Monterey Bay Aquarium Review – Our Visit To The Jewel Of Morro Bay!

A lot of people want to know where the Aquarium from the Film Finding Dory actually is, or even if it is real. Well, it’s not quite a real place but the Film draws HUGE inspiration from a very real and very popular West Coast Aquarium, Namely The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Ok, First up The Monterey Bay Aquarium is not in Morro Bay. But it is the Inspiration for the Marine Life Institute featured in Finding Dory. As its Name Suggests The Monterey Bay Aquarium is in the heart of Monterey, one of our Favourite towns in California. The Aquarium is touted as one of the best in the country and as we just LOVE aquariums we needed little excuse to head to Monterey to check it out in Our Monterey Bay Aquarium Review.

While the Real Aquarium lacks the Whale Shark (Destiny) and the Beluga Whale (Bailey), Most of the other exhibits are real and actually in few cases far more spectacular than the Films. In fact, Even the Marine Life Institute lacks Destiny and Bailey after they escaped to the wall-less Ocean at the end! But enough of the Disney stuff Lets take a look at the REAL aquarium.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Review
We Found Dory!
Monterey Bay Aquarium by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta on CC4.0

The Monterey Bay Aquarium

  • Location – Monterey, California
  • Entry Fee – Adult: $49.95
  • Entry Fee – Chile: $29.95
  • Entry Fee – Senior/Student: $39.95
  • Opening Hours – 10 Am – 5 Pm
  • Buy Now

Right in the heart of Monterey the Aquarium is one of the biggest draws in town. Set right on the coast the outdoor viewing areas showcase the Bays incredible and diverse marine life while the huge indoor exhibits house a very impressive array of sea creatures from around the world.

The Aquarium houses over 35,000 creatures from 550 different species in over 2.3 million Gallons of Sea Water that are taken directly from the Bay. It is a genuine world-class aquarium and is on just about any list of top aquariums in the world and is only pipped to the best Aquarium in America by the stunning Georgia Aquarium, and even then probably only due to their Whale sharks.

Monterey Bay

The most stunning thing about the Aquarium is its actual location. There is no need to visit the aquarium at all! The Bay itself is a true wonder of the world. Absolutely teeming with marine life. And not the sort of life you expect. We are talking about Giant Whales, Rare Sea Otters, Seals, Sea Lions, and a million sea birds. It is probably the most alive place we have been.

This is due to the Monterey Submarine Canyon. This giant undersea rift funnels nutrients up from the deep Pacific drawing in a huge array of sea creatures.


It all could have been very different, as this abundance of life drew in the worst of all predators. Humans. We plundered the oceans and all but exhausted the vast stocks of sardines that supported the Marine Ecosystems. Without the Sardines the rest left or starved. And to make things worse we hunted whatever remained to almost extinction.

However Today Monterey Bay is a good news story. It’s a shining example of what we can do when we try and protect an Ecosystem. after the introduction of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the entire bay has hugely recovered and today plays host to feeding Humpback Whales in astonishing numbers. Herds of gigantic blue whales feast in the water of Monterey during the summer and the stunning kelp forests support a variety of Marine Mammals including the previously almost-extinct Giant Sea Otters. Along with a huge array of undersea critters that are less obvious from the surface.

With all this one offer for free is it really worth visiting the aquarium…

We think so, pretty resoundingly too. We are guessing if the thought of seeing all this marine life is appealing to you, then you are likely the type who loves nature in all its forms. The Monterey Bay Aquarium while showcasing the best the bay has to offer also has some pretty staggering displays that you can’t witness from the pier at fisherman’s wharf.

We see it entirely as complementary to the wonder of the bay, rather than in competition. So let’s take a look at what you can expect from this world Class Aquarium.


With over 200 Exhibits ranging from small single tanks to a staggering 1.2 million Gallon Open Ocean Tank with its 90ft window, the Aquarium has a host of staggering exhibits filled with enchanting and incredible creatures of all kinds.

Kelp Forest

Monterey Bay Aquarium Kelp forest

The coastline all around Monterey is littered with some incredible and pristine kelp forests. These incredible plants support a huge array of life that is unique, varied, and beautiful, in its own way. So We find the Kelp Forest exhibit very fitting.

The day before we Visited I had just dived the actual Kelp forests at San Carlos Beach Park. While the real forests were even more spectacular it was still a very accurate representation of what I saw out in the ocean. The main difference being the size and abundance of the fish. Out in the real world, things were a little more sparse and petite.

Monterey Bay Aquarium was the first in the world to have a Living kelp forest on display and to this day it’s one of their most spectacular exhibits.

Open Sea

This is the Big Tomolae. This humongous tank, 1.2 million gallons, holds over half of the aquarium’s seawater. It has the largest viewing window at over 90ft of reinforced glass it was the largest viewing window in the world in its time.

Inside the tank are some truly epic inhabitants of the open ocean. Scalloped hammerheads, Giant Tuna, and stunning Mahi-Mahi cruise the tank chasing shoals of Anchovy and Sardines. While Green Sea Turtles, Palegic Rays, and monster ocean Sunfish bimble around doing their thing.

It is a really mesmerizing view where you can get lost in the endless movement of these majestic ocean giants as they make their way around the exhibit.

Sea Otters

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otters

The Sea Otter exhibit is everyone’s favorite. These cuddly critters known for their “Cuddle Parties” can be impossibly cute. They are energetic and playful in their exhibit and are wonderfully tame and interactive come feeding time.

