Scripps icon opens up for another season of full-moon walks
by Kendra Hartmann
Published - 07/11/12 - 03:40 PM | 108841 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Many San Diegans have lived near Scripps Pier their entire lives, visiting the beach in the shadow of the iconic structure but never being given the chance to know what it would be like to set foot on the research station. Fortunately for them, this season marks the start of a special time: the beginning of Birch Aquarium’s guide-led full-moon pier walks.

Typically closed to the public and serving as a research platform for scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier has long been a thing of mystery for visitors and residents.

During the summer months, however, the aquarium opens up the pier to small groups of guests for two nights each month, giving the public a chance to explore the 1,090-foot concrete pier and all its scientific splendor.

Guests of Birch’s full-moon pier walks will be led by an aquarium naturalist, first around SIO’s campus — which includes a brief historical account of how the school came to be on prime La Jolla real estate — and then out on to the pier. Not only is the experience extraordinary for its rarity, it’s educational, too. Watch the sun set on La Jolla from the end of the pier — an uncommon sight for those not involved in Scripps research — and then watch a Birch biologist dissect a squid.

Providing more than merely a good view of the coastline, the walks lead guests of all ages through the groundbreaking exploration that takes place on the pier, from marine biology to climate-change research. Even children will find something to be fascinated by during the two-hour tour, provided they are sufficiently awed by getting up-close-and-personal with some denizens of the deep (and even the little ones who aren’t will get to make a beaded key chain with a shark’s tooth, so everyone leaves happy).

Originally built of wood in 1915 (its first incarnation burned down, after which a more sturdy concrete structure was built just next to the original in 1988), the pier was open to the public until after World War II, when a gate was put up and the pier was reserved solely for scientific research.

In addition to being ground zero for a variety of research projects for students, scientists and aquarium staff, the pier is also the home of the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP), the hub of all coastal weather-related activity.

Funded by a cooperative agreement between the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Boating and Waterways, CDIP collects data from about 50 wave instrumentations located throughout the coast. The data is then provided to the National Weather Service and is available on CDIP’s website (

Information like coastal conditions, real-time wave information and forecasts is collected, and gets used by anyone from commercial and recreational fishermen to surfers and coastal engineers.

Even if the full moon doesn’t make an appearance (as was the case for the July 2 event), the chance to walk nearly 1,100 feet out to sea and look back upon a rarely seen view of La Jolla is worth the $25 ticket price. And for those who are lucky enough to have their tour illuminated by a full moon, so much the better.

Birch Aquarium’s full moon pier walks take place on Aug. 1 and 2 from 7 to 9:30 p.m., Aug. 30 and 31 and Sept. 29 and 30 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The tour is appropriate for ages 9 and up, and minors must be accompanied by an adult. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (858) 534-7336 or at
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