For my first adventure, I decided to start small and stay local, while also crossing something off my to-do list that has been on it since I first moved to Los Angeles nine years ago. I chose to do a sea life-themed day in Long Beach, which is less than an hour drive away from me, and I centered the day around my long-time desire to check out the Aquarium of the Pacific, the largest aquarium in Southern California and the fourth most attended aquarium in the nation.
I figured the best way to start a day centered around enjoying sea life would be to actually spend some time out on the water, so I started the adventure off with a whale watching tour with Harbor Breeze cruises, which you can package with your aquarium ticket for $46. The boat leaves from Rainbow Harbor at a dock only a few hundred yards from the entrance to the aquarium.
The line for the boat was silly long, even though I got there 30 minutes before departure! I don’t blame people…it was a beautiful Saturday. By the time I got onto the boat there were very few seats outside left, but I managed to find a corner on the top back of the boat next to a few families that were fussing with their small children.
As soon as I dropped my bag down, a precocious little girl with colorful sunglasses, rosy cheeks and blond pigtails came right up to me and introduced herself. “I’m Riley,” she said. “Want to be my friend?” I laughed and told her sure, and she plopped down next to me, grabbed a hold of my arm, took a deep breath and said, “Alright, lets go see some whales.”
Before long we were off, navigating out of Long Beach Harbor, past the Queen Mary and several huge container ships. Riley immediately started talking, and for nearly the rest of the 2.5 hour tour, she held on to my arm and chatted away about every topic under the sun.
She told me about her impending half birthday when she was going to reach the “mature” age of six and a half, how she was in the Long Beach Christmas Boat Parade this last year, and about the trip she took to Hawaii when she was a baby that she didn’t remember at all except that she is pretty sure she saw a pink dolphin from the plane. I heard all about her life, and I even asked her if she had a boyfriend. She answered brilliantly: “Boys are goobers.” I told her that doesn’t really change when they grow up.
It is so funny to me that on my first adventure in my new quest to experience the world like a child again, I met a child and got a chance to see the world through her eyes. As she chatted away, making really astute observations for a 6-year-old (“I bet that big boat is full of toys from China. My mom says all my toys come from China on big boats!”) the two of us kept scanning the water in hopes of seeing some whales, which didn’t happen for at least an hour.
Finally, when Riley had started to get antsy and my stomach started to feel like I’d had one too many Jack and Cokes, the boat slowed down and the captain told us he’d spotted something up ahead. Riley immediately jumped up and stretched up on her tip toes to make herself as tall as she could, trying to see over the heads of the people in front of us.
Everyone on the boat was silent as we waited for whatever it was the captain saw to surface again. Riley was fretting because she was so small and couldn’t see over the grown ups in front of her. She kept tugging on my sleeve, asking me if I could see anything. I remember how frustrating that used to be when I was a kid! It’s that feeling that you’re going to miss something. It’s the same feeling that would keep me awake at night – I would fight falling asleep because I feared something exciting would happen while I slept!
When two grey whales finally surfaced, everyone on the boat let out dramatic oooos and ahhhs, which made Riley even more angry. Since I was struggling to see anything as well with everyone in front of us holding up their cameras, I helped her make her way to the side railing where we could lean over and see them.
When Riley finally saw the first whale spout water out of its blowhole, her eyes lit up like a pin ball machine in the bonus round, and her grin was so big her sunglasses kept falling off of her face. We watched the two whales for 45 minutes or so, getting into the rhythm of their dive cycles: surfacing to breath and spout some water from their blowholes, hanging out for about 30 seconds, and then (hopefully) giving us a nice wave goodbye with their flukes before they dove down for another couple of minutes.
Except for the initial chaos as everyone craned their necks, aimed their cameras, and pushed their way to the front of the boat, watching the whales was surprisingly peaceful. We all quietly floated there waiting for them to surface, eyes glued to the horizon to catch a glimpse of them in the few seconds they’d be visible. The silence was almost hypnotizing. I don’t know if it was just the Drammamine I’d taken earlier, but I started to feel really sleepy!
At some point, I lost Riley and her family when I went down to the galley to buy some water, so when the boat started to head back, I found a nice spot on a padded bench in the stadium seating on the front of the boat and curled up. I dozed off for a few minutes, waking up to the sound of the engines churning – we’d spotted a buoy ahead that had a group of sea lions sun bathing on it and we started to round it.
The captain explained that male sea lions were very territorial, and pointed out the one large male that lay sleeping on the edge of the buoy, surrounded about 6 females. If another male tried to hop up on it, he’d immediately try to fight him off, baring his teeth and snapping at the intruder, wrestling him out of his precious lounging space. If the other guy won, it would become his buoy until the next stronger male challenger knocked him off. Meanwhile, the females could come and go as they pleased.
I wished Riley had been there so I could tell her that this was a perfect illustration of her theory that boys are goobers.
When we finally pulled back into the harbor, I was feeling a bit woozy from the fresh sea air and the sometimes not-so-gentle rocking of the boat, but my friend Chris was waiting for me at the docks to join me for the second part of my adventure – a visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific – so I grabbed a coffee and got fired up, reminding myself that I better get used to living at full speed if I’m going to keep doing an adventure a week!
As I stepped off the boat, I looked around for Riley but I couldn’t spot her. I hope she knows that she was my favorite part of the whole tour!
Come back tomorrow for Part 2: The Aquarium of the Pacific!