Seeing marine life in its natural habitat can be truly spectacular. But that’s usually scary, not to mention expensive. So luckily, aquariums are the next best thing as they offer a complete view of the vast number of incredible and mysterious creatures that call the ocean home.
Plus, many aquariums still provide hands-on experiences for those seeking that extra thrill. Defining the “BEST” aquarium is a little tricky as each one offers unique viewing opportunities, so try and see them ALL! We found the Best 10 Aquariums In America, and we’re here to tell you why you should visit each one.
The Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, IL)
Don’t be fooled by the name, the Shedd Aquarium is anything but an attraction in a Shedd! It’s one of America’s most visited aquariums and one of the largest in terms of water volume. This incredible facility houses some unique and beautiful exhibits. The vast majority of the space is given to the Oceanarium, where over 3 million Gallons of water house the facility’s biggest creatures.
Here Beluga Whales, Dolphins, Sea Lions, Penguins, and Sea Otters can play and put on shows. The Wild Reef features Sharks and houses a massive array of reef fish and species such as Sawfish, Turtles, and rays. It is a remarkable facility, and being right in the heart of a major city is entirely wonderful.
Despite the stunning classical architecture, it’s hard to believe the building houses such a vast array of sensational marine and aquatic life from the outside!
Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, CA)
If you’re looking for the whole experience of the Pacific coast, then the Monterey Bay Aquarium is where you should be. Huddled right next to the waves, this impressive aquarium features a massive three-story kelp forest and a wave tunnel that simulates the force of the ocean’s waves crashing. Watch one of the four daily otter feedings to see these popular animals roll through the water and play with toys.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has recently opened a new exhibit called “Viva Baja! Life on the Edge” that focuses on Baja, California’s coastline, and coral reefs. It’s full of exotic and colorful creatures from both land and sea where the edge of the sand meets the surf. You should also be aware that your visit is helpful to the environment, as the aquarium operates as a nonprofit that funds several conservation and research initiatives.
Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta, GA)
Not only is it a top aquarium in the US, but the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is also the largest in our country, with an astounding 10 million gallons. One of the most giant display tanks in the entire world, this stunning enclosure houses the majestic Whale Sharks. It’s the only aquarium in the US to display these phenomenal creatures.
General admission will get you access to the aquarium’s seven galleries with over 500 species of sea animals from around the world, while experiences like the Sleepover Under the Sea and Behind the Seas Tour make your trip even more memorable. The Behemoth Tank also houses another fan favorite, Manta Rays, along with Sharks, Turtles, Stingrays, Schools of Trevally, Sawfish, Wobbegongs, and a whole army of varied tropical and reef fish.
Multiple viewing windows allow you to view different perspectives, but the Giant tunnel and huge theatre window, one of the world’s largest, take your breath away.
Tennessee Aquarium (Chattanooga, TN)
Known as one of the best freshwater aquariums in the US, this aquarium features exciting attractions for adults and kids. Their freshwater exhibit, “River Journey,” showcases biodiversity that follows the fauna from the river’s journey in the mountains to the sea. It even features the most extensive collection of turtle species in the country.
The aquarium is located on the magnificent banks of the Tennessee River. For those who prefer the big screen, the IMAX 3D theatre hosts various unique nature-themed shows. However, one of the most incredible activities this aquarium has to offer is the Backstage Pass Tour that allows its guests to get up close with the animals in an interactive 45-min tour of what it’s like to be one of the aquarium’s caretakers.
Newport Aquarium (Newport, KY)
This family-friendly aquarium features many sharks, from smaller Cat Sharks to the fearsome Sand Tiger and Blacktip Reef Shark. Even a rope bridge hangs over the tank and lets you test your bravery as you cross the open-top shark-infested water. The aquarium is proud of its Shark Rays. It’s actually the only aquarium in the country to feature these unusual creatures and is heavily involved in the breeding and conservation of sharks.
There are many small and fascinating exhibits featuring Sea Dragons, Giant Pacific Octopus, Stingrays, Japanese Spider Crabs, Arapimne, and Guitar Fish. Alligator Alley features a multitude of crocodilian residents, such as Alligators, including Albinos, Caiman, and Crocodiles. The Dangerous Creatures Exhibit is a favorite and features all sorts of fierce beasts such as Snakes, Electric Eels, Gil Monsters, Phirana Stonefish, and lots more.
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (New Orleans, LA)
On the edge of the Mighty Mississippi, you will find the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. This New Orleans icon is significantly different from most aquariums, and it’s a new adventure. The Huge tank is an open ocean exhibit based around a deepwater oil rig. It has a variety of fish you don’t see often, such as large alligators and tarpons, along with some more usual Sharks and Rays.
