California’s Aquarium of the Pacific was at one time known as the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. It is host to close to two million visitors each year who enjoy the captivating array of oceanic and marine exhibits showcasing the inhabitants and regions of marine life from Southern California, Baja, the North Pacific, and Tropical Pacific. There are over 11,000 different animals from various fish, sharks, jellyfish, penguins, sea lions, lorikeets and more. A walk through aviary and underwater crawl space are favorites with many families.
Aquarium of the Pacific Exhibits
New in 2015, the Aquarium opened a 4,700-square-foot Earth-Friendly Garden featuring California native and drought-resistant plants. An extremely efficient irrigation system is also on display to educate visitors on solutions to Southern California’s ongoing water shortage challenges. There are several sections in the Aquarium, including a section for “Horses and Dragons,” a penguin habitat, and a shark lagoon. There is also an outdoor area where kids can run around, an enclosed lorikeet garden, and it is here that you will find touch tanks where kids and adults can pet the friendly rays and sharks.
The Aquarium also offers exclusive evening events from time to time tailored to serve the unique needs of children and families with autism. During most of these occasions, the Aquarium closes will be closed to the public in the evenings to foster a more tranquil environment for the special event.
Our son with autism was very excited to visit the Aquarium since he hadn’t visited it in over a decade. We were pleased to discover that not only did the venue offer discounts for persons with disability, but they provide a complimentary pass for caregivers or people accompanying the visitor with a disability.
Our first stop was the jellyfish, which as usual were not only photogenic but fun to watch. We were fascinated by the two giant Japanese crabs that were trying to walk in the same direction, met face to face, and came to a standstill. We wondered what they were going to do until one climbed and walked around the other one. The mini seahorse exhibit was another place we stopped to gawk at since some of them mimic sea plants so well that it is hard to differentiate between the animal and the background decor of the aquarium.
Probably the most impressive were the outdoor tanks with the manatees that literally came to people’s hands in the water to be petted. In addition, we got to see a sea lion show where we watched them do tricks. It was exciting and educational for the audience, as the trainers do talk about what the animals eat and how they train them.
Our kids also loved the interactive stations where guests can touch starfish. We got to see how starfish eat and how they stick to the wall with their mini tentacles, which is very impressive. There is also a Lorikeet Forest exhibit where you can have the mini birds land on you. Not to be missed is the shark pool in the outdoor area where you can see baby sharks swimming.
There was one morbid exhibit right at the entrance when we were there. A big dead shark was being “recycled” by all the other sea life. It was fascinating and educational, but probably for older kids or those interested in this kind of thing.
Admission, Hours, and Location
Discounted aquarium admission tickets are quite difficult to acquire. The best sources to find aquarium tickets at a discounted rate are through CitySavver. The aquarium is open 9 a.m.– 6 p.m. every day, except Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and during the Grand Prix of Long Beach. You can purchase tickets upon your arrival at the ticket windows in front of the Aquarium or online.
Autism Travel Tips:
- The Aquarium is especially congested during weekends, the holiday season, and during the summer. If you would like to beat the crowds when visiting on the weekend, try arriving early. On weekdays, school groups visit the Aquarium in the morning hours but leave by 2 pm.
- Bring sunglasses and sunscreen for the outdoor show.
- Be sure to download the Aquarium Explorer app before you come to plan your visit more efficiently.
- You can find hand sanitizing stations all around the Aquarium which is a nice touch.
- Try to get a center row rather than a side row for the Sea Lion show; otherwise, you will not be able to see much.
- Teach your kid to be respectful of the animals in the touch tank, and that while they are allowed to pet the passing sea creatures, they are certainly not allowed to grab them or lift them out of their tanks.
- Not to be missed are the hours where they feed the animals. You can watch for free while they explain what each animal is fed.
- Service animals that accompany guests with disabilities are welcome, and the Aquarium offers a service animal policy page for more information. However, the Aviary is a free flight aviary. Therefore, service animals are not allowed in Lorikeet Forest. There is staff available to provide assistance to both the guest and animal.
- Wheelchairs are complimentary and can be checked out at the information desk on a first come, first, serve basis. A credit card is required at the time of check out.
- The Aquarium does not allow outside food within the Aquarium. However, picnic tables are located in the front grass area on a first come, first, serve basis. You can eat any snacks, lunches or edible food or drink items there.
- There is one restaurant called Café Scuba that is available for guests on the second floor.
- There are no lockers available so plan accordingly.
Overall, we had was a fun and education experience with a lot of sensory elements, in particular for kids with autism.