SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND CA vs Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Do you have limited time and can’t decide which San Diego aquarium is more appealing? We’ll help you compare LEGOLAND’s SEA LIFE Aquarium and Birch Aquarium
Jess Tucker
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
SEA LIFE Aquarium vs Birch Aquarium
SEA LIFE / Birch Aquarium
Cost Comparison
See More & Save
Location Comparison
Things to Do
Comparing Sizes
Comparing Tours
Our Choice

Highlights

SEA LIFE Aquarium vs Birch Aquarium
Cost
Exhibits
SEA LIFE Aquarium vs Birch Aquarium
Cost
Exhibits
Final Verdict

Overview of SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND CA vs Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium Kids Shark Photo BoothMoon Jellyfish at Birch Aquarium

San Diego’s coastal neighborhoods offer families many ways to see marine life, from whale watching tours in the San Diego Bay to the La Jolla Tide Pools.

There are also a few aquariums, with the two most notable being SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND CA and Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

Sea Life Aquarium Sea Horse
Sea Life Aquarium Sea Horse

Scoping Out the Aquariums

SEA LIFE’s tanks are filled with fish, sharks, and other marine animals. There is a focus on interactivity, with touch tanks and live feedings.

Birch Aquarium emphasizes the importance of conservation efforts and houses a few rare and endangered species you won’t find anywhere else in Southern California.

Birch Aquarium Sea Horse Exhibit
Birch Aquarium Sea Horse Exhibit

Need Help Deciding?

While much of the marine life between the two aquariums is similar, there are a few experiences you can only get at either SEA LIFE or Birch Aquarium.

Not sure where to start? Use our handy guide to check out the differences between these two aquariums and decide which one is best for your family.

Local Tips
Interactive Entertainment or In-Depth Education?
SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND is known for its family-friendly entertainment and Birch Aquarium at Scripps offers a more educational and research-oriented experience.

Cost Comparison Including Parking

From admission to parking, let’s compare these two attractions.

Sea Life Aquarium at Legoland California
Sea Life Aquarium at Legoland California

Admission to SEA LIFE

Admission to SEA LIFE alone is $25 for everyone 3 and older, but you can save when you bundle with LEGOLAND park admission.

Pricing for multi-park passes varies throughout the year, so check the website for ticket information on your preferred date. Typically, a 1-Day SEA LIFE Hopper pass which allows for access to both LEGOLAND and SEA LIFE is about $10 more than standard LEGOLAND admission.

Admission is free for kids 2 and under.

SEA LIFE shares a parking lot with LEGOLAND. Cars can park all day for $30, with oversized vehicles and preferred parking for $35.

Save With a Go City San Diego Pass

If you’re planning on visiting other top attractions in San Diego during your visit, the cheapest tickets for either aquarium can be found through the Go City San Diego pass.

Not only can you pick up a discount with code GVSD5OFF for greater savings, but you can also enjoy reduced admission to attractions like the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego, plus lower costs on beach gear rentals!

Birch Aquarium Museum Entrance
Birch Aquarium Museum Entrance

Costs at Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Here are the admission costs for Birch Aquarium:

  • Adult: $24.95
  • Seniors and Students with ID: $22.95
  • Ages 3-17: $19.95

Kids 2 and under can enter for free.

Free parking is available at the Birch Aquarium’s private lot for up to 3 hours. For oversized vehicles like campers and RVs, there is street parking on La Jolla Shores Drive.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle at Birch Aquarium
Loggerhead Sea Turtle at Birch Aquarium

The More Budget-Friendly Option: Birch Aquarium at Scripps

For my money and yours, the Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the better value, especially considering the free parking.

Save on the Go City Pass!
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Meet over 5,000 fish & sea animals at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. The All-Inclusive Go City Pass includes access to marine exhibits, interactive displays and hands-on experiences, like touching a shark!
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Local Tips
Who can use a Go City San Diego pass?

Adults and children (ages 3 to 12) can use the Go City San Diego pass – All-Inclusive or Explorer pass – to visit the area’s top attractions and activities.

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Location Comparison between the Attractions

Depending on where you’re staying, location can really matter.

