier 39 at your feet. We were informed that there is a second part to the Aquarium – the Sea Lion Center. This is located on the far side of the Pier and, although they tell you it’s free with your Aquarium ticket, it is free in general too. So you can still see it because it is out in the Bay. A ton of floating barges sit out in an enclosed area where the Sea Lions are lying in the sun napping. The information center, located on the second floor, provides information about the conservation efforts being made to preserve their environment.
But, between the Aquarium and the Sea Lion Center is everything Pier 39 has to offer. This includes restaurants, treats, a giant carousal, an arcade (hidden in the back portion of a restaurant), my favourite candy store with a ton of different salt water taffy flavours, etc. We had a great time exploring the Pier. Lunch was a clam chowder bread bowl, because you HAVE to have that when in San Francisco. Our little guy enjoyed the arcade the most because he got to play games with dad.
We had a great time experiencing the Aquarium and then running around exploring Pier 39. There are some amazing photo opportunities including Coit Tower and Alcatraz Island. Being it’s one of the best known attractions in San Francisco, there are a lot of people! So pack a ton of patience.
Just a quick note regarding parking. The closer you park to the Aquarium and the Pier, the more expensive it will be. We park a little further away which is still expensive, but easier to navigate out of.
We still have a handful of places we’d like to explore, including San Francisco Zoo and Muir Woods, so expect more adventuring posts. If there are any other must see places we need to visit, please let me know in the comments below.