Catch a glimpse of more than 5,000 fish in 60-plus Pacific Ocean habitats, from the Northwest’s frigid waters to the tropical ecosystems of Mexico and beyond, at La Jolla’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. High on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego, this aquarium offers exhibits on a wide range of marine creatures, ranging from big whales to leopard sharks to bizarre weedy seadragons, a type of seahorse. Coral reef colonies shimmer with tropical fish as well as chambered nautilus and lionfish. Get a closer look at sea stars, squishy sea cucumbers and other near-shore marine life in the aquarium’s outdoor touch pools in the Preuss Tide-Pool Plaza.
In 2019, the Birch Aquarium broke new scientific ground with its Seadragons & Seahorses exhibition. It features one of the most expansive seadragon habitats in the world, designed to facilitate the breeding in captivity of the leafy seadragon, which has never been done before. These impossibly delicate, undulating creatures, along with seahorses, pipefish, and brightly colored, weedy seadragons, are fascinating to watch as they interact or—sometimes just as curiously—don’t interact with each other. The tiny baby seahorses onsite were all bred at the aquarium, and visitors will be able to get an inside look at the Birch’s world-class aquatic husbandry program.
Thanks to its affiliation with the adjacent Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the aquarium presents plenty of cutting-edge scientific discoveries too. It’s a great way to get a deeper appreciation of that beautiful ocean stretching to the horizon.
Know before you go: The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; free three-hour parking is available onsite, and can be extended for a small fee. Oversized vehicles are not permitted in the parking area. Check the daily schedule to time your visit to coincide with a feeding or special event.