The 23 Best Aquariums in the U.S.

From octopus caves to whale watching

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best aquariums in the us. a young boy stands in front of a giant fish tank.
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Vacationing with kids can be stressful, but the right family-friendly attractions can make all the difference between the trip you talk about for years afterward and the one that brings you to your “never again!” breaking point. (Let’s be honest, with little ones or even teens, a museum visit often ends in snooze-fest or temper tantrum territory.) A trip to the aquarium, like a day at one of these awesome zoos, is a guaranteed win. Interesting underwater creatures, helpful guides and interactive exhibits mean that everyone will learn something—and have a blast, too. Ready to dive in? Swim, err scroll, on for the 23 best aquariums in the U.S. that kids of all ages will love.


best aquariums in the us: georgia aquarium. shark swims by in giant tank
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1. Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta, GA) 

  • Special Features: animal encounters, shark cage dive, sleepovers  
  • Admission: from $43/person over age 2  
  • Hours: Monday to Wednesday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Atlanta

The largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium invites visitors to come face-to-face with sharks, rays, dolphins, penguins, sea lions, seals and beluga whales! This iconic Atlanta institution also promises a special treat for toddlers—the chance to wade in a pool with slippery sea creatures, enjoy story time, do crafts and hang with costumed characters.

best aquariums in the us: national aquarium baltimore, maryland
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2. National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD) 

  • Special Features: half-priced Friday nights, Amazon River Forest, tropical rain forest  
  • Admission: $50/adult; $40/youth (5 to 20); kids free 
  • Hours: Sunday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Baltimore  

With nearly 20,000 critters, the National Aquarium has plenty to enthrall animal lovers young and old. There's an Indo-Pacific reef habitat filled with blacktip reef sharks and colorful fish. While the ring-shaped, 225-gallon Shark Alley exhibit lets visitors get up close and personal with toothy predators. (Just maybe don’t watch Jaws before you go.)

best aquariums in the us monterey bay aquarium
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3. Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, CA) 

  • Special Features: ocean-view decks, giant octopus, behind-the-scenes tours 
  • Admission: $60/adult, $50/youth (13 to 17). $45/kid (5 to 12) 
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Monterey

Located on historic Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an education and conservation superstar that’s home to more than 500 different species of marine life. At the highly interactive Splash Zone, kids can play on a waterbed, discover an enchanted kelp forest and watch penguins being fed. (Parents will most certainly have a blast, too.)

best aquariums in the us new england aquarium
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4. New England Aquarium (Boston, MA) 

  • Special Features: whale watching, Simons Theatre, Marine Mammal Center  
  • Admission: $34/adult, $25/child (3 to 11) 
  • Hours: Fall/Winter: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Spring/Summer: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Boston

Planning a family trip to Beantown? Beeline it to the New England Aquarium. This giant marine center on Boston Harbor offers interactive exhibits (the shark and ray touch tank is a must-see), a giant IMAX 3D theater and whale-watching excursions through a partnership with Boston Harbor City Cruises that depart from Central Wharf.

best aquariums in the us: oregon coast aquarium
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5. Oregon Coast Aquarium (Newport, OR) 

  • Special Features: octopus cave, seabird aviary, aquarium diving
  • Admission: $26/adult, $20/youth (13 to 17), $16/child (3 to 12)
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Newport

What’s there to do at the Oregon Coast Aquarium? Well, that depends on how many hours you have free. Step back to prehistoric times in Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, watch sea lions and harbor seals twirl through water, try to spot the elusive giant Pacific octopus and learn about the annual migrations of coho salmon.

caribbean reef exhibit shedd aquarium in chicago
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6. Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, IL) 

  • Special Features: Beluga whale encounters, Caribbean reef, Abbott Oceanarium 
  • Admission: $20 for Chicago residents, pricing varies for non-residents—check the website 
  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Chicago

The highlight of the Shedd Aquarium is hands-down the vast Great Lakes exhibit, which showcases some of the region's most notorious native species. It also gives visitors the opportunity to touch sturgeon—scale-free fish that date back to the days of the dinosaurs—and see toothy sea lamprey (Google it if you dare) up close.

best aquariums in the us seattle aquarium
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7. Seattle Aquarium (Seattle, WA) 

  • Special Features: Puget Sound fish exhibit, underwater dome, naturalist-led beach walks  
  • Admission: from $30/adult, $21/child (4 to 12) 
  • Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Seattle

With an ever-important emphasis on conservation and mission to improve the health of Puget Sound, the Seattle Aquarium is a family outing you can feel good about. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s brimming with local marine creatures, from tidal pool inhabitants such as hermit crabs and deep-dwelling splitnose rockfish to birds that nest on the rocky shores of the Pacific Northwest.

best aquariums in the us audubon aquarium of the americas
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8. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (New Orleans, LA) 

