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Ocean Institute – Dana Point, CA

July 2, 2013

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My next ‘Toddler Friendly OC Activity‘ goes to Dana Point’s Ocean Institute. One of our favorite neighbors recommended this coastal gem, and I’m so glad we decided to take my 21 month old for a visit! We were warned that he may be just a little too young to find it interesting, but it turned out to be a great experience for him. Elijah is a real hands-on observer so most of the exhibits absolutely fascinated him.


As we entered the grounds I was surprised by a brief surge of déjà vu. I was reminded of an outdoor marine biology focused high school I attended for a period of time at Pine Trees/OTEC on the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, back in 2000. Doing schoolwork under a makeshift shelter made of four steel poles and a tarp was a memorable experience indeed. I’ll have to take E there on our next Big Island visit.

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Okay, back on subject… First we stopped at the starfish tank as we began our self-guided tour to each of the exhibits; a five building layout.Image 7 Elijah is obsessed with starfish in his books and loves starfish stickers, so getting up close and touching them was as exhilarating experience. He also loved the fish tank with a bubble in the bottom. He could stand up into the sphere to get an inside view of the tank. Image 16After a quick rinse of his hands, we made our way to the tank full of skates, rays and small sharks. E stood enamored pointing and talking to himself for a good 3 minutes or so. This was a good chunk of time for such a small person.

Image 2Next, we had a quick look in the whale skeleton room. Once outside of that building, E made a friend with Ocean Institute volunteer Cassy who escorted him over to the jellyfish exhibit. E didn’t want to let go of her hand!

We ended up spending about an hour at the institute with absolutely no fussiness! This is hugely monumental.

The Tall Ships Festival on September 7-8 2013 is highly recommended by a friend of ours, so hopefully we’ll be making an appearance for that. When E reaches the minimum age of 4, we’ll be taking him on one of their whale watching cruises as well. photoSince he was still in good spirits at time of departure we paid a quick visit to the gift shop and bought some fun sea themed toys and a couple of sun hats for E. There are lots of cute little treasures so its worth a look before leaving.


It was such a beautiful day that we decided to follow the dirt road behind the institute. The path led us to a beautiful little beach perfect for exploring tide pools. The tide was much too high for that during our visit so we’ll be back again another time to pester some crabs and sea cucumbers… With our eyes of course.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2013 8:57 am

    Very interesting and I think not only the kids were enjoying but also you ! 🙂

  2. July 2, 2013 9:42 am

    Your fun day blog … looks and sounds like such a great adventure 😉 love the photos !

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