Birch Aquarium-La Jolla

Birch Aquarium is located on the Scripps UC San Diego campus overlooking the Scripps Pier and the Pacific Ocean. Partnered with the Scripps Institute Oceanography (SIO), the Birch Aquarium is a fabulous place to visit to learn about all the natural wonders of the ocean and its creatures.

More than 460.000 people visit this aquarium annually. There is so much to do and learn here.

Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier

Birch Aquarium-La Jolla General Information

Jellyfish Birch Aquarium

2300 Expedition Way-La Jolla, 92037

Website- https://aquarium.ucsd.edu/

Phone- (858) 534-3474

Hours- 9am-5pm daily

Free Parking for 3 hours-Handicap parking available in front of the Aquarium

  • Adults- 18.50
  • Children(3-17)- 14
  • Seniors- 15
  • Students- 15
  • College Students for assignment- 12
Star III Submersible Submarine Birch Aquarium
The Star III, a two-seater submersible submarine from 1967 found in the parking lot

A Little History of Birch Aquarium

Scripps Institute of Oceanography Pier Birch Aquarium
SIO Pier

The founders of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) felt it was essential to have an active aquarium opened to the public. They even included such a provision in their founding bylaws.

Their core belief was that the SIO had an obligation to the people to share all of its the scientific findings discovered by the institution.

Fun Fact-The first aquarium was initially situated down below, closer to the pier. The newest aquarium opened its doors up on the hill on Sept 16, 1992.

Birch Aquarium’s Mission

Scripps Plaque SIO La Jolla shores beach
SIO Plaque

According to the official website, the mission of Birch Aquarium is always to provide ocean science education, to interpret Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s research as well as to advance ocean conservation.

Southern California Coastal Habitats

La Jolla Cove Birch Aquarium
La Jolla Cove, Downtown La Jolla

It is important to remember that many exhibits here are examples of different coastal habitats here in Southern California, such as rocky intertidal, sandy shore, and the kelp forest, to name a few.

For one thing, after going to Birch Aquarium, you will have a better understanding of what honestly is under the water or living around the tide pools the next time you on the coast of San Diego.

You see, you can have fun and learn at the same time!

Other exhibits here also include the warmer water species that are found down in Mexico as well as, the colder water species of the northeastern Pacific.

Let’s now talk about a few of them.

Tropical Tank Birch Aquarium
An example of the tropical waters of Mexico.
Northeastern Pacific Tank Birch Aquarium
Northeastern Pacific cold water tank with several sea stars.

My Favorite Birch Aquarium’s Exhibits

There are several unique exhibits to be seen here. For instance, I have always liked the sardine and mackerel tank at the entrance. Indeed, there is something to be said about how the fish keep swimming around in circles; it feels a bit hypnotic. I find it hard to look away.

I am also partial to the Giant Kelp Tank as I am familiar with all of these fish from back in the day when I was a Fisheries Technician. In fact, I came to this aquarium to sit and study this tank before I started the job. It was a way for me to review.

I have provided a list of other exhibits to look out for and will be adding just a little exciting information so you will be ahead of the game when you visit. OK, let’s go.


Seahorse Conservation

The Birch Aquarium has been researching twelve different Seahorse species for more than 20 years.

Seahorse Birch Aquarium
Credit- Wikimedia Commons

Seahorses are fascinating fish!

For example,  did you know that seahorses are monogamous and mate for life? How special is that? There is also one unique fact that I have always remembered since college…

Seahorses Are Like No Other on the Planet!

In particular, the seahorse is the only creature in the world where the male bears and looks after the young! It all begins with an eight-hour ‘dance’ where he swims around his mate changing colors and showing off all of his camouflage abilities. If the female likes his dance, she will then transfer her eggs to his pouch.

Having the males in charge of the young gives this species a significant advantage. For one thing, the female can start making eggs again right away, thus ensuring adequate reproduction. For more amazing facts on the seahorse, please go here.


Coral Conservation

Birch Aquarium has been raising coral in captivity for more than twenty years. The Coral Conservation program allows the aquarium to trade with other aquariums and zoo’s and therefore reducing the pressure off of the wild populations.

Coral Tank Birch Aquarium

Raising coral is similar to propagating plants from cuttings. These fragments of coral can eventually grow into new colonies of young coral.

