Last summer, my 12-year-old son and I waded out up to our knees into the Santa Monica surf. Between swells, my son looked down into the water and announced excitedly: "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. He went tearing 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.
Heal the Bay's Santa Monica Aquarium is where the community and visitors alike learn about the more than 100 species of marine animals and plants that call Santa Monica Bay home.
You'll find it on the beach level at the historic Santa Monica Pier. The 4,500-square-foot marine center is visited by more than 85,000 people each year, making it one of the top Santa Monica tourist attractions.
It was here that my son learned that leopard sharks are harmless to people - like Mom said.
And the reason he saw the 2-foot-long spotted "fish" is that the leopard shark is nocturnal, and can often be found "sleeping" just above the ocean's sandy bottom.
Visitors here can do more than look at marine life - you can also take part in the aquarium's interactive experiences:
There are also 10 exhibits to explore, including the aquarium's 3 touch tanks featuring more than 30 species that call Santa Monica waters home.
Gentle touching is encouraged at this interactive, hands-on exhibit featuring sea stars, crabs, sea urchins, snails, giant kelp, and sea cucumbers. And you won't want to miss the shark and ray exhibit. It has an open top that lets you peek close up at horn sharks, swell sharks, and stingrays.
Get more information on visiting Santa Monica Pier here.