If you ask my kids their most favorite place to go at the shore, they’ll tell you it’s Jenkinson’s Aquarium on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk. As soon as they spot the giant penguin waving to us from the boards, they know it’s their cue to see the sea life inside, and we can’t resist their pleas. In the summer, it’s the perfect afternoon sun break attraction, and in the winter, it’s a great way to visit the beach while escaping the cold. But beyond the fun, this top aquarium in New Jersey has marine exhibits designed to emphasize the importance of wildlife conservation and features Atlantic sharks, Pacific sharks, coral reefs, penguins, and seals. For spring 2021, most of the interactive activities like the TouchTank are suspended, but there’s still plenty to see at this two-story aquarium to keep your little ones busy all afternoon. And before you leave the shore, don’t forget to stop at one of the best beach playgrounds in New Jersey.
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Upon entering Jenkinson’s Aquarium, we are greeted by colorful fish swimming through the coral reefs, also known as the rainforest of the sea. At the Pacific Ocean kelp forest habitat, my kids always stop to watch the turtles swim around and take a rest on the rocks in their pond. But a must-do is the shark tank spanning two levels—it’s where you can view the tank underwater downstairs and see the top of the 58,000-gallon tank when you travel upstairs to the Shark Balcony. The tank is filled with nurse sharks, sand sharks, spotted wobbegongs, and even a sand tiger shark. Fun Fact: The sharks are fed three times a week to keep them full and the other fish safe. If you are lucky, you might be able to catch their feeding time.
Waddle with the penguins
The African penguins are always a big hit with our family. We love to watch these beautiful creates waddle, swim, and it’s always a good day when we get to see them eat their lunch. If you look closely, the penguins are tagged with various beads as a way for the staff to tell them apart. The penguins also have distinct names such as Betty, Captain Jack, Checkers, and Dr. Bunsen. And kids won’t be able to resist the adopt-a-penguin program: You will receive a plush animal, an adoption certificate, a photo, two aquarium passes, and a special invite for Parent’s Night. You can also adopt seals, sharks, sloths, and turtles too. You can also see what the penguins are up to when you get home by taking a peek at the penguin cam.
Dive with the seals
My kids are always excited to see the seals, especially since Jenkinson’s offers superb viewing spaces underwater and at the top of their pool and platform (located on the second floor). Don’t miss Luseal, the blind seal, and her wild seal cousins play in the seal tank. Luseal (aka Lucy) is a local celebrity, and she has lived at Jenkinson’s Aquarium since 1991. It’s unclear what happened, but she was either attacked by a shark or hit by a boat when she was a pup. Even though Lucy is blind, her other senses have helped her navigate through her surroundings. If you are there at the right time, you might even be able to see Lucy and her cousins perform some tricks during their feeding.
Talk to the parrots at Jenks Aquarium
At the colorful Rainforest, we love watching the adorable monkeys and talkative parrots at play. My kids can observe the monkeys all afternoon because they are so unpredictable. One minute they are napping, and suddenly, they are at the window, ready to play. The parrots are loud but so much fun to talk to, and the kids are fascinated by the way they imitate our sounds. Don’t miss the rainforest meter in the exhibit—100% of the meter’s proceeds support the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, which helps with conservation efforts.
Interact with Wally, the two-toed sloth
Even though Wally, the two-toed sloth, is currently not out on exhibit at this time, he is still worth mentioning as COVID-19 restrictions are constantly changing. Wally is a 10-pound laid-back sloth, and he can sleep up to 18 hours a day and loves to eat squash before falling asleep again. My kids thought he was the coolest part of the aquarium when we saw him pre-pandemic. You can see him when you sign up to participate in The Scoop on Sloths program or reserve a Sloth Encounter.
Explore the Pine Barrens
My kids are curious about the environment around us, and the Pine Barren New Jersey ecosystem is a fun exhibit to learn all about the area. The terrapins are their favorite at this NJ exhibit. And we also loved to know that Jenkinson’s has partnered with the American Littoral Society to raise oysters and MATES to help baby diamondback terrapins gain strength to return to the bay at a later date.
The Aquarium is only part of Jenkinson’s
Once you step outside the aquarium, you will land into the gift shop full of animal books, beach clothing, sea life toys, and stuffed animals, coastal decor, and more. Head outdoors on the mile-long Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk that runs from the Manasquan Inlet (a great spot to watch the boats go in and out) to New Jersey Avenue, where you can test your skills at the boardwalk games or arcade or take a ride on the train at Jenkinson’s Amusement Park. Guzzle a large soda, find the perfect candy apple at the Sweet Shop, or enjoy some boardwalk fries as you stroll down the coastline. Challenge your family members to a game of mini-golf or take a swing in the batting cages. Or, if you packed your beach gear, enjoy the rest of the afternoon watching the waves as your littles dig in the sand. Insider tip: Jenkinson’s hosts their annual Easter Sale April 2-4 (online and on-site); and it’s full of great discounts you can use all spring and summer long.
Here’s what to know about Jenkinson’s Aquarium before you go
As of now, Jenkinson’s Aquarium is operating at a limited capacity, so it’s best to plan when you want to go. You can purchase tickets at Guest Services, and most likely, there’s going to be a line when they open at 10AM, so get there early if you want to go right away. Otherwise, they are open until 5PM every day, so you can call ahead to gauge the crowds. And like everywhere during COVID, masks are required for entry, and there’s a max of 8 people traveling in a group. Jenkinson’s Aquarium has increased its frequency of deep, daily cleaning and sanitization, and those touch experiences, scheduled animal feeding times and keeper chats have been suspended at this time. Since the COVID rules are constantly changing, it’s best to call ahead or check the website for any changes.
300 Ocean Avenue
Point Pleasant Beach