There are over 150 US-based aquariums, There are over 150 US-based aquariums, so picking the best can be a bit overwhelming. Spend an enjoyable day with the whole family at one of these top aquariums in the United States! Families looking for an animal adventure can find impressive aquariums all over the country, from Georgia to California. Even better, you can find destinations that provide interesting family programs and inspire children! But how do you know which aquarium is best for your child? Whether you want to stay close to home or append a kid-friendly attraction to your travel itinerary, you have plenty of options! To help you decide where to go, we’ve organized each aquarium by region. Continue reading to learn about the best aquariums in the United States, ideal for your next family vacation.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940; 831-648-4800
A day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-do when visiting Monterey. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been named one of the world’s top aquariums, as well as one of the best places for kids! There are so many strange and wonderful species that you would never see because they live under the sea. You can spend the entire day discovering the underwater world brought to life within the interior of this stunning research facility/family attraction.
The Aquarium has over 200 exhibits size from tiny single tanks to an astounding 1.2 million gallon Open Ocean Tank with a 90ft window.
We had an absolutely fantastic time in Monterey, and the aquarium was one of the highlights. Sure, it didn’t quite compare to having 20+ Blue Whales encircle our boat, but it was still a fantastic experience. The Pacific Coast Highway is the classic US road trip, and anyone taking it should stop in Monterey. And it would be a heinous crime not to visit the Aquarium while you’re here.
225 Baker St, Atlanta, GA 30313-1809; 404-581-4000
Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium is commonly considered as being one of the best aquariums in the United States. It is the world’s largest aquarium, with a capacity of 10,000,000 gallons of water. This is also one of the busiest, with large crowds gathering every day. The Aquarium features a variety of exhibits and claims to have more marine life than just about any other aquarium around the globe.
Half of the 10 million gallons in the aquarium’s tanks are dedicated to Ocean Voyager, the facility’s crown jewel and most incredible exhibit. The exhibit features a wide range of amazing animals, including bowmouth guitarfish (shark rays), black-tip reef sharks, Pacific grouper, green sea turtles, and longtooth sawfish. It took me a while to even notice them.
St. Louis Aquarium
201 S 18th St, St. Louis, MO 63103; 314-923-3900
The new St. Louis Aquarium, as well as the Mirror Maze, Ropes Course, Mini Golf, and Ferris Wheel, are all located at Union Station. The aquarium was created two years ago as part of the city’s effort to revitalize the old train station.
The 120,000-square-foot, two-story aquarium and complex has something for everyone. Aside from the Aquarium, families can visit the St. Louis Wheel, an 18-hole mini golf course, a classic Carousel, a mirror maze, ropes courses (for little ones and older kids), and fun restaurants.
The stingrays and the doctor fish were two of our favorite interactive exhibits. A large, open tank of stingrays allowed viewers to sticking their hands in and “pet” the creatures. They appeared to be quite content with all of the interest! The red garra, also known as the doctor fish, is used to remove dead skin cells in pedicures and other skin treatments. This was available to visitors at the St. Louis Aquarium. When I put my hand in the tub, the fish latched on like leeches! I had about 50 of them in my hand at any given time. It was a strange sensation, but it was really cool.
One Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402; 800-262-0695
View 10,000 marine animals at Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium, take a riverboat ride down the Tennessee River Gorge, and watch IMAX 3D films. Walk through the Ocean Journey area, which is surrounded by sharks, fish, and stingrays.
The Ocean Journey exhibit includes penguins, sharks, butterflies, and giant sea turtles, as well as a touch-and-feel tank where visitors can gently pet stingrays. The Boneless Beauties exhibit is a favorite – spend hours watching the jellyfish and octopus, and it’s peaceful and dark there.
An invertebrate gallery with jellyfish, cuttlefish, giant octopuses, and spider crabs is also a highlight. Keep an eye out for the “river journey” showcase, that follows the path of a solitary raindrop from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. The aquarium also provides self-guided tours of three living forest exhibits, which are teeming with wildlife and can be seen from above and below the water’s surface.
