Aquarium&Outdoors01 Nov 2007 12:00 pm

Always bring quarters. On the short list of things to keep in the car for a Sunday road trip, please remember quarters. Besides bottled water, sunscreen, and hats, we also keep quarters. And a small kite. If trunk space permits, please consider a picnic blanket, and some bicycles. But quarters are a priority. Sometimes quarters will allow you to park in good places. About Manhattan Beach: I had heard about a big sand dune that people ran up and down and decided to take a Sunday family road trip to check it out. Tucked into a very cute neighborhood a few miles south of LAX is a small park next to a National Guard center. The park consists of a huge, steep wall of sand and a play area for toddlers. That’s it. While that may not sound like much, it turns out that climbing this sand hill is an invigorating experience, even if you only climb up once. No special clothing or shoes are necessary, just join the many other adults and children making their way to the top. Leg muscles you may have forgotten about are called into action, and at the moment is starts to feel demanding, you’ve made it to the top. Yeay! At the top is quaint little street that leads straight to the ocean. I decided to take the stairs back down the sand dune hill, but my husband ran down and said it had almost the sensation of skiing. We watched some folks go up and down the hill several times for a hearty workout. Just thinking about it right now makes me want to go back.

Continuing south, through the neighborhood, we located Manhattan Beach Blvd., at the end of which is a pier. At the end of the pier is the Roundhouse Aquarium. Here’s where the quarters come in handy. The parking right along the beach requires lots of quarters, every day of the week, and there were plenty of parking spaces, perhaps because not everyone who would have liked to park there had quarters.Don’t be intimidated by the crowds on the pier: they aren’t all going to the aquarium. And yes, you’re in the right place. The first time I saw the little building at the end of the pier, I didn’t know it was the aquarium. I looked up and down the beach and even under the pier wondering where the aquarium was. That little round structure is it. Perhaps because we have come to think of an aquarium as being the size of a theme park, and as expensive, it was hard to imagine that the Roundhouse Aquarium was large enough to contain any fish. For a bite size, and free museum, it’s quite nice. Pop in a pet some sea urchins, cucumbers, and stars. Watch the baby rays and search for the sarcastic fringe head. Consider it an opportunity to focus on a few of the wondrous creatures of the sea.

The colder days being what they are, a strong wind was blowing and there weren’t many people on the beach, so we got the butterfly kite out of the trunk and easily got it into the sky, extending the line all the way. It was a beautiful way to conclude the afternoon outing.
Please note that there is a bike path and a separate footpath running along Manhattan Beach, affording another opportunity to get some exercise and fresh ocean air.Notes:

Sand Dune Park: the corner of 33rd St. and Bell Ave. (left off Rosecrans) Free parking.

Roundhouse Aquarium: end of pier at the end of Manhattan Beach Blvd. Open to public: weekdays 3pm – sunset, Sunday 10am – sunset., Tel: (310) 379-8117, cost: Free. Beach Parking: $1/hour (quarters only)

Aquarium&Museums01 May 2006 12:00 pm

Is the Monterey Bay Aquarium really the best aquarium? It’s nearly a six hour drive from Los Angeles to find out, so one really has to wonder, considering that the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is right down the road, if driving to another aquarium is worth an overnight trip. The question you have to ask yourself is: How much do I like fish?

Now that I think about it, most of the creatures we’re interested in seeing at the aquarium are not actually fish. We really enjoy all of the extraordinary creatures at any aquarium. It is amazing to observe the diversity of Creation.

The funny thing is, when we arrived in Monterey, everyone, even people at the aquarium, told us we had to do the “17 Mile Drive.” We did, but first things first.
Monterey is a quaint, ocean side town which has a lot of cute shops in the downtown area and along legendary Cannery Row. There is a wide variety of lodging available including hotels and motels, cottages with full kitchens (which is what we stayed in) and Victorian inns along Lighthouse Ave. While we visited during the off season, it was clear that Monterey really blossoms in the summer with bike and kayak rentals and the beach crowd—but for those of us who like to take a walk in sweater weather, winter is just right.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, situated at one end of Cannery Row, is the San Diego Zoo of marine life. There are many different environments to feature the various fish and aquatic creatures on display, including a lively otter tank and a rocky shore with simulated waves crashing over it. A glass dome makes it possible to stand under the crashing waves, and this is so entertaining it’s hard to pry everyone away to see the rest of the aquarium. Near the entrance to the aquarium are electronic information boards listing the feeding times for some of the major exhibits including the giant kelp forest and the penguins. All the “feeding shows” are made informative by knowledgeable guides who share facts about the animals and take questions from the moderately sized audiences. One interesting item we learned about the penguin exhibit is that some of the penguins are actually guests from an aquarium in New Orleans, which was evacuated due to hurricane Katrina.

What’s particularly impressive about the Monterey Aquarium is the excellent condition everything is in, including interactive areas for small children. Virtually everything is in pristine, working order and the atmosphere is open and comfortable.

For those who like to pet the tiny sea creatures there are touch tanks with starfish, rays, anemones and crabs. Other favorite exhibits were the orange octopus, which happened to be clinging to the glass so we could get a good look at him, and the strange giant swimming pancake called the sunfish. Perhaps the most unusual exhibit is “Jellies: Living Art.” With lighting, frames and mirrors, a variety of jellyfish are displayed, just being themselves, but with all kinds of artistic enhancements to their surroundings to showcase their curious beauty. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Having been to the Boston aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Long Beach aquarium, I think the Monterey Aquarium is the best for overall appeal. While Monterey doesn’t have any of the large mammals i.e., dolphins and sea lions, as some of the other aquariums do, Monterey successfully displays the fish and animals it does have in a clean and contemporary setting.

After seeing everything we could at the aquarium, we headed out to the 17 Mile Drive, hoping to take the tour before sunset. We stopped for directions twice before finding the entrance, paid the $8 to drive down the private road through sparkling green forests, enormous estates, and the Pebble Beach golf course to stop at several different lookout points along the ocean shore. Fortunately, we had binoculars with us to have a better look at the wildlife, and a camera to capture one beautiful image after the next. What sounded like kind of a nap—“17 Mile Drive—zzzzz….” turned out to be a very memorable part of the trip.

It seems like an obvious travel tip, but it bears repeating: ask the locals what sights are worth visiting. Ask the other tourists, too. One of the families we spoke to at the aquarium was from our community right here in LA. They also recommended the 17 Mile drive. Thanks for the tip.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940,
phone: 831-548-4888, admission: Adult $21.95, Senior (65+) $19.95, Student (13 thru 17 or college ID) $19.95, Child (3 thru 12) $12.95, Child (Under 3) Free, Disabled $12.95

17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, CA 93953 car entry: $8.