Thursday, July 8, 2021

Monterey Aquarium: one of the world's finest in an old fish cannery


After more than a year of closure, the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is open for lovers
of marine life once again.  Masking and distancing are in place, and one must obtain tickets on 
line for specific times and numbers quotas.  It's worth the wait and the trouble to get inside.


A renovated cannery offers one of many outdoor patios
at the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

DIVE DEEP into one of the world's finest ocean exhibits to explore the wonders of Monterey Bay Aquarium in the lovely village of Monterey, California.
We booked our tickets on line in early May, after the world famous venue announced it would be reopening after 15 months of closure.
We spent a splendid, uncrowded afternoon admiring sea otters, jellies, seabirds, penguins and even sharks in perhaps the world's finest exhibit of sea life.
Julie Packard, daughter of
aquarium founder David
Packard, runs the operation.

ONE UNIQUE attraction -- among many -- is the amazing living kelp forest, an expansive three-story exhibit with graceful leopard sharks, wolf-eels and an array of other colorful fish.
The non-profit enterprise is known for its regional focus on the marine habitats of Monterey Bay, it was the first to exhibit a living kelp forest when it opened in October 1984.
The aquarium was a gift to the community from David and Lucile Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame, the multinational technology company). Its remarkable evolution includes an imaginative rebuilding -- from the ruins of a sardine cannery on the Pacific Coast to a world class learning institution. 
The Packard family renovated the 1916 Hovden Cannery and transformed it to house the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which opened with fanfare and kudos in 1984.
The Packards' $55 million grant  launched the institution. Their children carry on the legacy of philanthropy and love of the sea's rich life. Daughter Julie Packard has run the operation since its 1984 opening. 
Marine lover, lifelong diver and sailor Bruce
Keller admires the unique kelp forest, also above.
She majored in marine algae studies at U.C. Santa Cruz and serves as the aquarium's executive director.
Her goal -- and that of her parents -- is
to inspire conservation and appreciation of the ocean and its richness. Her sister, Nancy Burnett, also played a part in developing the imaginative space, using her graduate work in marine biology at Stanford University to help inspire the aquarium's creation. 
Marine life lovers worldwide appreciate the deep pockets of the generous Packard family, whose wealth supplied the millions necessary to make the conversion from the fish canning days.
Fascinanted viewers enter the magical world of coral and fish.

THE AQUARIUM'S displays are first rate, with the unique backdrop of Cannery Row and the rocky California coastline near Big Sur.
We drove it in just a little over 3 hours from downtown San Francisco.
The friendly and knowledgeable volunteers enhanced our visit, smoothly directing traffic and answering questions. The facility's welcoming architecture and attention to details large and small make it a pleasure to enjoy -- much like a world-class museum.
The exquisite chambered nautilis has been around 500 million
years and is a popular part of the aquarium's vast displays.
It's easy to spend two or three hours, and you must not miss the three-story kelp forest, largest living kelp forest community in the world. Leopard sharks, eels and colorful fish swim just an arm's length fom the viewer. A lively aviary offers the opportunity to observe birds at close range, foraging for insects. A colorful colony of penguins splashes and preens, flipping about like the underwater acrobats they are. And the Monterey Bay Habitat specializes in featuring  inhabitants of the local waters.
FAMILIES, COUPLES, students and small multi-generational groups wandered from the jellies to the seabirds to the the extraordinary chambered nautilus, which pre-dates the dinosaur.
"Nautilus pompilius" was attracting crowds the day we visited.  This large, mobile cephalopod is 
Fascinating artwork adorns the aquarium,
including this beautiful sphere made from
recycled plastic pulled from the ocean.

considered a "living fossil." Of all the delights of this extraordinary aquarium, he was the favorite of this arts driven musician and English major. I'd never seen one close-up and yearned to, for this chambered wonder has been the subject of poetry, artwork, math, musical compositions and elegant jewelry. 
The nautilus has even inspired the names of submarines and exercise equipment and has been around for about 500 million years—even before the dinosaurs.
IF YOU'D like to sit and admire the aquatic wonders, there are thoughtfully placed benches, and if you're hungry, there's a pleasant cafe with distanced dining and signs aplenty to encourage hand washing and respectful behavior.  We found our fellow viewers polite and courteous. The bathrooms are immaculate.
Everything about the museum is thoughtful, welcoming, educational without being preachy.
A graceful jellyfish resembles a
person under a parachute.

ARTWORK IS also an important and delightful part of the aquarium. Sea life mobiles and eye-catching contemporary art adorn transitional spaces between the various "zones".
We applaud this magnificent gift and hope to return on our next swing through this beautiful section of California.
Reservations are essential and the number of guests is carefully controlled.



UP NEXT: While we're in Monterey and Salinas, we take a stroll down Memory Lane, with a look at the 1982 film, "Cannery Row," inspired by a John Steinbeck yarn, and our interviews with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. There's a fun story behind the world premiere of the film, and Cookie's one-on-one interview with Nolte. Plus a look at Salinas now, in the post-Steinbeck days, with the National Steinbeck Center replete with the writer's archives, life history and displays. It's right in Old Town Salinas, and we look at the changes in both cities from the quaint days of 50 years ago to change and  gentrification of the old canneries and warehouses. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more:


  1. Wonderful story about a magical place.

  2. Palo Alto Marine BiologistsJuly 10, 2021 at 7:03 AM

    This splendid place is so worthy of your excellent reporting and fine photos. Love Monterey. Appreciate this nod to the Packards' generosity.