The Caribbean Reef display is also a spectacular display featuring a walkthrough tunnel. While the Amazon Exhibit has Anacondas, Macaws, Phirana, and Freshwater Stingrays. There are even Sea Otters and penguins on display.
While you would assume it would just be tanks filled with polluted muddy water, the different variety of life that has survived the human colonization of the river is quite remarkable! Cat Fish, Paddlefish, Sturgeon, and even an Albino Alligator are present here.
New England Aquarium (Boston, MA)
The New England Aquarium is a reasonably compact facility centered around its 200,000 gallon Giant Ocean Tank in Boston. This place has been a feature of Boston’s restored waterfront for many decades and is loved by the enthusiastic Bostonites. This architecture of the Aquarium leads to a multi-level exhibition space centered around its monster tank.
Open at the top and with a spiral walkway linking the four levels, this Giant Ocean Tank features a replica Carenean Cora reef, populated with Green Sea Turtles, Moray Eels, Baracuda, Bonnetheah Sharks, Sand Tiger Sharks Stingrays, and an overabundance of reef fish. Other displays feature, Sea lions, Goliath Grouper, Sea Dragons, Sharks, and rays. There is an Amazon Exhibit with Phirana Aripinia and Electric eels and the giant Indo Pacific Coral Reef tanks filled with stunning coral and vibrant reef fish.
Finally, from April to October, you can take a cruise out to the Stellwagon bank to see the area’s overflowing Whale population, such as Humpbacks, Finback Minke and Pilot Whales. Make sure to pack up your binoculars for this one!
National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD)
This aquarium’s location by the waterfront, among the museum ships and Submarines, makes this one of the top attractions in Maryland. On piers 3 and 4 of the old harbor, the building is modern and grand, and the exhibits feature beautiful creatures.
Pier 3 is set on multiple levels and has diverse attractions. The upper levels include tropical rainforests, where tamarins and sloths climb through the branches. While Blacktip Reef has several sharks, including Black-tips and Zebras, along with a massive 500lb Rescued Sea Turtle. A Second Tank houses the Aquariums Big Guys! You can feel what it’s like to be circled by sharks as Nurse and Tiger Sharks, Sandbar Stars, Rays, and Sawfish swim around the ring-shaped tank.
Then head over to Pier 4, connected by a Walkway. Here you will find the aquarium’s 6 Dolphins. However, their days at the aquarium are numbered, as the Aquarium’s Dolphins are all captive-bred. A return to the wild would mean a death sentence, so The National Aquarium is setting up a Sanctuary for them.
Maui Ocean Center (Wailuku, HI)
If you’re thinking about a Hawaiian trip, there’s no better place to get a full view of the amazing marine life surrounding the Hawaiian islands. The Maui Ocean Center sets itself apart through its fantastic display of tropical fish and mixing the exhibits with the history and culture of the Polynesian civilization native to the island’s people.
They do an excellent job of showing how connected the Hawaiians are with the sea and all of its creatures. The trip should also prove fun for the kids as they offer plenty of interactive displays, walkthrough tunnels, a free scavenger hunt, and a 3D Sphere Theater. The Maui Ocean Center also provides a behind-the-scenes tour, and this one is pretty special because you get to help feed the fish and turtles.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (Powell, OH)
This two-for-one event makes this one of the best aquariums in America. It offers entertaining encounters where you can see both an enormous 88,000-gallon coral reef and a Tasmanian devil, all in one park.
This incredible “oversized fishbowl” boasts many amazing critters, including Bonnethead sharks and Humboldt penguins. But their West Indian manatees are genuinely exceptional to see. It’s an interactive exhibit surrounded by a thick mangrove forest and allows views from above and under the water.
Along with the viewings, you also get the chance to get up close and personal with the critters in their “Discovery Reef Tide Pool.” You can stroke the spines of a sea urchin and feel the bumps on a sea star. It’s a goosebump-worthy experience and definitely worth your trip.
Our country is home to many aquariums. With a massive variety of animals on display, no place is the same, and just about every type of habitat is represented somewhere. While few of the US Aquariums are worth traveling for all by themselves, some genuinely spectacular facilities make the trip to the city worth it, even if that’s all you’re going for.
Others are more part of a city experience and are definitely worth checking out when in town. From jellyfish lazily floating by to a mouthful of teeth making a sudden appearance as a shark suddenly turns, these places offer both relaxation and thrills.
Even though there are thousands of fish in the sea, there’s only one way to see them without heading for the ocean!
Most people tend to associate aquariums with summer, which is fine, but what are you planning to do this fall? Are vineyards on your travel bucket list?