Monterey Bay is one of California’s top destinations for anyone who loves sand, surf and sea life. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, adjacent to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is a highlight that offers all sorts of water excursions as well as wine and dinner opportunities.

But there’s more to Monterey Bay than its southern peninsula; across the bay is Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz has its own collection of attractions, from boardwalk rides and entertainment to towering redwood forests.

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Along the coast, beyond the boardwalk and on a cliff with stunning views, is the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. This small but intriguing ocean vantage point may not rival the size of the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits, but it has plenty to offer families and ocean enthusiasts.

UC Santa Cruz has a big marine mission in Seymour

Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a science education center spun off from the University of California at Santa Cruz. The center not only offers marine life exhibits and activities for visitors, but also extends beyond the facility itself to nearby wetlands.

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

Visitors to the Seymour Center can see marine life up close, experience touch pools and other interactive exhibits, and learn how to make a difference in conservation efforts.

Related: Scorpion Range: Santa Cruz’s historic home to a colony of rare bats

Tours are also available for those interested in the outer side of things.

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

Virtual tours are also available at the 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 lectures on marine mammal research as well as more information about the blue whale skeleton exhibit (it’s affectionately nicknamed Mrs. Blue).

Monterey Bay offers UC Santa Cruz a unique opportunity

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

Since UC Santa Cruz opened in 1965, notes the Seymour Center, there has been a strong emphasis on marine science.

The Younger Lagoon Reserve (donated by Donald and Marion Younger in the 1970s) covers 40 acres of cliffs and lagoon, which provided the Center with an outdoor laboratory and an opportunity to further preserve the California coastline.

Later, the Long Marine Laboratory, the Center’s first iteration, started as an educational program and then evolved.

The Seymour Marine Discovery Center officially opened in 2000, as more visitors began to stop by and the center’s staff grew – thanks, in part, to its volunteer base.

New exhibits arrive at the Seymour Center all the time

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

Indoor and outdoor exhibits are open year-round, with highlights like the touch tanks (inflated sharks, starfish, and more), life-size sculptures, a gray whale skeleton (walk underneath!), and a view impregnable from the cliffs.

There are interactive play areas for younger kids (and adults too), but no dedicated play area for kids to run around and work up a sweat.

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 cliffs, and it’s usually cold all year round too. While the outdoor exhibits are worth seeing, 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 less risk of overstimulation.

Visit the Seymour Center

  • Location: 100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
  • Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Cost: $12 for adults/$11 for seniors, children 3 to 17 $9, 2 and under free
  • Car park: Parking permits are required MF; weekend parking is free. Free parking is a 15 minute walk away.

The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a short ride down the boardwalk

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

On the way out of town, however, the Seymour Center is a short drive, and it’s also close to public beaches as well as tidal pools.

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

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

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

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