Sea Otters in California, which numbered nearly 16,000 were hunted to presumed extinction for their fur. By pure chance, a tiny population of around 50 had survived in a remote corner of the Big Sur coastline. Breeding from this population has helped them rebound to almost safe numbers. But they still face multiple threats and despite appearances are not out of the woods yet.

It’s reassuring to know these Mammals are all rescue animals and not ones taken from the wild. The Aquarium does a lot for the recovery of the otters in the wild and now partly due to these efforts the nearly extinct critters have rebounded massively and can be seen all around the bay in quite spectacular numbers. It really is great to see. But the Exhibit gives rescued animals a home when they may not have survived in the wild and let you see them up close…really up close.

These are the only Mammals on exhibit in the Aquarium, with no room or space for larger mammals or Cetaceans (Dolphins/Orca/Whales) However you can experience many on the…

Outdoor Viewing Decks

Monterey Bay Aquarium outdoors

The Aquarium is built right on the coast and is built in a U shape around a natural bay. Surrounding this are a series of outdoor viewing decks where you can witness the natural beauty and abundance of life in the bay area.

On a good day, you can see anything from whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea otters, and a huge array of sea birds all living naturally in the bay. The giant floor-to-ceiling windows that lead out to the decks are there to blur the lines between Aquarium and Nature. It’s a great design that makes the whole place bright airy and wonderful.

Monterey Bay Habitats

habitats exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium
White sturgeon Monterey Bay habitats by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta on CC4.0

This area is designed to mimic the natural and manmade area around the piers, pilings, and moorings along the town’s coastline and the creatures that live among them.

This is another large habitat exhibit that is bright and filled with some impressive large species. Seven Gill Sharks, Big Skate, Californian Halibut, and white Sturgeon cruise around while the 200lb Giant Sea Bass sits amongst the Pilings.

A great Exhibit that will really make you think next time you are walking the Pier at Fisherman’s Wharf!


Monterey Bay Aquarium Giant Pacific Octopus

The Tentacles Exhibits is one of our favorites. Down in the heart of the aquarium, the lights are low and some of the aquarium’s best-kept secrets are on show. Here the incredible creatures of the deeper remote seas are on display. Giant Pacific Octopus, Vampire Squid, and even the illusive nautilus.

These living fossils are incredibly spectacular, It’s hard to believe these even still exist outside of Jurassic Park. And to come face to face with them really takes your breath away. Tucked away in a dark quiet corner of the aquarium these really are the star of the show.

Mission to the Deep

Monterey Bay Aquarium Nautilus

This is a fun virtual trip to the bottom of the ocean’s deepest darkest locations. Little is known about this hostile environment and this is a great little distraction from the rest of the aquarium to show you a different side of ocean exploration.

Honestly, it’s not our favorite part of the aquarium but it’s worth a look if you have the time. And actually seeing Nautilus alive, in person, is pretty much like visiting Jurrasic Park!


Monterey Bay Aquarium Purple striped jelly
Purple-striped jelly by Rhododenrites on CC4.0

Jellyfish are not very popular in the ocean critter world. Their tendency to sting and their natural un-cuddliness mean they are universally hated. Look at them in the right way however and they are quite beautiful.

The Aquarium has several exhibits showcasing the un-noticed beauty of these ancient and simple creatures. Their colors and beauty can really come to life as they float around in the gentle currents of their exhibits. With no fear of being stung, they can be mesmerizingly peaceful.


Monterey Bay Aquarium Puffins

The Penguin Exhibit is a really fun and action-packed area of the Aquarium. The Playful and energetic little birds really do have an awful lot of energy and just seem to spend the whole time playing, in and out of the water.

Seeing the contrast between the graceful underwater gliding and the awkward wobble on land is great. We really love these little guys and it’s clear from the excitement all around this exhibit just how popular they are.

iViva Baja

Just down the coast, well several hundred miles actually, is the stunning Baja California peninsula in Mexico. This beautiful land’s unique landscape is home to a whole different range of creatures in both its warm waters and desert landscape.

The IViva Baja Exhibit brings you a huge selection of these wonderful and colorful creatures. From the colorful fish of the reefs and warm waters of the Pacific to Snakes, Tortoises, and Birds from the deserts they butt up against the ocean.

It is a very different experience from the rest of the aquarium that focuses mainly on colder, bluer waters, the Baja is full of color and diversity. This is a long-running but essentially temporary exhibit. There is no timescale on its replacement but it will not be around forever.

Touch Pools and interaction

Kids love a good touch pool. These shallow pools allow you to get up close and personal with a variety of sea creatures found in the shallows and tide pools around the coastline. The Monterey Bay Aquarium takes things further with its Bat Ray touch pools where you can get hands-on with large rays and other larger sea animals.

The regular crab’s anemones and starfish are also available but the Ray pool is a bit different.


We had an utterly fantastic stay in Monterey, and the aquarium was right up there as one of the highlights. Sure it’s didn’t quite beat seeing 20+ Blue Whales surrounding our boat, but it’s still a wonderful experience. The Pacific Coast Highway is the quintessential US Road Trip and we implore anyone embarking it to make a stop at Monterey. And while here, it really is a crime to avoid the Aquarium.

There really are few aquariums worldwide that rival Monterey Bay and the fact it is a non-profit organization that does so much to help the natural surroundings of the Bay make it an absolute MUST-see attraction.

kHave Your Say

Let us know what you think of the aquarium. Were you as enthralled and in love as us? Or did you come away feeling short-changed? We struggle to see why you would not love it but we all have different opinions. Let us know in the comments below. And fire away if you have any questions relating to the Aquarium.

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