Xander had his first visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach today. His Aunt Kylie works there as an aquarist, so we were lucky enough to get the behind-the-scenes treatment. We brought Sarah (who was visiting from Scotland) and Amy along for the adventure.
We walked there, but parking is easy and not too expensive in a structure just across the street. School groups tend to be there earlier in the day, so if you’re trying to avoid the absolute madness of wading through hundreds of children who aren’t looking where they’re going in dark, confined spaces, consider going in the afternoon instead. We arrived just before 11, and I’ve seen it worse, but there were definitely quite a few busloads of tiny humans loose at the time.
We passed the animal food prep area on our way upstairs, and Kylie shared a fun fact with us: their food prep for the animals has to meet the same regulations as a restaurant, and is subject to the same inspections. It has to be kept spotlessly clean the same way you would expect a restaurant that handles seafood to be.
Kylie had arranged for a sea lion encounter, meaning that Sarah and Amy would get to feed and interact with the biggest sea lion in a separate enclosure. Xander and I had to stay outside in case the sea lion decided to rip his face off with its giant tricuspid teeth. It did not escape the girls that this meant it was possible for said gnarly teeth to be used on them. It’s totally okay for adults to get mauled, though, right?
Unfortunately, the glass I had to take pictures through was dirty and reflecting light, so my pictures are pretty terrible, but it was too cool not to share what I did manage to get. When Parker the sea lion lumbered into the enclosure, it was much more apparent how fucking huge he was than it was just seeing him in the main tank. He’s a beast! The girls took turns walking him through tricks and feeding him fish as a reward. He performed beautifully, and all three of them got sea lion kisses. He jumped up and down, spun in a circle, did a handstand, waved, and stuck his tongue out. An all around impressive gentleman.
After the sea lion encounter, we moved on to the Giant Pacific Octopus tank to see if Kylie could entice Grady to come out and play with us. The octopus is just about the only marine animal that I get really excited about. They are the coolest! They can problem solve. Aquarists hide treats inside a Mr. Potato Head, and the octopus can figure out how to access the treat. They’re escape artists. They can fit through any opening that is large enough to squeeze their beak through, so a huge octopus can squeeze through a hole that’s only a few inches! Kylie explained that for some reason they hate touching AstroTurf, so the top of Grady’s tank was lined with fake grass. I wonder how someone figured that one out! Octopuses are also aggressive…and they’ll go cannibal and eat their own species! Altogether, Grady is the kind of friend I like to have.
She wasn’t as fiesty as I’ve seen her be before, but she also wasn’t particularly cooperative. Kylie tried to lure her to the top of the tank where we were standing with bits of blue crab, but she kept coming just far enough to get the crab out of Kylie’s grasp and then retreating back down to the public side. We didn’t get to touch or interact with her, but we got a good look at her up close…and she was gorgeous.
By that point, Xander was vocally demanding to be fed, so Kylie and the girls continued on to the tropical tanks, and I went back out to the public side to find somewhere to sit and nurse. I found an empty bench facing the otter tank, and fed the hungry little man. As I sat, I got to quietly observe parenthood in all its glory. It’s amusing to only see flashes of other people’s parenting styles and have nothing but that to judge them on.
Kylie had to leave us to get back to work, so we went to grab some lunch before continuing our exploration. Mama has to eat sometimes too, or she gets just as grumpy as Baby Xander. There are a plethora of (mostly chain) restaurants within a quick walk of the Aquarium, but I like to grab lunch at Tokyo Wako. It’s usually empty at lunch, and their chicken fried rice is simple, tasty, and inexpensive.
Once we were fed, we returned to the Aquarium ready to brave the public side. Thankfully, by that time the school groups had all left, and it was much less crowded. I brought Xander’s backpack and his stroller along in the hopes that I could get him to take his morning nap in his stroller, but I would have his pack handy for when he decided he wasn’t willing to sit in the stroller any longer. Pushing a stroller around the Aquarium is kind of miserable since the tiny humans move erratically without any notice of oncoming traffic, and it’s dark indoors. Strolling becomes a contact sport. The advantage is you have somewhere to dump all of your shit, and maybe your kid enjoys being pushed around…mine, not so much. I managed to get him to hang out in it for a few more minutes after lunch and then it was back in the pack.
We wandered through the other exhibits, and Xander was amazed looking into the tanks. Most of the time I think it was the light playing on the water that had him so entranced, but he was definitely watching the bigger animals. The seals and sea lions were big enough that he could follow them, and the sharks seemed to be his favorite. They were being fed when we were watching, so he got to see one gobble a fish down just inches from his face. He jumped, so I thought it had scared him, but then he broke into a huge grin. Circle of life, right?
The touch tanks outside seemed to be a favorite of small children. They can reach into a low, open tank and feel the tops of the sharks and rays with two fingers. Xander was obviously much too small for that this time (he would’ve tried to get them in his mouth!), but I’m sure he’ll love it when he’s bigger.
We skipped the bird enclosure because birds are creepy, but I’m sure it’s wonderful if you’re into that sort of thing. We did, however, stop by the gift shop on our way out, which was dangerous. They have a fantastic assortment of super cool stuff. In particular, their selection of children’s books about sea life is a delight. I made the mistake of picking up a variety of stuffed animals and puppets, all of which made Xander shriek with laughter. I found myself wanting to buy all the things. I managed to restrain myself and only get him a small turtle that rattled.
I fed him again on a bench outside the front entrance, and then tossed him in his pack for the walk home. He quickly went from tugging on my ears to snoring away behind me. He loves his pack!