  • Special Features: Gulf of Mexico exhibit, Caribbean reef, Louisiana wildlife  
  • Admission: Varies, see website for more info 
  • Hours: Undergoing renovations, reopening summer 2023. More info here 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which sits just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans, shows off its Southern roots with fascinating marine life exhibits from the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. There’s even a Geaux fish display that highlights Louisiana’s fishing industry. This Big Easy favorite also protects endangered species such as African penguins and rare white alligators.

best aquariums mystic aquarium
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9. Mystic Aquarium (Mystic, CT) 

  • Special Features: Norther Fur Seals, Undersea Explorer VR, Marsh Trek 
  • Admission: from $32/adult, $24/child (3 to 13) 
  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Mystic

Mystic Aquarium boasts the largest outdoor beluga habitat in the United States. How cool does BeluYOGA at the Arctic Coast underwater viewing area sound? If stretching beside beautiful whales isn’t enough of a selling point, why not dive deeper into the world of northern fur seals and Steller sea lions or let kids safely interact with non-threatening sharks at the touch habitat?

best aquariums in the us columbus zoo and aquarium
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10. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (Powell, OH) 

  • Special Features: Zoombezi Bay, sea lion facility tour, theme park attractions 
  • Admission: $30/adult, $26/child (3 to 9) 
  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., see website for seasonal hours 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Powell

One of the best zoos in the United States, the sprawling Columbus Zoo and Aquarium doesn’t just have lots of cute land critters. The various bodies of water at the Shores & Aquarium houses an amazing assortment of sea life. Meet friendly manatees, take the kiddos to touch sea urchins and peep torpedo-shaped zebra sharks.

best aquariums florida aquarium
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11. The Florida Aquarium (Tampa, FL) 

  • Special Features: Wetlands of Florida, dolphin cruise, underwater walking tour 
  • Admission: from $32/adult, $27/child  
  • Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Tampa

The Florida Aquarium is the perfect place for under-the-sea exploration. It’s jam-packed with aquatic animals from marine ecosystems around the Sunshine State and beyond. Conservation initiatives focus on local sea turtles, coral populations and sharks. Want to see majestic aquatic mammals in the wild? Hop aboard the Bay Spirit II for a 75-minute dolphin cruise led by naturalist guides.

best aquariums ny aquarium
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12. New York Aquarium (Brooklyn, NY)  

  • Special Features: Aquatheater, Hudson Canyon’s Edge, wild encounters 
  • Admission: from $30/adult, $26/child (3 to 12) 
  • Hours: varies by season, check website for more info 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Brooklyn

Hopefully, your Big Apple itinerary has room for one more attraction, because the New York Aquarium is not to be missed. Expect exciting shows at the Aquatheater, rides, sea otter feedings, wild encounters and the fan-favorite Spineless exhibit, which spotlights beautifully bizarre invertebrates such as moon jellies, zombie worms and the highly intelligent Pacific octopus.

best aquariums in the us tennessee aquarium
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13. Tennessee Aquarium (Chattanooga, TN) 

  • Special Features: Appalachian Cove Forest, Delta Country, IMAX theater  
  • Admission: from $40/adult, $30/youth (5 to 17) 
  • Hours: Sunday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Chattanooga

Did you know that North American river otters use special flaps to stay submerged underwater for up to eight minutes in a single breath? How about the unique way sand tiger sharks reproduce (hint: it involves intrauterine cannibalism)? These are the sort of deeply fascinating facts you’ll learn on a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga.

best aquariums in the us maui ocean center

14. Maui Ocean Center (Wailuku, HI) 

  • Special Features: Aquari-OM yoga classes, shark dive, snorkeling with marine biologist  
  • Admission: $40/adult, $27/child (4 to 12) 
  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Wailuku

There are so many great things to do in Hawaii. If you dig the mysteries of the deep and marine conservation, the Maui Ocean Center deserves a spot on that list. It’s a fantastic place to glimpse endemic Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles. The Ocean Aloha program teaches parents and kids the importance of caring for the ecosystem below the tides.

best aquariums in the us ripleys aquarium of the smokies
Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

15. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (Gatlinburg, TN) 

  • Special Features: glass-bottom boat, penguin painting, Ripley’s attractions 
  • Admission: From $40/adult, $25/youth (6 to 11), $10/child (2 to 5) 
  • Hours: Monday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Gatlinburg

You might not anticipate the charming Tennessee town of Gatlinburg would have a truly sea-tacular aquatic center, but does! Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies gives guests a front-row seat to the underwater world with glass-bottomed boat adventures, plus numerous fish-filled galleries. Youngsters will go especially wild for the cleverly named Touch a Ray Bay and the penguin painting experience.

best aquariums in the us: alaska sealife center in seward, AL
Alaska SeaLife Center

16. Alaska SeaLife Center (Seward, AK) 

  • Special Features: Ice Seal adventure, sea lion feeding, behind-the-scenes animal care 
  • Admission: varies, see website for more info 
  • Hours: vary by season, see website for more info 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Seward

