Long Beach, California’s Aquarium of the Pacific is one of the largest aquariums in the United States, and without question the nicest in Los Angeles County. In this post, we’ll review this aquarium, offer tips for visiting, and also offer insight into whether it’s worth the time for visitors to California.
Situated on the California coast, it also makes sense that Aquarium of the Pacific focuses on the Pacific Ocean, and three areas of that ocean: the Baja region familiar to Southern Californians, and northern Pacific, and tropical Pacific. This aquarium is huge, and is home to more than 11,000 sea creatures including 150 sharks,
The largest exhibit at Aquarium of the Pacific is the 350,000-gallon Tropical Reef Exhibit, which is home to over 1,000 animals, including sharks. This exhibit was beautiful, and one of the thing I appreciated about it (and other areas of Aquarium of the Pacific) was that it was really engaging and immersed visitors right in experience…
Obviously, you’re not going into the water with these creatures, but there are a variety of hands-on exhibits that allow you to touch stingrays, sharks, crabs, and more. That’s really awesome, especially for kids (or adults like me) who enjoy a tactile experience.
Even the more passive tanks encompass walkways to form tunnels, or have quiet nooks where you can go for a 180-degree aquatic experience. These are not interactive, but they are much more dynamic than your typical aquarium. (To illustrate, there’s a photo of a penguin standing directly over my head below.)
There’s a lot to like about Aquarium of the Pacific, and I’d hazard a guess that everyone’s personal favorite will differ. The jellyfish are mesmerizing. The seals and sea lions are energetic (and loud). The tiny frogs are cute. Of course the sharks are cool.
For me, the most compelling exhibit at Aquarium of the Pacific is the otters. I absolutely love otters–any creature (otter, human, or otherwise) that has a favorite rock is a-okay in my book. Otters are so full of personality and are just flat out fun. I could’ve watched them screw around in their habitat for hours.
The penguin habitat was also awesome, for basically the same reasons. These little dudes have a ton of personality, are incredibly playful, and like to ham it up for visitors. It’s enjoyable to watch them lounge around on their rocks like they never intend upon moving again ever, and then jumping into water and torpedoing around like the most graceful creatures ever.
Similarly, the puffin habitat is great. Again, same reasons. After a week in Norway during which we saw exactly 0 puffins, it was ironic to return to Southern California and see a whole host of them.
Despite all of this, I’m inclined to give the Aquarium of the Pacific a D- grade. Why? No manatees. You might think, “but Tom you idiot, manatees don’t live in the Pacific Ocean. It’d be off-theme!” Well, if manatees are off-theme in any context, then you should drop your theme.
Moreover, the dugong, a crowd-pleasing creature and first ballot aquatic animal hall of famer that’s considered a cousin of the manatee is found in the Pacific Ocean. They even have tusks! Really, if your aquarium doesn’t have a whole pack of dugong, why even bother existing?
While I think we can all agree that a dugong or two would be an exemplary addition to Aquarium of the Pacific, of course I’m kidding. Even with no manatees or dugong, Aquarium of the Pacific has a solid lineup of marine life.
In terms of whether Aquarium of the Pacific is worth the time of a visitor, that depends upon a few things. First, do you like aquariums? If not, you can probably answer the question for yourself.
Second, do you have a really nice aquarium at home? I’m far from an aquarium expert, but I’d consider Aquarium of the Pacific on par with the Georgia Aquarium, but sufficiently different to make Aquarium of the Pacific worth your time so long as this region interests you.
Finally, are you doing a road trip up the California coast to Northern California on your vacation? This is the most dispositive question, as such a road trip would enable you to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Now, I’ve never visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the question I’m asked by seemingly every Californian when mentioning Aquarium of the Pacific is whether I’ve visited Monterey’s aquarium. It would stand to reason that the inspiration for the Marine Life Institute in Finding Dory would be the best aquarium in the country.
If you’re taking the ‘Great American Road Trip’ up California’s coast, I might suggest making that the place to get your aquarium fix. That’s in part predicated upon its reputation, but also that I’m not a huge fan of Long Beach.
Don’t get me wrong, the area around Aquarium of the Pacific is really lovely and has been developed as a nice waterfront, but Long Beach is not typically a place we recommend to tourists.
If you want things to do, you visit Los Angeles. If you want nice beaches, you head south to Newport Beach or Laguna Beach, or north to Malibu. To each their own, but I’m not a huge fan of Long Beach. Sorry, Snoop.
In terms of tips, our first one is to go on a nice day. This is something you otherwise might not consider when visiting an aquarium, but some of Aquarium of the Pacific’s best exhibits are outdoors. Poor weather is a rarity in Southern California, but if you do happen to be in town on a rare rainy day, maybe save the aquarium for another day.
Otherwise, the same general advice applies here as with all museums and points of interest. Weekdays are generally less crowded, but you’re more likely to run into large school groups. Weekends will lack the groups, but will have more people, generally. Going later in the day on a weekday avoids both issues.
Admission to Aquarium of the Pacific is not cheap. It’s one of the included attractions on the Go Los Angeles Card, but it’s fairly out of the way as compared to most other things on the card, making itinerary optimization difficult. You might want to consider doing it on the same day as Knott’s Berry Farm, the Sony Pictures Studio Tour, or the Santa Monica attractions.
Alternatively, see if you’re eligible for other discounts. This blog post has a list of some available ones. You also might check your local Costco or even random deal websites. It seems like cut-rate admission is regularly available. As much as we enjoyed the experience, the full price entry is a bit steep.
As with seemingly all of our posts about things to do in or near Los Angeles, we’ll give you a couple tips on the parking situation at Aquarium of the Pacific. To my knowledge, there’s no (convenient) free street parking nearby. You’ll need to use the garage, which is incredibly simple. The Long Beach waterfront district has great traffic flow, and you’re basically dumped into the parking garage if you route your GPS to the Aquarium of the Pacific.
With validation from Aquarium of the Pacific, parking in the garage is only $8. That’s not too bad. However, if you don’t stay at the Aquarium all-day (and you probably won’t), instead walk to the nearby outlet stores and get parking validated there for a cheaper rate. You can get a pair of socks on clearance at Nike and end up paying only a few dollars for parking (effectively making the socks “free”). I’d assume restaurants in the area also validate.
Overall, Aquarium of the Pacific is an excellent attraction in Los Angeles County. Despite its glaring lack of manatees and somewhat high cost, we think it’s worth both your time and money. You can expect to spend several hours (potentially a half-day) at Aquarium of the Pacific, making it a decent value for money when you break it down into hourly cost. Unless you’re able to do the Monterey Bay Aquarium on your visit to California, Aquarium of the Pacific should definitely be on your radar as a tourist wanting a distinctly ‘Californian’ experience. For locals, it’s an excellent spot to learn about the local aquatic biome, and marine life unique to the area. Either way, it’s highly recommended.
If you’re planning a California vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to do. For Los Angeles-centric trips, we’ve found the most useful guidebook to be The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas, which is written by locals (and we use it even as locals!). If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you visited the Aquarium of the Pacific? If so, what did you think of experience? If you’ve also done the Monterey Bay Aquarium, how do you think they compare/which is better? Any other recommendations for things to do in Long Beach, CA? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Would you do Aquarium of the Pacific again, or do you think it was a ‘one and done’? Was it worth your time and money? Hearing from readers is half the fun (and informative!), so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!