Home to sea otters, sharks, penguins, sea dragons and thousands of other marine animals and plants, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the newest addition to the San Francisco CityPASS® program. Travelers now have a choice of visiting the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 on San Francisco’s lively Embarcadero waterfront or the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located two hours south of San Francisco via Highway 101.

“Our research reveals that a high number of San Francisco CityPASS buyers visit both San Francisco and Monterey during their trips to California,” said Mike Gallagher, CityPASS co-founder. “So, it made sense to add a truly outstanding Monterey attraction. Now travelers can enjoy an aquarium experience whether they plan to stay in the city for their full vacation or explore more of the state by zipping down 101 to Monterey or by taking the more scenic coastal route on Highway 1.”

With two great facilities to choose from, visitors can face a dilemma. To help you decide, here’s a quick overview of a few highlights from each aquarium.

Aquarium of the Bay — Pier 39, San Francisco Waterfront

Touch the Bay exhibit: The magic of San Francisco Bay is literally at your fingertips here. In the touch pools, juvenile bat rays, leopard sharks, big skates and swell sharks await. The curious bat rays are known to pop their heads out of the water to take a closer look at visitors, who are welcome to touch the tips of the rays’ wings to see if they are scaly or smooth.

Under the Bay exhibit: Enjoy a scuba diver’s view of San Francisco Bay — without the scuba gear — in the aquarium’s most iconic exhibit, Under the Bay. In the first of two crystal-clear tunnel tanks, you’ll encounter a dynamic near-shore habitat teeming with swirling schools of anchovies, rainbow rockfish, various shark species, and the giant Pacific octopus, the smartest animal in the bay. The second tunnel introduces guests to the deeper waters of the bay, where five shark species, rays, sturgeon and more soar overhead or nestle on the sandy floor. And no one should miss the mesmerizing jellies, whose 725-gallon cylindrical tank is just inside the exhibit’s entrance. Soft ambient lighting and the jellies own pulsating propulsion create a Zen experience guaranteed to lower blood pressure.

Bay Babies: From newly hatched skates to juvenile perch and other fishes, explore underwater newborns in the Discover the Bay area. The area’s other exhibits feature more than a thousand aquatic animals.

The Bay Theater: Included with San Francisco CityPASS admission is one 3-D film in the Bay Theater, which features premier 3-D technology and surround sound.

Monterey Bay Aquarium — Monterey, Calif.

NEW — Sea Otter Exhibit: There’s never a dull moment in the newly opened sea otter exhibit area. The aquarium’s otters — rescued animals no longer able to survive in the wild — love to play with toys, lounge in ice buckets, and romp, tumble and wrestle. The aquarium feeds the otters four times a day, often putting the food in toys to stimulate the otters’ natural behavior of pounding and working to get food out of shells. The exhibit has two levels: on the second floor, you can watch the otters swim at the surface; the first-floor windows provide an underwater view of their lively antics.

Penguins: Who couldn’t spend hours watching these adorable creatures waddle along on land and zip through the water with surprising speed and grace? Penguins can be found in the Splash Zone exhibit area.

Wave Crash Gallery: The aquarium’s Wave Crash gallery pumps about 600 gallons of water and “crashes” every 30 seconds (that’s more than 500,000 gallons of water per eight-hour day). The walk-through tunnel is one of the most popular family photo spots in the aquarium, and timing your photo to match the exact moment the wave crashes is all part of the fun.

Splash Zone: Discover a place where families can explore the ocean together. Dive into a kelp forest, visit a coral reef kingdom, and explore a rocky shore. For smaller guests, there’s a bouncy waterbed play area, where toddlers are encouraged to move and experience the effect their movements have on others. And everyone can enjoy the 40-foot-long touch pool, highlighting the many plants and animals that live in the kelp forest habitat, including sea stars, sea urchins, kelp crabs and more.

Life on the Bay: Because the aquarium is perched on the very edge of Monterey Bay, its ocean view decks offer a great vantage point from which to spot wildlife, from sea otters to humpback whales. In the Marine Mammal Gallery, you’ll find life-sized models of whales and dolphins swimming overhead as you learn about life on the bay.


In addition to the CityPASS option ticket offering a choice between the Aquarium of the Bay and Monterey Bay Aquarium, a third aquarium is part of the San Francisco CityPASS package. The CityPASS ticket to the California Academy of Sciences includes admission to an aquarium, a planetarium, a rain forest and a natural history museum, all housed under one earth-friendly roof. 

For more information on the San Francisco CityPASS program and its included attractions, visit CityPASS.com.