Santa Monica  Aquarium

Heal the Bay Aquarium, also known as the Santa Monica Aquarium, is a private-public aquarium beneath Santa Monica Pier.

With more than 100 local species on exhibit, hands-on activities for kids, and educational programs, the award-winning Heal the Bay Aquarium is a place to immerse yourself in marine science without getting wet.

Last summer, my 12-year-old son and I waded up to our knees into the Santa Monica surf. 

Between swells, my son looked down in the water and announced: "Look, Mom! A fish!" 

So Mom looks. It wasn't a fish. It was something a tad more ominous - in name only. 

"Sweetie, that's a leopard shark," I replied.

I've never seen my son move so fast, running back to shore at warp speed. (If he only moved that fast when I ask him to clean his room. )

When I caught up with him, I explained that leopard sharks are pretty much harmless to humans.

To prove that point to my skeptical pre-teen, we walked upstairs to the Santa Monica Aquarium.

Here he learned that leopard sharks are harmless to people. And the reason he saw the 2-foot-long spotted "fish" at his feet in the surf is that leopard sharks are nocturnal. 

During the day, they are often found "sleeping" just above the ocean's sandy bottom.

Hands-On Learning at the Santa Monica Aquarium

Heal the Bay's Santa Monica Aquarium is where the community and visitors alike learn about the marine animals and plants that call Santa Monica Bay home.

You'll find it on the beach level at the Santa Monica Pier. The 4,500-square-foot marine center is visited by more than 85,000 people each year, making it one of Santa Monica's top attractions.

Get Interactive at the Aquarium

There's more to do than look at marine life through glass. You can also take part in the aquarium's interactive experiences:

  • Friday Feeding Day Lend a hand and learn with the staff as they feed the animals. 12 pm - 4pm
  • Make a sea star crown, an octopus puppet, or a pirate's hat at the arts and crafts station
  • Help feed the sea stars on Saturdays at 1 pm and 4 pm
  • Watch a shark feeding Feast on a little knowledge while swell and horn sharks chow down, every Sunday from 1 - 3:30 pm
  • Examine microscopic sea life in the lab

There are also 10 exhibits to explore, including the aquarium's three touch tanks featuring more than 30 species that call Santa Monica waters home. Current exhibits include:

Touch Tanks

Gentle touching is encouraged at this interactive, hands-on exhibit featuring sea stars, hermit crabs, sea urchins, snails, giant kelp, and sea cucumbers.

Rocky Reef: Celebrate the subtidal zone with mesmerizing moray eels and the cuddly-looking sea hare.

Kelp Forrest: Kelp can grow up to two feet per day and provide vital habitat for kelpfish, rockfish, and wolf eel.

Aquarium Hours

Thursday – Sunday; 12 pm - 4 pm.

  • Closed Mondays, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and July 4th. Open Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Get more information on visiting Santa Monica Pier here.

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