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Aquarium of the Bay: A Must-Visit Experience

July 28, 2023 By CityPASS

You don’t need a wetsuit to enjoy amazing oceanic activities in San Francisco. Aquarium of the Bay offers a sea of aquatic attractions for kids, conservationists, and anyone curious about marine life. Whether you want to see an octopus or touch a sea anemone, this incredible San Francisco aquarium has an exhibit for you.

Aquarium of the Bay: San Francisco's Marine Marvel

As you wander through Aquarium of the Bay’s impressive network of permanent exhibits and underwater tunnels, you’ll get an unbeatable view of more than 24,000 local marine animals, gain illuminating insights into life under the sea, and interact with cool critters. The aquarium's enthralling exhibits are interconnected, making it a breeze to see them all in one visit.

The Near Shore Exhibit

Most of the San Francisco Bay is only 10 to 15 feet deep, but these waters are swimming with marine life. In fact, many animals consider its shallow mudflats the ideal place to breed and raise their young. As you stroll through the Near Shore Tunnel Exhibit, you’ll glimpse diverse species like the eye-catching orange Garibaldi, iridescent Rockfish, glimmering anchovies, and Eastern Pacific Red Octopus. In keeping with its fellow octopi, this remarkable sea creature has blue blood, three hearts, nine “brains,” and the ability to change its color instantaneously.

The North American River Otter Gallery

You’ll find four river otters in the North American River Otter Gallery: Ryer, Baxter, Shasta, and Tahoe. Watch these endearing little guys frolic, play, and enthusiastically accept their daily feedings.

Like sea otters, river otters are seriously cute. Unlike sea otters, they swim on their bellies and prefer freshwater or slightly salty water (like the water found in the San Francisco Bay Area). River otters are just as happy on land as in water, where they can swim at 7 mph and stay submerged for 8 minutes. These amazing animals are also H2O connoisseurs — in the wild, their presence indicates a healthy waterway.

Bay Area naturalists are particularly proud of the river otter’s story. A century ago, pollution, habitat degradation, and the fur trade threatened river otter populations throughout California. Today, thanks to the enduring efforts of environmentalists, populations are stable and surging.

The Under the Bay Exhibit

Wish you could immerse yourself in the San Francisco Bay while staying warm and dry? Make your way to Under the Bay. Before you enter this underwater wonderland’s 300 feet of acrylic tunnels, prepare yourself (and your camera) for an iconic exhibit brimming with breathtaking sights.

Go With the Flow

Question: What living creature has no bones, brain, heart, or other organs? Answer: It's the jellyfish. Catch these enchanting invertebrates in action at Under the Bay’s Go With the Flow gallery. This gallery sets the mood with ambient lighting and surrounds you with the hypnotic sway of hundreds of jellyfish. The 725-gallon cylinder tank is filled with Moon Jellies, and you’ll find Pacific Sea Nettles in a wall-mounted 740-gallon tank.

Sharks of Alcatraz

As you descend deeper into the Bay, the Sharks of Alcatraz tunnel exhibit will get you within inches of rays, sturgeons, and...drumroll...sharks! In addition to local species like leopard sharks and soupfin sharks, you’ll encounter the biggest predatory animal in the San Francisco Bay, the sevengill shark. This shark can grow to be 10 feet long and live up to 32 years.

The Touch the Bay Exhibit

Seeking interactive exhibits? Aquarium of the Bay lets you look and touch, too. The Touch the Bay exhibit puts a variety of marine life and terrestrial animals at your fingertips. Just give the website a quick check before visiting to be sure each area is open.

Touch Pools

Head to the two touch pools to interact with aquatic animals like sharks, bat rays, sea stars, skates, and anemones. The pools are safe, shallow, and accessible to even the littlest explorers.

Bay Lab

The Bay Lab is home to land-dwellers like tortoises, chinchillas, and frogs, all of which were selected due to their vulnerability to climate change.

Bay Lab Station

At the Bay Lab Station, naturalists lead participatory discussions about climate change and guide interactions with land animals. This area also features microscopes, puzzles, and other fun educational activities for all ages.

Conservation and Education Programs

All the awe-inspiring visuals at the Aquarium of the Bay San Francisco only make the educational components more fascinating. As you traverse the aquarium, you’re bound to have some questions. What do jellyfish eat? Where do river otters sleep? How are marine species impacted by dwindling natural resources? Thankfully, the aquarium’s helpful naturalists are always ready with answers.

If you want to get more involved, Aquarium of the Bay offers hands-on conservation activities and educational programs. Arm yourself with knowledge using eLearning modules, at-home lesson plans, and professional courses from the Bay Academy. If you’re scuba certified, the Diving for Citizen Scientists course gives you the chance to dive in the Near Shore Tunnel exhibit alongside all its inhabitants.

Plan Your Visit to Aquarium of the Bay With CityPASS® Tickets

Located at Pier 39 at the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, Aquarium of the Bay has earned its place as one of the coolest aquariums in San Francisco. If you can’t make it to the city, the aquarium also offers 45-minute virtual tours that can be tailored to meet your specifications.

Your Day at Aquarium of the Bay

No matter how long you stay at the Aquarium of the Bay, the experience is guaranteed to leave you with a newfound respect for the intricacies and importance of marine life. If you’re in a hurry, you can walk through all the exhibits in about 90 minutes. However, we recommend spending a few hours at the aquarium to maximize your visit.

While the aquarium is open daily, its events schedule and holiday hours are subject to change. Don’t forget to check for special events before you visit.

Discounted Aquarium of the Bay Tickets

For unmatched simplicity and savings, look no further than CityPASS®. A CityPASS® ticket can save you on admission to Aquarium of the Bay and three other San Francisco attractions, like the California Academy of Sciences or the Blue & Gold Fleet San Francisco Bay Cruise. Stop wondering what to do in the Bay Area and start planning for an unforgettable experience!

San Francisco Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in San Francisco, we recommend finding lodging near San Francisco's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Header image Courtesy of Aquarium of the Bay

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