Birch Aquarium At Scripps, La Jolla, California. (Photo by: Education Images/Citizens of the Planet/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

© Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Top choice in La Jolla

This state-of-the-art aquarium is a wonderous underwater world home to 5000 fish. Visitors can watch sharks dart, kelp forests sway, and even meet a rescued loggerhead turtle. The Hall of Fishes has more than 60 fish tanks, simulating marine habitats from the Pacific Northwest to tropical seas. 

The Tide Pool Plaza, with its fabulous ocean views, is the place to get touchy-feely with sea stars, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, lobsters and tidal-zone critters. Don't miss the new Seadragons & Seahorses exhibit.

Marine scientists were working at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) as early as 1910 and, helped by donations from the ever-generous Scripps family, the institute has grown to be one of the world’s largest marine research institutions. It is now part of the University of California (UC) San Diego.

Tickets and other practicalities

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is open daily from 9am-5pm with extended summer hours to 7pm (March to September). Tickets, which must be reserved in advance, are priced at $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children aged 3-17 years. Children under two go for free.

Discounted tickets and promo codes regularly appear online at websites like Groupon.


There are eight permanent exhibits at the aquarium, including Seadragons & Seahorses, where several species of seahorses and pipefish are on show including Weedy Seadragons bred at the museum, and Oddities which shows visitors some of the ways that marine life has developed to survive. There is also Research in Action: 100 Island Challenge, an experimental reef that helps scientists develop their research techniques.

Other exhibits include the Hall of Fishes, which has 60 Pacific habitats on show, a Giant Kelp Forest that's home to Giant Black Sea Bass and Moray Eels, and Expedition at Sea: R/V Sally Ride Gallery, which recreates the experience of being on an ocean research boat. There are local Leopard Sharks on show at the Shark Shores section outside as is the Tidepool Plaza, where hermit crabs and lobsters can be found beneath the living tide pools.

Restaurants and food

Open 10am-3pm, the Splash! Café is the Birch Aquarium's onsite restaurant, serving burgers, baguettes and salads. Visitors are also allowed to bring their own food as well, provided it's eaten in the designed eating areas.

Alternatively, Pinpoint Cafe and Caroline's Seaside Cafe are both a short walk from the aquarium. Simply head downhill and towards the sea. 

Otherwise, we recommend Shore Rider Cafe, a little further south, which serves great fish and chips, Baja chicken and cheese melts and seafood ceviche.

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