Coral Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium has had both hard corals, and soft corals spawn in captivity. Breeding in the laboratory is a big deal!

Research is ongoing to better understand these spawning events and new ways of farming corals in the lab. Hopefully, this will protect wild colonies from exploitation in the future.


Seadragon Breeding Programs

While seahorses are a common sight off the coastal waters of North America, their cousins the Leafy Seadragon and Weedy Seadragon, are found only in southern Australia. Due to the pressure on the wild populations, the Birch Aquarium’s Seadragon Propagation Project began in 2012.

With a partnership with SIO, the aquarium has been studying seadragons in the wild as well as in their ‘state of the art’ breeding program. Here is an explanatory video of this fantastic creature.


Giant Kelp Tank

The Birch Aquarium has a 70,000 gallon, two-story Giant Kelp Forest tank. This exhibit represents one of the four protected habits of the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, located south of La Jolla Shores Beach.

The Giant Kelp forest provides shelter for thousands of creatures. And did you know that Giant Kelp is found only on the west coast of North America?

Marine Protected Areas Map La Jolla

Giant Kelp Forest Tank Birch Aquarium

Found in the relatively cold shallow water close to shore, the Giant Kelp can grow up to eighteen inches a day. It is also the most massive algae in the world, surprisingly reaching heights of over 100 feet.

Giant Kelp Tank Birch Aquarium
The large fish in the foreground is the protected Giant Black Sea Bass.

The Giant Kelp Tank Webcam

Check out this live webcam at the aquarium! Maybe you will see scuba divers cleaning the tank or feeding the fish.

For example, I love going to this webcam because most likely little children are there watching the tank in awe and wonder. Seeing them keep an eye on the Giant Kelp tank always brings me such joy!

Please keep in mind that the lights are only on during the hours that the aquarium is open 9-5pm (PST). Have a look for yourself!

Garibaldi Birch Aquarium
Credit-Wikimedia Commons

Fun Fact- If you happen to come upon a bright orange fish, that is California’s state fish the Garibaldi. The young Garibaldi are red and have blue spots that go away when they mature.


ElasmoBeach at Birch Aquarium

Leopard Shark egg case Birch Aquarium
A Leopard Shark egg case.

First off, why Elasmobeach?

Well, shark and rays are cartilaginous fish meaning that their skeletons are cartilage, not bone. The definition of an Elasmobranch is any cartilaginous fish with 5-7 ventral gill slits.

The ElasmoBeach Experience

ElasmoBeach is an outdoor tank that intimately showcases the underwater sandy shore habitat similar to that of the San Diego-Scripps Coastal Marine Conservation Area.

For example, here you will find many leopard sharks and rays just like what you would see in down below the bluff at La Jolla Shores Beach.

La Jolla Shores Beach Birch Aquarium

Experience ElasmoBeach for yourself and honestly see what is under the water the next time you are at the beach in San Diego.

Fun Fact- Each summer, thousands of leopard sharks make their way to south La Jolla Shores Beach to hang out in the shallow warm waters waiting to give birth. Did you know that the Birch Aquarium also offers Naturalist lead snorkeling trips., swimming amongst these sharks?


Preuss Tide Pool Plaza

Tidepools Birch Aquarium

Tide Pool Plaza located on the outdoor plaza, overlooks the Pacific Ocean and La Jolla Shores beach.

 Here you will find an artificial version of a rocky intertidal pool, where the water ebbs and flows just like the natural tides.

Some inhabitants you will see include hermit crabs, sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea anemones, and the California Spiny lobster.

Also, I would like to point out that volunteers are located all around the plaza and will happily answer any questions you may have.

Intertidal Guide

I have also included a Southern California Intertidal Guide, compliments of the Cabrillo National Monument so you will be, again-ahead of the game before you visit!

View from Birch Aquarium

Fun Fact- Tide pool Plaza has exceptional panoramic views and is an ideal spot for San Diego whale watching.

