Feelin’ fishy in Monterey

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After watching some nature shows and documentaries on Netflix about our oceanic blue planet (re: Chasing Ice, 2012), my family decided that it was time to revisit the fairly close Monterey Bay Aquarium. Heading towards LA from San Jose, we took the US-101 South/CA-156 West route, a drive that lasted about an hour and a half before reaching Monterey’s infamous Cannery Row.  And with only Greek yogurt in our stomachs for breakfast, we settled on grabbing brunch at the Fish Hopper before hitting the aquarium.

Seafood cioppino from Fish Hopper

Seafood cioppino from Fish Hopper

Obviously, we ordered an array of seafood.  I had Fish Hopper’s utterly delectable cioppino, a savory tomato broth featuring chunks of salmon and scallops, steamed clams and mussels, a mega meaty crab leg and other underwater delicacies.  Other memorable dishes included fresh shucked oysters on the half shell, crispy calamari, rich crab ravioli and, of course, Fish Hopper’s incredibly creamy clam chowder.

Satisfied and stuffed, we made our way towards the aquarium — only a convenient 10-minute walk away from the restaurant —and upon entering, the “surface world” instantly melted away and we found ourselves under the sea.  All around us were various exhibits showcasing aquatic life such as the mysterious giant pacific octopus; deep sea fish including the gigantic bluefin tuna and hammerhead shark; the secret lives of seahorses; and touch-pools where visitors could pet aquatic critters such as bat-rays, starfish, sea cucumbers and decorator crabs (all of which had a rougher and harder texture than I had previously imagined, except for the little sea cucumber that I just wanted to squeeze and squish).

Even with all of the magical sea-life Monterey Bay provided, my favorite displays were those dedicated to jellyfish.  And with two exhibits in the aquarium, I was quite the happy clam.  The first and older presentation simply showed the jellies wafting around the waters, mesmerizing visitors as they calmly pumped the water in and out from under their hoods.  The newer exhibit, called “The Jellies Experience,” just opened in March of last year.  Showcasing the groovier side to the invertebrates, funky music reminiscent of the 1960s and ’70s played throughout the entire display as the various jellyfish danced in their tanks.  “The Jellies Experience” was also much more interactive than its predecessor, with hands-on activities for visitors (especially children) to engage in to learn and understand the movement and lifestyle of animals like the marvelous moon jelly.

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Moon jellies at Monterey Bay Aquarium

It was the perfect way to live out my dreams of becoming a mermaid (one day…) and spending it with family made it all the better, especially by ending it with a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream at Ghiradelli and watching brave souls take dips in the icy waters of the Pacific.  And since my mom decided to spring for the family package annual membership at the aquarium, there will be plenty more visits to my little underwater friends.  Hey, maybe I’ll even grow a fancy fin and gills.

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