Drop-off classes, camps, school trips, birthday parties, playdates, last minute answers to “what are we doing today?” – for all these things and more I am grateful for Heal the Bay’s wonder of a little aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier.
I should probably confess to a slight bias: we LOVE the aquarium. We love its perfect size (big enough to fascinate kids, small enough for parents to relax); its fabulous staff (with knowledge and enthusiasm in huge, equal parts); its escape-artist octopus (who probably didn't mean to flood the place); its frisky sharks (who never fail to spray out-of-town relatives); and its brand-new, mesmerizing sea horses. When my son was in preschool we always entered the fray to get into those Reggio-esque Microbiologist classes - arguably the single best drop-off class for 3 to 5-year-olds in town. My preschooler came home able to articulate the differences between sea mammals and big fish, the many uses of seaweed, and how to tell a sea lion from a seal. (Can you??)
When we arrived at the age of no return for those classes, we got our aquarium fix with a birthday party, which my son was not alone in calling the best. birthday. EVER. When else does every party guest get to kiss a sea cucumber?
We were first in line when the Aquarium added summer camp to its repertoire. My little camper spent his mornings learning more about the ocean in a few hours than I've managed in forty-something years, while I opened my laptop in that quiet, breezy room at the Annenberg Beach House that I'd been promising myself since it opened. Later, reclaiming a child who was beached-out and educated all in one go, I got to be a hero treating him to an ice cream at the carousel – the litter from which he was careful to throw away, having learned not to let it end up in the sea. That’s what I call a successful summer day.
Back home at the end of the day, he even managed to explain to me the difference between a seal and a sea lion.
Check out the Aquarium's weekly Shark Sundays at 3:30pm, including shark feedings, presentations, and crafts.