Spending the family vacation in the great outdoors of Alaska? Seward, a town at the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, is home to the Alaska SeaLife Center. Here, everyone can get acquainted with plenty of native species. Say hello to the Stellar Sea Lion, Horned Puffin, Wolf Eel and Giant Pacific Octopus, for starters. Visitors can feed an octopus, learn about the local animals and get a behind-the-scenes look at how staff care for them. 

best aquariums in the us seaworld san diego
SeaWorld San Diego

17. SeaWorld (San Diego, CA) 

  • Special Features: swim with dolphins, Turtle Reef Aquarium tours, theme park attractions 
  • Admission: from $70 
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in San Diego

SeaWorld is an aquarium on steroids. From the signature shows to animal interactions, the whole family will find something to enjoy. Future marine biologists might take an aquarium tour and feed the sea turtles, or swim with dolphins and killer whales. And for those who are just tagging along, the park’s many rides and attractions will keep them occupied for a full day of fun.  

best aquariums in the us texas state aquarium
Texas State Aquarium

18. Texas State Aquarium (Corpus Christi, TX) 

  • Special Features: splash park, Aquatic Nursery, scavenger hunt
  • Admission: $40/adult, $30/youth (3 to 12) 
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Corpus Christi

The Texas State Aquarium is exactly where you want to be on a sweltering Southern summer day. It abounds with engaging activities for kids, including a scavenger hunt that even youngsters can participate in. Once everyone has visited all the animals (don’t miss the baby jellyfish and seahorses), cool off at the splash park or catch a film at the 4-D theater.  

best aquariums in the us newport aquarium
Newport Aquarium

19. Newport Aquarium (Newport, KY) 

  • Special Features: Gator Alley, Shark Bridge, Frog Bog  

Skip across the Ohio River from Cincinnati and you’ll find yourself in Newport, Kentucky, home of the Newport Aquarium. Kids will enjoy teetering on the suspended rope bridge dangling over a tank of sharks, designing their own seahorses and getting tactile in the tide pools. With many hands-on activities and exhibits, from art stations to scavenger hunts, even the youngest members of the family will have fun exploring marine life.  

best aquariums in the us adventure aquarium
Adventure Aquarium

20. Adventure Aquarium (Camden, NJ) 

  • Special Features: F.I.S.H. Night accommodates those with sensory sensitivities, Shark in the Dark overnight visits, Hippo Haven  
  • Admission: varies, see website for more info 
  • Hours: varies, see website for more info 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Camden

Voted USA Today’s top aquarium in the Northeast, the Adventure Aquarium offers up plenty of attractions for kids and adults alike. Muster up some courage and weave your way through Pirates Passage, or stroll through the mesmerizing, 40-foot shark tunnel. Older kids will appreciate the new VR experience, which allows you to “dive” into the ocean. On select evenings, the aquarium hosts F.I.S.H. Night (Family Inclusive Sensory Hours) to accommodate those with sensory needs.  

best aquariums in the us downtown aquarium houston
Downtown Aquarium

21. Downtown Aquarium (Houston, TX) 

  • Special Features: Texas Bayou, Sunken Temple, theme park attractions 
  • Admission: $25/adult, $23/child (under 42’’) 
  • Hours: Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Friday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in Houston

Downtown Aquarium is a mega-entertainment complex with theme park attractions and over 300 species swimming in 500,000 gallons of water. Book an animal meet-and-greet or dive right into the Texas Bayou. The exhibit showcases the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast, including alligators, turtles and bullfrogs. Those feeling especially adventurous can weave their way through the Sunken Temple as they search for El Dorado. Lionfish, tarantula and puffer fish sightings guaranteed.  

best aquariums in the us: birch aquarium san diego
Birch Aquarium

22. Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (La Jolla, CA) 

  • Special Features: guided tide pool walks, behind-the-scenes tours, sunset pier walks 
  • Admission: $25/adult, $20/child (3 to 17) 
  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; July to August 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. 
  • Where to Stay: Explore hotels in La Jolla

For serious marine enthusiasts, a visit to Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, California, is a must. Here, visitors can discover over 60 habitats with species found in the Pacific Northwest all the way to Mexico. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium, take a guided tide pool walk or tour the normally private pier at sunset. Get ready to dissect a squid, catch some plankton and more.  

best aquariums in the us: two kids look into a giant tank at the aquarium of the pacific in long beach, ca
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23. Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, CA)

  • Special Features: harbor tour, whale watching, Lorikeet forest
  • Admission: $45/adult, $30/child (3 to 11)
  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., see website for special hours
  • Where to Stay: Explore Hotels in Long Beach

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, caters to kids and grown ups alike. Everyone can enjoy a harbor tour, whale watching and sea life cruises. The aquarium also regularly hosts special events and programming, from homeschool days where kids can dive into marine activities, to First Wednesdays, where adults can enjoy music, cocktails and lectures. (Psst: Take advantage of a bundle pass with the Los Angeles Zoo for a fun-packed family day.)

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