Do your beach-loving kids obsess over dolphins, orcas and sea anemone? Before summer ends, indulge in some much-needed “vitamin SEA” and plunge into ocean learning at one of these SoCal spots that explore the ocean’s diverse species. From sea creature animation to the magical world of bioluminescence, read on to discover experiences that inspire kids and future oceanographers.
Tots and Preschoolers
1. Engage little ones with the beautiful art exhibit at The New Children’s Museum’s Sketch Aquarium (downtown San Diego). Children are in awe as their designed sea creature comes to life and “swims” with other sea life on a wall-sized, moving aquarium.
2. Climb into a real submarine at LEGOLAND’S Lego City: Deep Sea Adventure. Embark on a treasure hunt surrounded by real marine life such as stingrays and sharks, in addition to fish made from Legos.
3. LEGOLAND’S SEA LIFE Aquarium is perfect for young marine explorers. Marvel at sharks and rays swimming overhead in the walk-through tunnel. Interact at sea star touch tanks, set at lower heights so kids get a great view. New this year is the exhibit Sea at Night, which simulates a bioluminescent tide under a starry sky. Educational talks and animal feedings teach the importance of environmental protection. Aquarium admission can be purchased separately or as part of a hopper ticket.
Kids Ages 5-10
4. Living Coast Discovery Center is a Chula Vista hidden gem. Because it’s small, curious kids can ask plenty of questions as they explore exhibits and animals up close. The Center’s “Naturally Wild” program offers experiences such as feeding sea horses, sharks and lobsters. Knowledgeable staff members share interesting and useful information. Don’t miss feedings of sharks, rays and sea turtles. Enjoy bird watching on the flat walking trails to San Diego Bay.
5. In the Hall of Fishes at Birch Aquarium at Scripps, look for scientists testing out gear before using it for real fieldwork. Future oceanographers love the R/V Sally Ride exhibit, highlighting what it’s like to live and work at sea. Try on survival suits and hear from the ship's crew. A giant screen gives the feeling of being onboard a ship. Check out the aquarium’s newest exhibit, Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections. The intriguing collection pairs a comic book approach with unique ocean animals and their adaptations (“superpowers”).
6. A visit to Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is well worth the two-hour drive. The aquarium is huge, but each exhibit is presented on a small scale so there are many opportunities to ask questions, participate in hands-on exhibits, and see animals up close. Dare to touch moon jellies, feed lorikeets and learn about frogs from around the world. Kids can collect embossed symbols as they visit each exhibit and receive a small prize when the activity is completed.
Tweens and Teens
7. Older kids love Sea World’s newest thrill ride, Electric Eel. While visiting the park, add an adventure that offers thrills of its own: Sea World’s Dolphin Interaction. The in-water experience allows participants to meet, touch and feed dolphins in their tanks, and learn hand signals to communicate with these intelligent mammals. Must be at least 10 years old and taller than 48 inches.
8. A kayaking tour to the La Jolla Sea Caves will get adrenaline pumping. During the 90-minute guided tour, paddle alongside sea lions and leopard sharks, prevalent during summer months. Trained staff helps guests feel safe with thorough paddle instruction. When conditions are ideal, guided groups venture into the sea caves. Life jackets and helmets are provided.
9. During summer, Birch Aquarium at Scripps hosts a top notch two-hour Leopard Shark Snorkeling Adventure. Participants learn snorkeling tips and are guided to find leopard sharks and other ocean animals that live along the coast of La Jolla. Intermediate swimming ability required and previous snorkeling experience is recommended. Participants supply their own gear. For ages 10 and older.
Cherie Gough is a local freelance writer.