When we asked for walking directions to the La Jolla Aquarium, more properly known as the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the receptionists at our hotel, the Grande Colonial, were quite amazed. It’s a long way, they said. But we like walking, so off we set. It’s almost three miles to the Birch Aquarium from downtown La Jolla, and it took us almost an hour. In a way the receptionists are right - there’s a stretch along Prospect that’s busy with traffic and we were glad to get past that, but if we hadn’t walked we wouldn’t have seen the parts of La Jolla on the far side of La Jolla Bay. There was a whole relaxed beach scene going on there which seemed a contrast to the more toney downtown.
All Photos (c) Donna Dailey
Most people, though, will probably want to drive to the aquarium, and there’s plenty of parking as it’s one of La Jolla’s most popular sites. It isn’t a huge aquarium, like the one in Monterey, but there’s lots to see and enjoy there. Outside the entrance to welcome you are some striking statues of whales leaping out of the water, and inside the Galleria, where the ticket desk is, acts as hub with most of the other areas radiating off it. We turned right, into the Hall of Fishes.
Inside the entrance was the first fun thing of the day, as a big display machine lets you listen to - and try to mimic - the sounds of various whales. Can you sing like a humpback, or ping like a gray whale are just two of the challenges you’re set. If you can drag yourself away from the whale music, the Hall of Fishes awaits. It isn’t a hall, though, it’s a long and winding corridor, where colorful fishes, creepy moon jellies, and nasty-looking sea nettles all hang out. There are tanks on both sides, and the corridor is wide enough for it not to seem too crowded. In here is the impressive 70,000-gallon kelp forest tank, with its own Live KelpCam.
To the left of the Galleria is the Explorers’ Gallery, which shows the more serious side of the aquarium’s activities. The aquarium is the public face of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, one of the oldest and biggest oceanographic research institutes in the world. In this gallery you get to see some of the work that they do. When we visited we saw tanks of tiny seahorses, the result of their captive breeding program, and fascinating leafy seadragons.
Also off the central Galleria is the entrance to the Tide Pool Plaza, where you can get your hands wet and touch some of the sea creatures, hear talks by docents, get a good view back to La Jolla, and maybe even see some whales at the right time of year.
Another major exhibit now is called Boundless Energy, all about how we can harness the power of the wind, sun, and waves. This was still being put together when we visited, but it’s now fully open and sounds fascinating. We did, of course, visit the big gift shop, before walking back to our hotel and uncovering more of La Jolla’s charming secrets on the way.
Our slideshow of just a few of the aquarium's highlights
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