Cabrillo Aquarium in San Pedro, CA

Yes, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is newer and the Scripps Aquarium in La Jolla is fancier. Monterey Bay is justifiably famous. But the Cabrillo Aquarium is the most punk rock, and not just because it’s in ‘Pedro, home of the Minutemen. Although the structure was designed by Frank Gehry, it has a blue-collar feel with chain-link fence, exposed wood, and steel framing the humble collection of modest-sized tanks.

The aquarium’s collection focuses on local sea life of all kinds and artifacts, and ranges from baby sharks to whale bones, but I am always drawn to the drifters. So ghostly and soothing. Although I was bummed for the visitors trying to take pictures with flash, I stopped short of giving suggestions. My bad.

One exhibit allowed visitors to turn on black lights to create an extraterrestrial effect on some smaller jellyfish. Eloise and her best friend/cousin Lucia liked this part so much we had to try it out a second time.

In the nursery, you could see baby jellyfish lit up with normal light. This was informative but disillusioning. They seemed less supernatural and more like a cold plate of appetizers at a Chinese restaurant.

Also interesting is the taxidermy, which not only sits in glass display cases but swoops from the ceiling. It’s from the old world and creepy but cool.

Luckily, my daughter and niece are too young to be freaked out by it.

The suggested admission is just 5 bucks for adults and 1 dollar for kids. That’s a pretty cheap day trip and, to sweeten the deal, tide pools are short walk away. A tide chart is conveniently posted at

Lucia and Eloise found heart-shaped rocks! Maybe you will, too, but don’t take them home because the area is a nature preserve…