Aquariums in the SF Bay Area: 6 Fun Places to See Marine Life Around San Francisco

Jill at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Are you interested in visiting some of our aquariums in the SF Bay Area? If so, this is where you will find a number of amazing and world class options.

The most popular ones include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Aquarium of the Bay, and the Steinhart Aquarium inside the California Academy of Sciences museum. All three are large facilities with thousands of plants and animals.

Read on for information on the three largest and also three others that I think your entire family will enjoy.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

1. Monterey Bay Aquarium

One of my favorite aquariums in the SF Bay Area is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Not only is it one of the best in the area, it's also ranked as one of the best in the whole world.

This is located about two hours south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast.

Open Sea at the Monterey AquariumThe Open Sea at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The minute you step inside, you will see why it is so highly ranked and respected by all.

Some of the highlights of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is that it features several large tanks with both plants and animals. The large Open Water tank is often a massive attraction and a magnificent sight to see.

It's a 1.2-million-gallon tank that houses a variety of wildlife from the Monterey Bay and has a huge glass wall so you can see everything that lives inside it.

Other top picks including the Kelp Forest (335,000-gallon tank), Monterey Bay Habitats (326,000-gallon tank), and the Sea Otters (55-gallon tank). This gives you a lot of choices and allows you to have space to move around the aquarium, as it can get quite busy at certain times of the year.

There are also fun kids' activities and around 35,000 plants and animals in total.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

You must plan ahead and buy tickets online in advance, as they are no longer sold in person at the entrance. Tickets are $60 for adults, $50 for seniors and youth, and $45 for children ages 5 and up.

2. Aquarium of the Bay

Pier 39 in San Francisco is where you will find another one of the top aquariums in the SF Bay Area. The Aquarium of the Bay features plants and animals that live in the SF Bay.

They include jellyfish, a large Pacific Octopus, and even sharks. You will also see starfish, stingrays, and river otters.

One of two tunnels at the Aquarium of the BayOne of two tunnels at the Aquarium of the Bay

One of the highlights here is their walk-through aquarium tunnels. You'll walk through about 300 feet of see-through tunnels as you admire bay animals all around you.

The first tunnel is home to animals that live in depths of around 10 to 15 feet below the waters in the bay. The second tunnel takes you down a bit deeper where you will see some of the largest animals that call the bay home including Leopard and Soupfin sharks.

They are open every day from 11 am to 6 pm. 

The aquarium is in Fisherman's Wharf at the end of Pier 39.

>> Pick up advanced tickets so you don't have to wait in line when you arrive

3. Steinhart Aquarium

The Steinhart Aquarium is another one of the impressive aquariums in the SF Bay Area. You will find this one inside the California Academy of Sciences.

Jellyfish at the California Academy of SciencesJellyfish at the California Academy of Sciences

This aquarium features several tanks, so you can walk around each one and get a close-up look at the animals inside. The overall aquarium holds more than 40,000 animals that represent more than 900 species from all over the world.

One of its most famous residents is "Claude". Claude is a rare white alligator. They are extremely rare, and this is probably the only place on the Earth where you can see one. He is worth the visit alone and yet there is still so much more to see here.

In addition to the aquarium, this popular museum is also home to a four-story rainforest, a planetarium, and a natural history museum. It's our most visited museum every year.

It is open 365 days of the year, Monday to Saturday from 9:30 am to 5 pm and Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm. You will find it on the eastern end of Golden Gate Park.

>> Pick up tickets in advance so you don't have to wait in line

Other Smaller Aquariums in the SF Bay Area

4. Crab Cove Visitor Center and Aquarium (Alameda)

Note: In 2022, the Crab Cove Visitor Center and Aquarium was renamed the Doug Siden Visitor Center at Crab Cove.

This is one of the aquariums in the SF Bay Area that isn't located in the city. It is across the bay in the quaint little town of Alameda. It has been in operation for over 40 years and yet is still a hidden gem and worth visiting when you are on your trip to San Francisco.

The Crab Cove Aquarium features an 800-gallon tank, interactive tours, and lots of fun exhibits for kids. Check out the Crab Cover Marine Area to see what lives under the water as the tides roll out back into the bay.

They are open Wednesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 4 pm (November - February) or 10 am to 5 pm (March - October). Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Admission is free and parking is $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended.

5. Seymour Marine Discovery Center (Santa Cruz)

About 1.5 hours south of San Francisco, you will find the gorgeous town of Santa Cruz which is home to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

This is one of the favorite aquariums in the SF Bay Area because you can do things such as touch a shark (don't worry, it is friendly and won't bite you), learn about native sea creatures like hermit crabs and sea urchins, and take pictures in front of the 87-foot blue whale skeleton. It is one of the largest skeletons anywhere in the world!

It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. From July to early August, they are open every day. 

Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $9 for children 3 to 17 or students with ID. They also offer free half-hour tours with admission, four times a day.

6. The Marine Mammal Center (Sausalito)

Even though this isn't technically an aquarium, I've added it because there are so many cool things to see and do here related to the San Francisco Bay. The Marine Mammal Center is just north of San Francisco in the beautiful town of Sausalito.

You are in for a treat when you visit because you will see all kinds of seals, including ones that are being brought back from the edge of extinction. You can also take tours, learn more about all the wildlife here, and even volunteer.

This place is home to many rescued marine mammals. You can take a Behind-the-Scenes tour to learn about how their hospital works to restore them to health. 

Best of all, admission is free for all. Just make sure to reserve online in advance. They are open Friday to Monday from 10 am to 4 pm.

SF Bay Area Aquariums: My Favorites Near SF

More Fun Things to Do with Kids in SF

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