Close up tidepools Birch Aquarium

Tidepool Plaza Birch Aquarium

California Spiny Lobster Birch Aquarium
California Spiny Lobster

Tidepool Plaza Birch Aquarium

Fun Fact-Birch Aquarium offers naturalist-led tide pool expeditions at a couple of San Diego locations. If you are interested, here is some more information on the Tidepooling Adventure


The Birch Aquarium Gift Shop

No trip is complete without visiting the Birch Aquarium’s gift shop. Here is one of my most favorite places to visits because everything in the store has to do with the ocean.

There are many unique items, but what I appreciate most of all is the scientific literature available for sale. Call me a geek, but I have yet to find these books sold anywhere else.

Fun Fact-The Gift Shop is open to the public as no entrance fee is required. For more information please contact at 858-534-8753 or at aquariumgiftshop@ucsd.edu.


Gray Whale Fountain Birch Aquarium Entrance
The entrance of Birch Aquarium

The Splash! Cafe by the French Gourmet

Whale tail fountain Birch Aquarium

When we visit the aquarium, we will stop halfway through to go outside and eat lunch.

Located at the entrance of the Birch Aquarium and adjacent to the life-sized gray whale statues, sits The Spash! Cafe.

You may bring food in if you wish, as there is a beautiful sized seating area with umbrellas, but you will be missing out on some delicious food by the French Gourmet!

There are sandwiches and snacks made from scratch as well as many hot and cold beverages. It is also important to note that organic and gluten-free options are available as well.

It has been awhile, but I do remember that there was an incredible egg salad sandwich!

End of the Tour

Birch Aquarium Whale Fountain

Did you enjoy a mini-tour of Birch Aquarium? For the most part, I hope I have motivated you a bit to come here and see it all for yourself.

I only touched on a few of the exhibits, as there are much more to see and I encourage you to visit the Birch Aquarium website for more information.

I have always held this Aquarium in very high esteem, ever since my first visit back in 1985.

La Jolla Nearby Attractions

If you happen to have a little more time, there are a few places nearby that I would like to include.

Say, if you are in the mood for a stroll on the beach, La Jolla Shores Beach is just a five-minute drive down the hill.

La Jolla Shores beach waves

Or maybe a walk around Downtown La Jolla, that is only less than ten minutes away. If you would like more information, click on the appropriate links.

La Jolla Cove Birch Aquarium
La Jolla Cove, Downtown La Jolla

How about a quick walk at the Scripps Coastal Reserve which is just up the street! Here you can walk through a Biodiversity Trail sponsored and cared for by the students and staff at UCSD.

Scripps Coastal Reserve plants ocean
Scripps Coastal Reserve

Or you could go a little bit further north and check out the Torrey Pines Gliderport which is located overlooking Black’s Beach.

In fact, there is a trail connecting the bluffs to Black’s Beach. This site is only 5 minutes away!

Black's Beach trail panoramic photo
The trail down to Black’s Beach is on the far left where all the people are standing.

Thanks again for joining me at the Birch Aquarium! Please leave any comments or questions below.

Until next time!


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8 Replies to “Birch Aquarium-La Jolla”

  1. It is a nice place to hangout with families. The specific information in here will give efficient travel scheduling. It is better to plot places to visit than just hang around without planning. Otherwise, it will just be a waste of time and money.

    1. I agree with you Florencio, and you have given me a great idea! Thank you! There is so much to do in La Jolla that you would need two days or a long summer day to do everything. I am glad that you found the information helpful. Thanks so much for visiting!

  2. Birch Aquarium looks AMAZING! I can’t believe all the natural beauty… I don’t think there are too many gems like this in the world. Great Website.

    1. I couldn’t agree more! The collaboration with Scripps Institute of Oceanography is what makes this aquarium so unique. There is so much cutting-edge information that you will learn here! Thanks for visiting!

  3. That sure is a lot of great information. Thank you for making more aware of the attractions around San Diego. My wife has wanted to visit there for a long time, so I will have things for her to consider seeing.

  4. I enjoy reading your articles as always. I love your picture. They look amazing. I had no idea that seahorse males carry the babies. I find that very interesting. I like to travel; I will add this place to my travel destination list. Thank you for putting this together.

    1. Thank you so much, Hong! I agree! There are so many things to discover and learn here about the ocean as well as out of the ordinary facts about the different type of organisms you may encounter on the San Diego shoreline. It will always be one of my favorite places. Thank you for visiting!

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