Skip to main content
Ecotarium - San Francisco - rendering

The Bay Area's first Ecotarium

Story by
posted March 25, 2019

San Francisco has seen the future, and it’s iridescent blue.

The future is an extensive, impressive plan to replace the city’s Aquarium of the Bay with Ecotarium, a unique educational attraction that will focus on preservation, conservation and the sustainability of the San Francisco Bay.

The new structure’s unique color and shape draw from the iridescence of fish scales, ocean geometry, rippling waves and the shellmounds of the Ohlone people who first populated the Bay Area.

It’s a bold addition to the waterfront, one that George Jacob, president and CEO of the aquarium, recognizes will raise some eyebrows. And he expects it will take two years to gain city approval of the plan.

“This building has to break the current regulatory mold for it to make a statement. It cannot be hidden,” Jacob says. “Everyone fixates on the building, but if there’s buy-in for the content, we’re set. It has to be a purposeful building.”

The purpose will be to encourage global conversations about climate and the oceans, and to inspire local action to protect the San Francisco Bay and its ecosystems.

“We want to share the impact of climate change in a way that’s interesting and understandable, whether you’re 8 or 80,” says Paul Nakamoto, the organization’s director of strategic promotions. “We see 30,000 school kids a year, and 75 percent of our content is related to climate change. This spring we’ll start making changes—and testing them—to reflect even more climate-change content.”

Enlisting the support of Silicon Valley technology giants, Jacob plans to create immersive experiences that pull double duty.

We want to share the impact of climate change in a way that’s interesting and understandable, whether you’re 8 or 80. —Paul Nakamoto

“We will walk the line between entertainment and education,” Jacob says, noting that interactive exhibits will impart biology, ecology and 12,000 years of history. “Environmental issues—with statistics and warnings—can be overwhelming. We will connect the dots between the changing temperatures, rainfall and climate, and turn it into a call to action.”

Aquarium leaders hope not only to increase visitation to their attraction, but also to enhance the entire city.

“We want to help tourism; you’ll have to come to San Francisco to see the Ecotarium,” Jacob says. “And the multiplier effect will be times seven. If we gross $30 million, the area will see $210 million.”

But there’s that fine line, Jacob reminds us.

“Some 80 percent of the people walking down the Embarcadero are tourists—from 130 countries—and we know they aren’t here for hard science and complicated charts. So our delivery platform must combine storytelling with theatrical immersion—and fun.”

San Francisco residents—and thousands of visitors—who go to the Ecotarium will see the Bay Area’s past, and they’ll also look into the future of immersive education and entertainment attractions.

“You won’t feel the power of technology, but this will be a giant leap in tech-induced experiences,” Jacob promises. “It’ll be an enhanced aquarium encounter that no one else has attempted.”

For information about visiting Aquarium of the Bay, contact Cathy Tolentino, director of sales and marketing, or go to

Top photo: The Ecotarium, which will replace the current Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco as early as 2022, will help redefine the modern museum experience.
Photo by Aquarium of the Bay