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Monterey Bay is a top California destination for anyone who's a fan of sand, surf, and sea life. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, adjacent to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is one highlight that boasts all manner of on-the-water excursions plus opportunities to wine and dine.

But there's more to Monterey Bay than its southern peninsula; on the opposite side of the bay is Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz has its own collection of attractions, from rides and entertainment at the Boardwalk to towering redwood forests.

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Along the coast, past the Boardwalk, and on a cliffside spot with amazing views is Seymour Marine Discovery Center. This small yet intriguing ocean overlook spot may not rival the size of Monterey Bay Aquarium's exhibits, but it has a lot to offer for families and ocean enthusiasts.

UC Santa Cruz Has A Big Marine Mission At Seymour

Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a science education center that stems from the University of California, Santa Cruz. The center has not only ocean life exhibits and activities for visitors but also expands beyond the facility itself to the neighboring wetlands.

Restoration efforts are a priority, especially in the face of climate change, as many species of animals live in the coastal wetlands.

Visitors to Seymour Center can see sea life up close, experience touch pools and other hands-on exhibits, and learn how to make a difference in conservation efforts.

Related: Scorpion Range: Santa Cruz's Historical Home To A Rare Bat Colony

Tours are also available for those who are interested in the outdoors-y side of things.

Younger Lagoon, adjacent to the center, is accessible via free tour, where visitors might spot various bird species and even bobcats (among other local wildlife).

Virtual tours are also available at Seymour Center for those who can't make it in person (or want to see a preview).

Another tour option is a Behind the Scenes Research tour, which offers talks on marine mammal research plus more insight into the blue whale skeleton exhibit (she's affectionately known as Ms. Blue).

Monterey Bay Offers UC Santa Cruz A Unique Opportunity

As Seymour Center explains, its mission is to protect and inform the public about the rich marine environment that is Monterey Bay.

Since UC Santa Cruz opened in 1965, notes Seymour Center, a significant focus has been placed on marine sciences.

The Younger Lagoon Reserve (donated by Donald and Marion Younger in the '70s) spans 40 acres of bluffs and lagoon, which provided the Center with an outdoor laboratory and an opportunity to preserve more of the California coastline.

Later, the Long Marine Laboratory, the Center's first iteration, began as an educational program and later evolved.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center officially opened in 2000, as more visitors began stopping by and the Center's staff grew — thanks, in part, to its volunteer base.

New Exhibits Arrive All The Time At Seymour Center

Because Seymour Center is relatively small, exhibits rotate, perhaps more often than at larger marine centers.

Both indoor and outdoor exhibits are open year-round, with highlights like the touch pools (swell sharks, sea stars, and more), life-size sculptures, a gray whale skeleton (walk under it!), and amazing views from the bluffs.

There are interactive play areas for the younger set (and grown-ups, too), but no dedicated play area for kids to run and get their energy out.

However, tours — or a self-guided walk — outside can help little ones and their adults burn off some energy.

Note that it is windy on these coastal bluffs, and it's generally chilly year-round, too. While the outdoor exhibits are worth a walk, bring a sweater!

Unlike the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Seymour is small, but that makes it ideal for families, couples, or solo travelers who want to linger a bit with lower odds of overstimulation.

Visit Seymour Center

  • Location: 100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
  • Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 AM to 4 PM
  • Cost: $12 for adults/$11 for seniors, children 3-17 $9, 2 & under free
  • Parking: Parking permits are required M-F; weekend parking is free. Free parking is a 15-minute walk away.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center Is A Short Trip From The Boardwalk

Lounging on the beach is always appealing in Santa Cruz, especially given the attractions available at the beach.

Heading out of town, though, the Seymour Center is a short trip, and it's also near public beaches as well as tidepools.

Natural Bridges State Beach (and Natural Bridges Tidepools) is a destination of its own, with views of whales, seals, otters, and more.

Related: Coney Island Of The West: Spending A Day On The Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Natural Bridges SB makes a great stop after visiting Seymour Center, as it gives visitors the opportunity to see local wildlife in the wild versus in an aquarium setting.

The Monarch Preserve is another highlight; Monarchs over-winter in California between October and February each season.