Visiting La Jolla’s Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium at Scripps in San Diego

The Birch Aquarium, which is smaller and more intimate than some of its larger and more well-known cousins, is a place where you can get close to the animals and take your time enjoying them. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been working here for over a century, and the Birch Aquarium, funded by the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation, opened in 1992.

Since 1903, Scripps Institution of Oceanography has maintained an aquarium and museum dedicated to public education and enjoyment. The opening of the new Birch Aquarium at Scripps on September 16, 1992, continued the tradition at a new location situated on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Scripps Pier. Four times larger than its predecessor, the new complex contains more than 60 tanks, three living tide pools, and an interactive museum.

Because of its intimacy, children and adults alike are energized by the Birch Aquarium. Watch a leafy sea dragon float through the water like an animated tree branch or check out a shark’s egg.

Half of the Birch Aquarium is a series of small to medium-sized displays the illustrate sea life along the Pacific Coast of North America. Feeding times for many exhibits are open to the public. Check the schedule you get when you arrive.

Interactive exhibits at the Birch Aquarium teach the history of oceanography. The exhibits change periodically. In late 2008, a large portion of their space was occupied by an exploration of global warming and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Outside in the back of the building, you’ll find the touch pools, where you can find out what some of the local tide pool inhabitants feel like. The back patio offers some great views of the ocean and nearby town, and in summer, the aquarium sponsors outdoor concerts here (extra fee required).

If you want to take photographs of the Birch Aquarium exhibits, be aware of reflections on the glass. Move in close (about a foot away) and set your flash at a 45 degree angle if you can. Don’t get so carried away taking photos inside the Birch Aquarium that you miss the spectacular view outside.

When you get there

Visitors touring the aquarium are welcomed into a brightly lit galleria that is central to all three exhibit areas. As visitors walk through the aquarium, the tanks display habitats starting with the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest along the California coast, and down to the tropical waters of Mexico and the Caribbean. Midway through the journey, a large 70,000-gallon tank displays a kelp forest that can be studied from a specially designed viewing gallery.

Does it have sharks?

The aquarium’s 13,000-gallon shark reef exhibit in the Robert Smargon courtyard is a highlight of the Birch Aquarium. This large tank, accompanied by interpretive panels on shark biology and conservation, displays shark species that inhabit tropical reef habitats including whitetip and blacktip reef sharks and wobbegongs.

Does it have tidal pools?

The outdoor tide-pool plaza offers a panoramic view of the La Jolla coast and the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography. A wave machine creates natural water motion for the abundance of local marine animals that inhabit the tide pools. Three tide-pools give visitors the opportunity for close-up encounters with sea urchins, sea cucumbers, seastars, and much more.

What else does it offer?

Birch Aquarium at Scripps’ interactive museum, Scripps Explorers Gallery, features cutting-edge topics in ocean, earth, and climate science based upon current research by Scripps Institution of Oceanography explorers. New exhibits debut regularly showcasing what current research is revealing about our world and how these discoveries impact society.

What about classes and programs?

Birch Aquarium has a number of learning programs for kids and families for free and for fees throughout the year. They also provide education and outreach programs for classrooms and teachers. From kayaking and whale watching to monthly oceanographic discovery presentations, Birch Aquarium’s public programs offer a range of opportunities for people of all ages to learn more about our ocean environment.

What are Family Days?

On the third Saturday of each month from 11am-3pm, bring your family to enjoy arts and crafts, science, special tours, and one-of-a-kind activities at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Explore the mysteries of the ocean as you dive into some cool projects you and your kids will enjoy doing together. All Family Days activities are FREE with admission and feature a new theme each month.

Don’t miss the Dive Shows

Tuesdays and Thursdays 12:30 pm; Sundays 10:30 am Watch as Scripps divers take the plunge into the aquarium’s 70,000-gallon kelp forest tank in a half-hour show about La Jolla’s kelp forest habitat. You’ll learn about “underwater” San Diego as divers spotlight the creatures within–from lurking leopard sharks to suspicious sting rays. They’l also discuss the health and beauty of San Diego’s amazing “amber forests” offshore. The kelp forest habitat comes alive when the divers descend, feeding the fishes and answering your questions about the oceans.

What does it cost to visit?

  • Adult, 18-59 years: $11.00
  • Senior, 60 yrs. or better: $9.00
  • College students with ID : $8.00
  • Youth (3-17 yrs,): $7.50
  • UCSD Staff, Students (with ID): $7.50
  • 2 yrs. and under: Free
  • Scripps Oceanographic Society Members: Free

Your About Guide’s Take

Birch Aquarium at Scripps
2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, CA 92037

Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Days.

Best Times to Visit

The Aquarium is the busiest on the weekends, holidays, and during the summer. During these times, you can enjoy the best visit by coming earlier (arriving between 9:00am and 10:00 am). On weekday mornings we have scheduled school field trips. Therefore, for the quietest visit, an afternoon visit (after 1:00pm)is best. Located on a coastal bluff overlooking La Jolla Shores beach and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is renowned for its ocean views, both inside and out. Visitors from around the world marvel at the dazzling marine life exhibits, from sharks to seahorses to corals.

For more than a century, generations of families have discovered the ocean world through the exhibits and educational programs of the aquarium-museum associated with Scripps’s fascinating history. From modest displays at the turn of the century to magnificent habitats in the present, the role of an aquarium-museum in Scripps Oceanography’s history is important. Today, more than 370,000 people visit Birch Aquarium at Scripps each year.

Getting to the Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium is north of San Diego and west of I-5. The best way to get there depends on where you’re coming from. You can get customized directions at their website. Parking is free for three hours.

You can get there by public transportation on San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Bus Route 30 or North County Transit District (NCTD) Bus Route 101, but from the nearest stop on either one you’ll have walk a few minutes to get to the aquarium (and the walk back out is a steep, uphill climb).

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