A little over a decade ago, in the early 2000s, this city used to have a thriving aquatic pets community. Within ten miles, we had four stores that sold tropical fish (we had a more diverse population of stores, overall).
But then we had the “bubble burst”. The economy faltered. Pets became a “luxury” item, especially pet fish. The tropical fish stores (not to be confused with just “fish store” – which could be a place where you buy fish to eat) disappeared, one by one, as their owners struggled to get customers through the door, then when the economy improved, struggled to pay the every-increasing rents in one of the most expensive places to lease a storefront.
The last local pet store that disappeared was Seascapes on Castro Street.
There are some fish stores that survived the transition, or that popped up in the tropical fish dead zone. One of those stores opened in 2014.
I’m going to comment on the Freshwater aspect of the store, since I have more experience with that than Reef/Saltwater.
Neptune Aquatics is a very good place to get supplies (like CSM+B or Potassium or Phosphates for the EI method), both basic and hard-to-find fish (like otocinclus or Tiger King plecos), and basic and hard-to-find plants (like anubius petite nana or hygrophila corymbosa).
The fish are kept in tanks with only one or two compatible species, with adequate but simple shelters. The water looks clear. The fish are plump and active. I have rarely seen a dead fish in any of the freshwater tanks, and I’ve never seen any ich or “under observation” tanks.
My favorite part of their fish selection is the large variety of micro rasboras (my tank is only 20 gallons; I’d rather have several micro fish than just a few large fish). You won’t find Exclamation Point or Pygmy Spotted Rasboras in your local Petco. They also have a wonderful selection of corydoras catfish, but keep an eye on their Facebook page if you’re looking for a specific species. I’ve been there when a shipment has come in and a couple of regulars bought entire populations of a specific fish.
Their plant selection won’t be as dense and varied as a store that caters to only freshwater fish or Planted Tank enthusiasts, like Aqua Forest in San Francisco, but they have a good representation of the basics that won’t leave beginners frustrated.
There are plenty of anubius and crypts for low-light tanks, lots of stem plants for background fillers, and usually several uncommon oddballs that make good focal points. The plants are healthy. Some are even tissue-cultures, floating in isolated little pods on top of the tanks. (The pro is that these are less likely to have hijacking parasites or snails, the con is that they require a longer adjustment period and may be prone to wilting in the home tank.)
The service is my least favorite part of the store. If you’re *very* lucky, there will be a customer who has some experience with Planted Tanks or specific species hanging out at the store. Most are delighted to help narrow down a choice or trouble-shoot a problem.
In the several times I’ve been to Neptune Aquatics, most of the help seemed inexperienced with the plants and had to ask one of the senior staff for advice. Or, they had…questionable fish-netting techniques (some fish have barbed faces or spined fins and it’s better to herd them into a specimen container than tangle them up in a net). If you’re going to Neptune for a freshwater purchase or to buy plants, I suggest reading up on what you’re looking for, and if possible, consulting a hobbyist (SFBAAPS members are very experienced, knowledgable, and friendly! That link is to their forum, which might not be too active, but I’ve had luck contacting members via Instagram and Twitter).
The prices are very reasonable on the fish and plants, considering how difficult some of them would be to acquire otherwise.
In the supply section, the prices are also reasonable — usually just one or two dollars more than if you ordered something through Amazon. The dry ferts for EI come in small bags. If you need larger amounts, it might be more economical for you to purchase them through an online supplier. But the small bags suit me in terms of cost and space to store them at home.
Family friendliness: This is NOT the place to bring a stroller! The aisles are cramped with expensive glass or acrylic equipment. I’ve brought my 5yo here on several visits, but only when there’s two of us adults so we can take turns examining possible purchases while the other keeps an eye on the kid. It’s not like a zoo or aquarium where delicate animals and complex machines are secured. The reef sumps are all at floor level, and the reef tanks are all open-top, with some corals within reach of curious fingers.
There aren’t any cafes, playground areas, or other kid-friendlier stores within walking distance. If you need to take kids under 10, I suggest having another adult with you.
Here are some photos of their reef display tanks.
(Don’t be misled by the “nano” displays. The smaller the tank, the more vigilant you have to be with maintenance. Nano tanks are best undertaken by hobbyists with adequate experience.)
Family friendly: For kids 10 and over. Strollers are difficult to use within the narrow spaces. Lots of delicate animals and complex equipment at child-level.
Hang out in my mental playground! My short are stories available on Amazon, Fresh Cuts: Breaking Volume.
The next edition of Fresh Cuts will come out in a few weeks, featuring more of my stories, including the next novelette in my “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” serial.