Posts Tagged ‘Monterey Bay Aquarium’

Monterey Bay Fisherman’s Wharf: Runaway Success

March 1, 2014

View of crowds on Fisherman's Wharf


Fisherman’s Wharf is the heart of a highly successful and heavily used public space in Monterey, California. On a mild afternoon in February, the crowds were thick and cheerful.


View of the wharf, late afternoon

Unlike the wharf in San Francisco, this one actually has fishing boats nearby, and the restaurants serve a certain amount of fresh local seafood.


Strollers on trail

The Wharf is just one feature along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, which runs for miles along the shoreline of the Monterey Bay. A very popular paved and accessible part of the trail connects the Wharf and downtown Monterey with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.


Strollers and wheelchair user on trail

 The trail, a converted railroad line, is a great example of a public space that actually encourages public use. A wide variety of  people of all ages and physical abilities were getting out and enjoying themselves along the shore of the beautiful Bay.


People enjoying the trail and the bay



Calif. Academy of Sciences Aquarium: Second-Rate Monterey

October 11, 2011

The Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences tries very hard to be another Monterey Bay Aquarium – going for that immersive, “wow” experience that MBA does so well:

The problem is, the aquarium at the Academy is basically an afterthought, stuffed into the basement, with nowhere near the square footage of its southerly rival.

It’s disturbingly dark (as opposed to serenely dark), with no straight lines – which makes for a rather disorienting visitor experience. Not to mention difficult to navigate for anyone with mobility issues.

Low lighting often makes for signs and labels that are difficult to read.

Unlike Monterey Bay Aquarium, entire wings of which are bathed in natural light, the new downstairs Steinhart Aquarium is lit only by ceiling lights. Exhibits like the Tidepool, which ideally should attempt to reproduce or at least realistically represent the experience of a real tidepool at the open ocean, instead become something you might see next to a craps table in the eternal twilight of a Las Vegas casino.

For anyone who remembers the old Steinhart Aquarium, pre-Renzo Piano rebuild, the new aquarium is a sad experience. The old Steinhart was spacious, contemplative, and actually had far more tanks with a lot more sea life. It was, and felt like, an integral part of the Academy of Sciences – and its exhibitry related a lot more to the local environment of northern California. It was successful on its own terms without trying to be something it wasn’t.


Ticket price as a barrier to access, Part 3: notes and observations

January 7, 2010

One thing that struck me about almost all of the museums listed in Parts 1 and 2: the so-called senior (60 or 65 plus) price is less than general admission, and often the same as student/youth pricing. Senior discounts, which began during the 1960s and 70s when a disproportionate number of older Americans were below the poverty line, and/or living on fixed incomes in times of high inflation, have become sacrosanct. This, in spite of the fact that poverty demographics have now flipped around from those days:

Percent of Americans below poverty line, 2008

Under 18 … 19%

18-65 … 11.7%

65 + … 9.7%  (source: US Census)

Common sense would tell you that the museum visitors most in need of a break, generally speaking, would be parents with school-age children. True, family memberships can be a good deal, but that’s assuming a family can afford to pony up the membership price all at once. Again, this locks out poor would-be visitors, and those who are just kind of scraping by.

Another trend that struck me: every one of the science museums and aquariums in my little survey charges and arm and a leg for kids – even very young kids:

American Museum of Natural History (for special exhibitions, which take up about half the exhibit space): Children 2-12, $20

Boston Museum of Science: Child 3-11, $17

Shedd Aquarium: Children 3-11, $17.95

Museum of Science and Industry: Child 3-11, $9

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Child 3-12 $17.95

In contrast, most of the art museums let in children under 12 for free or cheap, and many have significant discounts for students. The art museums are more family-friendly these days than the science museums. 

This is all based on a small sample, yes, but it’s suggestive. 

Conclusions? I have none, really. Cost is only one factor that goes into leisure-time spending decisions — it won’t keep someone away from a museum if the benefits are perceived to be worth the price, and these museums are after all among the best in the country. Museums are taking it in the neck financially, and admission price is one way they can recoup. Nonetheless, I return to my original, anecdotal observation that free days bring a lot more people into museums, and a lot more people of seemingly limited means. Since the museum-going habit is formed in childhood, during family visits, I wonder if the next generation of museum-goers is being lost in the upward spiral of admission prices.