Texas State Aquarium
2710 N Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi, TX 78402-1097; 361-881-1200
The Texas State Aquarium is divided into three levels: the first contains the exhibits, gift shop, and dolphin Bay, the second contains the Weston’s Library Family Learning Center, the first contains the exhibits, gift shop, and dolphin Bay, and the ground floor contains additional exhibits, a splash park, the Shoreline Grill, and a boardwalk into Corpus Christi Bay.
Don’t miss the Observation Deck, which offers a breathtaking view of the Bay, the nearby USS Lexington, downtown Corpus Christi, and the marina just across the ship channel. The ship channel, which is constantly busy with large ships and barges passing directly in front of the aquarium.
Dolphins can be seen playing in Dolphin Bay, stingrays can be fed at Stingray Lagoon, you can touch a shark at Saving Sharks, and you can dig for fossils in Owens Paleo Park. These are just a few of the things you can see and do at the Texas State Aquarium.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is among Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s crown jewel attractions, housing over 1000 species of aquatic life in its enormous 85,000 square foot facility. The aquarium is truly cutting-edge, housing thousands of ocean creatures such as sharks, eels, stingrays, sea horses, and even penguins.
Have you ever wanted to pet a stingray? Then you’ve come to the right place! Stingrays pass right by in easy reach for a touch in the shallow “Touch a Ray” lagoon. There is even a glass bottom boat ride that brings you even closer to some of the world’s most dangerous sea creatures. The aquarium is well-known for its penguins. The aquarium’s one-of-a-kind penguin environment allows you to see them both above and below the water. The aquarium also has encounters where you can get up close and personal with the penguins! Do you want to own a piece of artwork created by a penguin?
2300 Expedition Way, Scripps Institute, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037; 858-534-3474
The Birch Aquarium is a great place for kids and families to learn about ocean habitats and sea life. The interactive exhibits and over 60 fish and invertebrate habitats highlight the research work of the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Many visitors skip Birch Aquarium in favor of the glitzier SeaWorld San Diego. There are, however, numerous reasons to visit this smaller, educational sea life attraction. Read on to find out why you should take the family to Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.
On a recent trip to San Diego, our family went to the USS Midway Museum, Inflatable World, and ate at a few restaurants. However, on our final day in the city, we had about a half-day to do something fun before returning to Los Angeles. We happened upon The Birch Aquarium, which proved to be an excellent fit for our limited time in the morning.
1200 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605; 312-939-2438
As one of Chicago’s most popular attractions, the Shedd Aquarium’s historic architectural significance has earned it the designation of National Historic Landmark and a must-see attraction. The experience is well worth the wait, but there are several tips and tricks you can use to cut down on wait time and use those hours for more aquatic adventure.
This Chicago landmark houses more than 32,000 aquatic animals. Kids can discover exhibits such as the Amazon River and Jellies at one of three family-friendly museums located on the Museum Campus along Lake Michigan. The Stingray Touch, the 4D Experience, and the Shedd’s aquatic show featuring beluga whales, sea lions, and dolphins are among the special experiences available. Overnight adventures sleepovers are also available for families.
501 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21202
The National Aquarium, which opened its doors in 1981, is home to over 17,000 specimens and receives over 1 million visitors each year. It’s easy to see why this is one of Maryland’s most popular tourist destinations after spending the day walking through the various exhibits. Baltimore has a plethora of learning opportunities, and the National Aquarium is one of the best reasons to visit.
Watching the Dolphin Talk, which displays six Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins while teaching visitors about these unique creatures, is one of the National Aquarium’s “Must Do” experiences.
The National Aquarium is among the best aquariums in the country and a must-see attraction. However, it is also expensive and frequently crowded. While the aquarium is well worth the admission price, the crowds can be exasperating if you arrive without a plan. A frequent visitor shares her tips for avoiding crowds and getting the most out of a 2-hour visit.
With so many wonderful aquariums to choose from across the United States, the question isn’t so much whether or not an aquarium is worth a visit as it is which one to start with and how quickly you can get to the rest!