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Add Extra Blue and More Fun to Your Family Vacation. Even with sun, sand, wind, and waves, all family beach destinations are not the same. Blue beach spots have sea life centers, and working laboratories that combine family fun and learning.Monterey Bay Open to the Sea

We all know about green, meaning earth-friendly, family vacations but what about a blue version - a planet-friendly beach vacation? Actually a blue-green, dare I say aquamarine, would be ideal, right? The bluest beach spots have facilities that share a love of the ocean and enable families to engage in discovering amazing things about oceans and the life in the sea. The facilities have programs and activities in place to add extra “blue” to any visit by engaging with the sea and its residents all of which translates to family fun and learning. 

Here’s the scoop. Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the very best providing families with hours of ways to engage with the sea and make discoveries. But they are not alone. I have identified several family vacation spots with very “blue” connections to the sea and of course, the beach. These places sustain a dual purpose. They engage in scientific research and also provide public access often sharing their latest findings. At each of these places it is possible to participate in awesome sea life encounters, learn about the ocean, and have fun with your kids.Mystic Aquarium Beluga Whale Watching

Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration – terrific Beluga whale encounters and sealife sleepovers for families.
Connecticut’s premier destination for sealife encounters, Mystic Aquarium visitors to get face to face with seals, whales, sharks, piranhas and a plethora of fish. The Museum conducts research on African penguins and is known for its extensive research on Beluga whales. The Ray Touch Pool offers a hands-on encounter, and for those looking for something truly special the aquarium offers Beluga and Penguin encounters. Sea Lion shows present an opportunity to watch lions of the sea in action. Blue Points: The Aquarium Discovery Lab offers kids of all ages the change to get their hands wet as they touch and learn about a variety of marine life. Beach Connection: Nearby Ocean Beach Park is one of New England's finest beach/boardwalk complexes with a sugary white, sandy beach, recreational amenities and to the Argia traditional sailing ship. (Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, 55 Coogan Boulevard, Mystic. (860) 572-5922 or www.mysticaquarium.org)Virginia Aquarium Boat Dock in Virginia Beach


Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center – share a sailing adventure.
At heart of any sealife family adventure on the Chesapeake Bay is the Virginia Aquarium where exploring is a tactile thrill. The museum is a launch pad for a wide variety of learning excursions which include boat trips with wet lab experiences. The museum’s Ocean Collections Sea Adventure takes place abroad the Atlantic Explorer, a 65-foot catamaran. The 75-minute cruise sails with Aquarium educators and allows participants to collect and observe a variety of local fish and invertebrates firsthand. Dolphin Discoveries Sea Adventure is a 90-minute excursion in search of bottlenose dolphins. Blue Points: From the 300,000-gallon Norfolk Canyon Aquarium and the 70,000-gallon sea turtle aquarium and a sea turtle hatchling laboratory to the awesome touch tanks, sealife surrounds visitors and the Owls Creek Marsh Pavilion showcases river otters, seahorses, and fiddler crabs. Beach Connection: Not only is Virginia Beach the home of the world’s longest pleasure beach, but it also features a bountiful list of activities and attractions well-suited for families with school age children. Atlantic Avenue between 17th & 25th Streets is “Beach Street USA” with summer entertainment and festivals throughout the year. (Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center 717 General Booth Boulevard, Virginia Beach, 23451. (757) 441-2374, (757) 427-4305 or www.virginiaaquarium.com)

Port Townsend Marine Science Center in Washington – tide pools await.  Take your flashlights, water soakers, waterproof camera, binoculars, and a sense of adventure. During the summer weekends there are many public beach and low tide walks, a bug walk, and a program called “Oceanography on the Dock” where kids and adults may use special scientific monitoring equipment. There is a series of three-wildlife cruises to Protection Island - the location of thousands of seabirds and marine mammals. Blue Points: Family groups may schedule special activities including putting together a gray whale skeleton  Beach Connection: At Fort Worden there are many activities suitable for families, including the beach, biking and kayaking, picnics, easy hiking, a lighthouse, and exploring the historic military structures in the fort including the bunkers. (Marine Science Center. 532 Battery Way, Port Townsend WA  98368. (360) 385-5582 or Port Townsend Marine Science Center) Octo Encounter at Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward.

Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward – Shake hands with an octopus. The Alaska SeaLife Center has both a public aquarium and fully supported research facility in the same location and is one of the best cold-water research facilities in North America. The Discovery Lab offers families a chance to touch, feel, smell, and discover together guided by a SeaLife staff member. Behind the scenes tours allow visitors access to the how things work including animal care and research projects in progress. Blue Points: The facility also conducts several unique daily programs designed to engage, inform, and excite participants. The Marine Mammal Encounter focuses on the feeding, training, and care of harbor seals. The Octopus Encounter allows participants to shake hands with a resident octopus and learn about invertebrates and the sea. The Puffin Encounter includes a tour of the aviary and a peek at the breeding program at work onsite. Beach Connection: Caine's Head State Park, the Five-Mile Coastal Trail and Resurrection Bay offer plenty of ways to enjoy the beach. (Alaska SeaLife Center 301 Railway Ave. Seward, Alaska 99664. Toll-free 1-888-378-2525, (907) 224-7908 or www.alaskasealife.org)Dauphin Island Sea Lab Experience in Alabama


Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama - Share the adventures of a grain of sand.
In addition to being a working sea lab, Dauphin Island Sea Lab is an active weather station providing data to the National Weather Service of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Mobile. Seeing the equipment collecting data is real cool. The Estuarium, the public aquarium of the DISL, has engaging interactive exhibits and touch tanks designed to provide a better understanding of estuary life in Mobile Bay. Children are encouraged to investigate a replica of an old French sailing vessel; spend time observing the action from the boardwalk and participate in the adventures of a grain of sand as a cartoon character named Mr. Sand tells his story. Blue Points: The DISL Sea Lab Summer Excursion offers hands-on exploration of coastal habitats with a trained guide. The learning adventure includes salt marshes, beach and in the maritime forest areas. Participants use seine nets, yabby pumps, and sieve boxes to collect and later release samples, including crabs, snails, and fish. Beach Connection: Dauphin Island has miles of awesome beaches along the Gulf and Mobile Bay with plenty of ways to enjoy the summer sun including time at historic Fort Gaines where there are stories of days gone by, reenactments and blacksmith demonstrations. (Dauphin Island Sea Lab 101 Bienville Blvd. Dauphin Island, AL 3652. (251) 861-2141. Details: Dauphin Island Sea Lab (251) 861-7500, toll-free 1-866- 403-4409 or Dauphin Island Sea Lab)
 
MOTE Aquarium & Marine Laboratory in Sarasota -Serve brunch to a shark. Mote has been a leader in marine research for more than 60 years and in addition to its ongoing research efforts it maintains Mote Aquarium which is open to the public. On view sharks, manatees and sea turtles, along with more than 100 other species of marine life. The facility maintains touch pools, viewable-working labs and high-tech interactive exhibits that highlight the world-renowned research of Mote Marine Laboratory. Visitors MOTE to can also play marine paleontologist and take home natural buried treasures of the sea sifting through a bucket of sand for fossils using a sieve in a mini waterway. You might find shark's teeth and stingray tails smoothed with time, ancient gar scales or bony plates from puffer fish mouths. MOTE allows select visitors to go on “Morning Rounds” and learn even more about the animals that at aquarium.  Blue Points: Training sessions take place each Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the narrated sessions are free with regular admission. Add to that a “Shark Encounter” and help prepare brunch for the sharks and large fish, including blacknose, nurse and sandbar sharks, southern stingrays, tarpon, snook, and goliath grouper. Beach Connection:  The Sarasota area offers oodles of places to enjoy a family beach vacation and be within minutes of MOTE. (Mote Aquarium & Marine Laboratory on City Island at 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy., Sarasota, FL 34236. (941)388-4441 or www.mote.org)Seymour Marine Discovery Center Family Fun in Santa Cruz.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz – Pet a shark. Supported by Long Marine Laboratory, a world-renowned university research facility, the Discovery Center offers visitors countless shades of blue and a variety of ways to dive into the fascinating and varied work of scientists studying the oceans in Santa Cruz and around the world. The 20,000-square-foot visitor center provides hands-on immersive atmosphere encouraging exploration, questioning, and discovery. Families may share unique experiences and perhaps even pet a shark. On select Thursdays and Sundays of each month visitors may join a tour and go behind the scenes to see in person the work of scientists and their studies of dolphins, sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals, and blue whales. Blue Points: On select days, a shorter behind the scenes tour is offered for families with younger children and every Sunday there is a seaside crafts activity for everyone in the family. Beach Connection: Santa Cruz’s beach personality is multi-faceted. Surfing spots like Pleasure Point and Steamer Lane are well known but Cowell Beach/Main Beach are ideal for families. This is also the home of Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. (End of Delaware Avenue, Santa Cruz, California. (831) 459-3800 or Seymour Marine Discovery Center)

South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sealife Center in Port Isabel – Meet the dolphins of the Laguna Madre. From assorted touch tanks to daily sea creature feedings this small facility offers a big “real life” experience. To observe dolphins in the wild it is possible for families to join a sea-friendly boat tour from the Sealife the Center. Also in the area is the University of Texas Pan American Coastal Studies Laboratory where it is possible to see, touch and examine specimens from the area including a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, alligator gar, stingray tail, dolphin skull, shark jaws, sea whip coral, coral head, whale bones and whale fossils. Blue Points: For a natural vacation WOW!, schedule your trip to see a sea turtle hatching release during the early morning hours conducted by Sea Turtle Inc. Beach Connection: South Padre Island is the place for extra sunscreen along with swimming, fishing, dolphin watching, sailing, snorkeling, surfing, and wind surfing. (Located in Isabel on the Lighthouse Square at 110 North Garcia by Pirate's Landing. Details: (956) 299-1957 or South Padre Island Sealife Center)

World Oceans Day Family AcivitiesI think every day should be World Oceans Day but for the time being one day in June is dedicated to celebrating the wonder and beauty of the sea. Go to WorldOceansDay.org  for places and ways to share cool stuff about the ocean with your children.  
 
Content researched and posted by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for theFamilyTravelFiles.com. Images courtesy Marine Science Center in Port Townsend, Alaska SeaLife Center, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and  Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Copyright updated 2018.    



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