Warm Water Jetty Beach
Warm Water Jetty Beach

Attractions Near SEA LIFE Aquarium

SEA LIFE Aquarium in Carlsbad is part of LEGOLAND California, as is LEGOLAND Water Park. Save with the Go City San Diego pass when you visit these and other family-friendly attractions like the Safari Park.

Carlsbad also has Pacific Ocean access. Beaches like Carlsbad City Beach have good swimming conditions, while spots like Terramar Beach and Warm Water Jetty Beach are popular with surfers.

To keep the fun going, consider staying at the LEGOLAND California Resort or LEGOLAND Castle Hotel. If you’d rather stay off the property, check out our article Best Hotels near LEGOLAND California to find other options nearby.

Kayakers, Snorkelers and Swimmers in La Jolla
Kayakers, Snorkelers and Swimmers in La Jolla

What’s Around the Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium is affiliated with the Scripps Institute of Technology, which is part of UC San Diego. Both the aquarium and the university are in the seaside neighborhood of La Jolla.

You can even enjoy some incredible views of the ocean from just outside the aquarium, or from its outdoor plazas and the Blue Beach area.

La Jolla is best known for its beaches, many of which have notable surfing scenes. Rent a surfboard with a Go City San Diego pass to ride the waves at spots like Scripps and Blacks Beach.

You can also go kayaking through the seven sea caves at La Jolla Caves Beach, or scuba dive at La Jolla Underwater Park.

La Jolla Shores and Scripps from Birch Aquarium
La Jolla Shores and Scripps from Birch Aquarium

Comparing Locations: Birch Aquarium

With more scenic views and the beaches of La Jolla just a short ride away, the Birch Aquarium is the clear winner in the category of location.

Things you can See or Do at Each Attraction

When you’re considering two attractions, of course you’ll want to think about what you can see and do at each.

Fer Looking into the Huge Aquarium at Sea Life Aquarium Legoland Ca
Fer Looking into the Huge Aquarium at Sea Life Aquarium Legoland Ca

Marine Mania at SEA LIFE

SEA LIFE houses over 350 different species, many of which are fish from around the globe. Species on display include:

  • Seahorses
  • Clownfish
  • Sharks
  • Octopus
  • Stingrays
  • Jellyfish

Interactive Experiences

The SEA LIFE Aquarium shares its demographic with nearby LEGOLAND, so many of its exhibits are interactive to appeal to younger kids.

Kids can play and explore at a Reptile Encounter and the touch tanks at the Interactive Rockpool Experience and Tidepool All-Stars. Seaside Storytime has an age-appropriate story and activity for young children.

Educational Opportunities

Aquariums are a great spot to take young kids, as there’s a lot to learn! Both aquariums have informative signage up near the tanks to share information about the habitats and lifestyles of the marine animals inside.

At SEA LIFE, special programs like the Radical Rays live talk and the various topics covered in their Science Demonstrations bring education to the forefront.

Jellyfish at Birch Aquarium
Jellyfish at Birch Aquarium

Exploring the Birch Aquarium’s Exhibits

Birch Aquarium’s most unique exhibit is its family of Little Blue Penguins. It’s one of the only spots to see them in Southern California.

Other animals you can see when you visit include:

  • Tropical fish and coral reefs
  • Leopard sharks
  • Giant pacific octopus
  • Seahorses
  • Sea turtles
  • Seadragons

Interactive Experiences

Birch Aquarium also has some hands-on exhibits, like the Expedition at Sea: R/V Sally Ride Gallery, which shows what life is like on a marine research ship. Another is at the Preuss Tide Pool Plaza, which has a touch tank with sea urchins, anemones, and sea stars.

Educational Opportunities

Birch Aquarium’s conservation efforts lend themselves well to family-friendly educational programs like the Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins exhibit and the South Plaza, which features info on rays and sharks.

Its connections to Scripps Institute of Oceanography, one of the country’s largest oceanography graduate schools, ensures that education remains a focus throughout all of its exhibits. There’s a heavy focus on research and the conservation of marine species that you can feel while you walk around.

Leopard Shark at Birch Aquarium
Leopard Shark at Birch Aquarium

Exceptional Exhibits: Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Not only does the Birch Aquarium have more unique and reclusive species on display, but also the aquarium’s dedication to conservation makes it one of my favorite attractions.

