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Backstage at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The world-acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium has been perched at the edge of Cannery Row since it opened in October, 1984, but each visit seems like a new one. More than 35,000 creatures representing 550 species fill the aquarium’s 34 major galleries. With nearly 200 exhibits, the aquarium is a showcase for the habitats and sea life of one of the world’s richest marine regions.

For me, any visit to the aquarium includes some quality time with the bat rays. You can usually find me among a bunch of kids, leaning over the bay ray petting pool to touch the smooth underwater flyers. It never matters how much my sleeves are rolled up—my clothes always get wet.

The Aquarium Adventures programs include an opportunity to get behind the scenes and see food preparation for aquarium residents, view some of the huge tanks from above and get a chance to feed exhibit animals. Offered for ages 8 and up, the two-hour Feeding Frenzy tour takes place before the Monterey Bay Aquarium opens on most Thursdays and Sundays. Prices are $65 per person (not including aquarium admission), or $45 for aquarium members.

My favorite part of the tour? Feeding the bat rays. With pieces of squid and shrimp between our fingers, we were instructed to hold our hands flat, like feeding a horse. That way, we’d avoid the rays’ flat teeth. Then, stretching our arms into the pool, we waited for the bat rays to come to breakfast. One at a time, rays hovered above my hand, sucking the treats into their mouths. If the food hadn’t run out, I would have stayed there for hours.

Just me, the kids and the bat rays, as usual.