A marine gem in Avila Beach

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

The Central Coast Aquarium features tanks with different creatures, an old-fashioned diving suit, and banners by students.

The Central Coast Aquarium features tanks with different creatures, an old-fashioned diving suit, and banners by students.

Experience a hands-on, up-close encounter with marine life at Central Coast Aquarium

Avila Beach, famous for its warm waters and friendly atmosphere, is also the place to be for all those who love the ocean and its critters, thanks to the seemingly endless displays at the Central Coast Aquarium. Situated just yards from the sand and boardwalk, this two-story sandstone-colored building is home to marine aquariums as well as exhibits about ocean life and the estuary.

Since 1994, the Central Coast Aquarium, formerly known as the Avila Beach Sea Life Center, has shown steady growth and progression with ideas, research and development of educational programs while also keeping its mission intact – to educate children from San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Santa Barbara counties as well as all general visitors in a hands-on manner while encouraging a long-lasting interest in science. Visitors have up-close encounters with marine life and, ultimately, develop a better understanding of Avila’s marine environment.

The staff at the Central Coast Aquarium offers tours of the facility, led by a volunteer docent, and visitors are also welcome to walk around and explore the center on their own. There is a variety of fascinating delights to take it – the Aquarium houses both museum and aquarium aspects – including a tile mural created by the Chumash Indian tribe depicting their history of living next to the sea; below the mural, a wooden canoe specially built for the Center is on display.

The Discovery Lab, situated next to the shrimp nursery, holds a microscope and computer monitors.  During special programs for school children, the microscope serves to display a closer look at samples of life residing in ocean waters.

The Aquarium also houses a full range of anemones, abalone, sea urchins and crabs in a variety of aquariums and tanks that house decorator crabs, rockfish, the colorful Garibaldi (the state fish of California), sharks and rays; one tank in particular that holds egg sacks of leopard and horn sharks. Visitors are invited to touch the sharks and rays – rays are slimy to the touch, while sharkskin is abrasive and raspy like sandpaper.

Leopard sharks that have outgrown their smaller homes are found swimming in a larger, round aquarium; these fish can grow to about six feet in length. Yet another fascinating exhibit at the Central Coast Aquarium is the moon jelly aquariums – visitors can get an up-close look at a successive tank showing progression from microscopic jellies to swimming jellies and larger jellies.

Visit the Central Coast Aquarium, located at 50 San Juan St. in Avila Beach during their winter hours, Saturdays & Sundays, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Aquarium is open for extended hours in the summer. School programs, private tours & birthday parties by appointment only. Office open Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. General admission $8; children 10 & under, $5; Student/Senior Admission, with ID, $5; Infants 2 & under FREE. Call (805) 595-7280 for information or to book a private tour and check out the website at centralcoastaquarium.com

Additional happenings

  • Private tours, perfect for senior groups, reunions – reservations required
  • Floating laboratory – hop aboard a boat for scientific exploration
  • Adopt an aquarium animal
  • Gift certificates available

— Ruth Ann Angus

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