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Comparing the Attraction Sizes

We’ve covered a lot, but size of the attraction matters when you’re planning how long to stay.

Entrance to Sea Life Aquarium at Legoland Ca
Entrance to Sea Life Aquarium at Legoland Ca

How Long Does it Take to Visit SEA LIFE

SEA LIFE is more of a straight shot through the aquarium compared to Birch Aquarium.

You can see most of what it has to offer within about 1.5-2 hours, plus additional time if you plan on taking a tour or watching a feeding.

SEA LIFE does not have any restaurants inside the aquarium, but there are many places to eat and take a break in the surrounding LEGOLAND theme park.

Birch Aquarium Tide Pools
Birch Aquarium Tide Pools

Getting Around Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium is a bit larger than SEA LIFE Aquarium and has a more open layout, plus more exhibits. As a result, it will take you a bit longer to walk around if you want to see everything, but should still fit comfortably into a 2-2.5-hour visit.

In Birch Aquarium, you can grab lunch from the on-site cafe, or bring lunch with you. There are a few spots to sit and eat, like the Blue Beach area.

Kids Playground at Birch Aquarium
Kids Playground at Birch Aquarium

The Larger Aquarium: Birch Aquarium at Scripps

There's a bit more to see at the Birch Aquarium with a more packed layout, so it's our choice in this comparison.

Which Fits Your Adventure?

Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Discounts Available
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SEA LIFE Aquarium Hopper Ticket
SEA LIFE Aquarium Hopper Ticket
$121 per person
Learn More

Comparing Different Tours You Can Take

Tours are a big part of both attractions.

Live Show at Sea Life Aquarium Legoland Ca
Live Show at Sea Life Aquarium Legoland Ca

Special Experiences at SEA LIFE

SEA LIFE does not offer guided tours, but it does have many special experiences that run at different times each day. These experiences offer a closer look at certain marine species, or showcase part of the aquarium that usually isn’t accessible to the public.

Some of the experiences currently offered at SEA LIFE include the Ocean Habitat Feed, a live feeding for sharks and rays, and the Dive Discovery show, where kids can watch a diver inside one of the aquarium’s tanks.

Close up of the Birch Aquarium Tide Pool
Close up of the Birch Aquarium Tide Pool

Behind-the-Scenes Tours at Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium offers backstage tours at different exhibits, showing how the aquarium’s caretakers maintain the tanks and keep the residents happy and healthy.

Different animals are highlighted throughout the year, so check the website to see which behind-the-scenes tours are currently running.

Where to Spring for Backstage Experiences: SEA LIFE

Though it doesn't have more traditional tours, I like the hands-on experiences at SEA LIFE, especially for families.

Tips for Visiting One vs the Other Attraction

Here are a few things to know when planning a trip to either aquarium.

Sea Life Aquarium Store at Legoland Ca
Sea Life Aquarium Store at Legoland Ca

SEA LIFE Insider Tips

  • Unlike the rest of LEGOLAND, SEA LIFE is an indoor aquarium. It’s open year-round.
  • If you’re planning a day in LEGOLAND, it’s a good idea to visit the aquarium in the afternoon, when the park tends to be the most crowded.
  • SEA LIFE has restrictions against strollers inside the aquarium, and visitors are not allowed to bring in meals or snacks.

Kids Play Science Area at Birch Aquarium
Kids Play Science Area at Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium Things to Know

  • The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is open all year. It is an indoor attraction with a few outdoor areas that can be skipped if it’s raining.
  • The aquarium is less busy on weekdays and is most crowded around mid-afternoon.
  • Birch Aquarium has more relaxed rules for guests, allowing both strollers and outside food, and inviting guests to enjoy a picnic lunch by the Blue Beach exhibit.

Which Aquarium Is More Enjoyable Overall?

Two Sea Horses at Birch Aquarium
Two Sea Horses at Birch Aquarium

The SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND CA is a solid pick for families who are planning on visiting the LEGOLAND California park.

But looking at the aquariums alone, the Birch Aquarium at Scripps is my preferred choice as the more impressive and enjoyable of the two.

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Which One is Best for You?
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Discounts Available
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SEA LIFE Aquarium Hopper Ticket
SEA LIFE Aquarium Hopper Ticket
$121 per person
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