Skip to main content
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary National Marine Sanctuaries Home Page National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Home Page
We're Closing To Give The Building A Few Spa Days!

The Sanctuary Exploration Center will be closed for annual maintenance January 22nd ‐ 26th. Please come back and see us on January 29th. Open Wednesday-Sunday 10am ‐ 5pm.

sanctuary exploration center banner

Frequently Asked Questions


child playing with wave exhibitHow much does it cost to enter?

Admission is free, but we always accept donations!

What are your hours of operation?

Regular hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. (Closed Monday and Tuesday.)

How long does it take to see the Center?

An average visit lasts about 45 minutes, but you can easily spend more than an hour! Be sure to check our Exhibits section for a preview.

Where can I park?

Limited metered parking is available on the surrounding streets and there are many city parking lots in the area. Learn more.

Special needs access

The Center is fully wheelchair accessible, although we do not provide wheelchairs. Very limited handicap metered parking is available in the parking lot adjacent to the Center.

Non-English speaking visitors

Exhibit information is provided in Spanish only at this time.

open ocean mini theaterIs there a place to store my belongings?

We do not have lockers for personal use.

Do you allow pets inside?

Only trained service animals are permitted in the Center.

Photography & video

During your visit, you're welcome to take photos and video for your personal use. Commercial photography is allowed only with prior permission from the Center.

Smoking Policy

For the health and safety of all, smoking is prohibited anywhere on Center property, including outdoor areas.


Strollers are permitted throughout the Center.

Is there a Gift & Bookstore?

We do have merchandise available for purchase in our small Gift & Bookstore, including natural history books, sanctuary logo clothing, educational toys and more. Learn more

Do you sell food?

No, but there are many good places to eat nearby, including restaurants on the Santa Cruz Wharf and along Pacific Avenue and Beach Street.

exploration center exhibit panelWhere can we eat our picnic lunch?

Although we do not provide an on-site picnic area for guests, there are a number of great picnic sites within walking distance from the Center, including Depot Park, the main beach across the street, Neary Lagoon Park and Lighthouse Field State Beach. Please note that no food or drink may be consumed inside the Center.

Wireless Internet

Wireless Internet is not available.

Do you offer guided tours or educational programs?

Not yet, but trained volunteer docents are stationed at exhibits to answer questions and help you learn more. Check back in 2013 for tours and new educational program offerings.

Do I need a reservation if I bring a group to visit?

Yes! Learn more

Can I have a special event here?

Yes. The Center is ideal for groups up to 150. If you are interested in learning more about our private event options, please visit Plan an Event.

Can I become a Center volunteer?

Yes. Trained docents interpret exhibits to the public, conduct guided tours, assist in daily operations and participate in events and programs. Learn more.

tide pool exhibitExhibits

Do you have live marine animals?

No, the Seymour Center, just a few miles away and the Monterey Bay Aquarium both display live marine animals. Instead of duplicating efforts, the Center's exhibits focus on large themes such as marine sanctuary ecosystems, geology, research and monitoring and protecting and sustaining the world's ocean.

What types of exhibits are there?

The Center has state-of-the-art, multi-media and interactive displays and exhibits. For a preview, check the Exhibits section.

History and Operation of the Center

When did the Center open?

The Center opened July 23, 2012.

Why was the Center built?

Just as many national parks have visitor centers, Monterey Bay is one of the nation's largest sanctuaries, yet many visitors are not aware of its existence or don't have an opportunity to learn about it. The purpose of the Center is provide a facility to expand public awareness and enjoyment of one of the most spectacular marine areas in the world, and to encourage a better understanding of how to responsibly enjoy and protect the ocean.

green building illustrationWho built the Center?

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries collaborated with the City of Santa Cruz and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in a public-private partnership to build the 12,600 sq. ft., $17 million Sanctuary Exploration Center.

Who designed the Center?

Thomas Hacker Architects Inc. designed the Center's architecturally distinct building to meet the standards for a LEED Gold Certification, a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. Learn more.

Who financed the Center's construction? NOAA's Office of National Marine

Sanctuaries provided design and construction funds, the city offered the ocean-view property and helped manage the construction activities, and the foundation conducted a Capital Campaign to pay for exhibits.

Who owns and pays for the operation of the Center?

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, a federal government agency, operates the Center. In addition to government support, we rely on contributions from individuals and businesses, foundation grants, special events and our gift and bookstore.