Planning to visit the Sunshine state and looking for things to do? Maybe even thinking about making a move and trying to get an idea of what Florida has to offer?
With over 8,000 miles of coastline, it’s little wonder that Florida has more aquariums than any other state. Between unique wetland ecosystems and tropical ocean habitats, this state certainly has a lot to show off in terms of aquatic wildlife.
The 15 Best Aquariums in Florida in 2022
If you are planning a visit to the Sunshine State, or if you’re a current resident looking for something new to do, it’s well worth your while to check out Florida’s many aquariums.
Florida is one of the top vacation destinations in the United States, and when it comes to tourist attractions and things to do and see, the state doesn’t disappoint. So while planning out your day or getaway, try paying a visit to some of the best aquariums in Florida.
Aquariums are a great recreational pastime. They’re interesting for any age, and many offer encounters with the in-house aquatic critters.
And in Florida, aquariums are often easy to find, too. Almost every metropolitan area in the state has one. We’ve found the 15 best aquariums in Florida that you won’t want to miss in 2022
The Florida Aquarium is the first result you’ll get after googling “best aquariums in Florida,” and it’s easy to see why. Located in the heart of downtown Tampa directly on the inner shore of Tampa Bay, the Florida Aquarium is the largest in the state of Florida.
Focused on raising awareness for Florida’s fragile ecosystems, this aquarium also features many opportunities to get up-close and personal with the wildlife. Guests can lay hands on moon jellies, stingrays, and invertebrates.
Visitors can explore the aquarium’s Florida wetlands exhibit and take a tour through the underwater sea exhibits. Due to its massive size, the Florida Aquarium can be an all-day excursion, but that’s no big deal.
This aquarium features an on-site cafeteria, a playground, and a splash pad for the kids. It also offers a great view of Tampa Bay and the incoming cruise ships, making it truly one of the best aquariums in Florida.
For those heading out to the panhandle, take the opportunity to visit this “gulfarium” and see for yourself why it’s one of the best aquariums in Florida.
Located in Fort Walton Beach, the gulfarium is towards the tip of the Florida panhandle, about an hour east of Pensacola.
This aquarium is focused on the aquatic life of the Gulf Coast, and visitors aren’t likely to encounter many non-native Florida species. But that doesn’t at all mean that this aquarium is limited in its educational scope or wildlife opportunities.
In addition to the gulfarium’s general underwater exhibits, guests can upgrade their visit with a variety of animal encounters. Try playing veterinarian to the resident dolphins, cuddling with a penguin, or perhaps just a quick snorkeling trip with the stingrays.
Nestled in the prime vacation destination of Panama City Beach, Gulf World Marine Park is a tourist attraction that makes the list of the best aquariums in Florida.
If you’re looking for a place to learn how to train a dolphin, this aquarium should be on your list (you can also take the easy route and do a dolphin swim).
Visitors can choose from various dolphin-related encounters, but these cetaceans are far from the only stars of the show. Guests can also get hands-on experience with seals, sea lions, stingrays, and penguins.
And in case you’re not into getting up close and personal with the critters, you can enjoy one of the many animal training shows this aquarium offers.
Florida residents are eligible for a $15 discount. Visitors should be aware that this is primarily an outdoor aquarium, so be sure to check the forecast before your visit!
You can find this aquarium in Panacea, Florida, along the state’s Gulf Coast. And while this quiet gem isn’t going to wow you with any of Florida’s big and flashy wildlife, you can still find plenty of aquatic creatures here in one of the best aquariums in Florida.
Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories is a nonprofit dedicated to growing marine creatures for research institutions and laboratories. As such, this aquarium conducts a lot of research on its own concerning endangered ocean species and mariculture (sea-farming).
Visitors can see and touch water dwellers such as seahorses, emerald-eyed spiny boxfish, and electric rays all for a very reasonable admission price.
And be sure to check out the sea urchins and sponges inventory—some of this institution’s invertebrates have been picked up by NASA and sent into space.
A city worth visiting for many reasons, the St. Augustine Aquarium is a must-see when it comes to the best aquariums in Florida.
Guests can encounter an array of invertebrates and stingrays in the touch tanks and enjoy a guided tour from an actual marine biologist. And in case you’re interested in diving down to the ocean habitats, this aquarium also offers snorkeling excursions.
Participants can see reef fish and stingrays and even feed the critters! This aquarium is an outdoor facility, so visitors should plan accordingly.
Another St. Augustine attraction, this aquarium is one of the best aquariums in Florida that you won’t want to miss. The site’s main attraction is its numerous dolphin encounters and educational opportunities, so if dolphins are your thing, Marineland Dolphin Adventure is the place for you.
This site focuses on the friendly bottlenose dolphin, but admission includes a tour of the other sea life living at the aquarium plus presentations and talks on sharks, dolphins, and turtles.
Try doing a dolphin meet and greet, or, if that isn’t enough for you, you can also have a dolphin “push” you around a tank. Still craving more dolphin activity? Try signing up for an introductory how-to in dolphin training.
It’s pretty hard to compete as a tourist attraction when you’re located in the epicenter of America’s entertainment destination, but somehow this one manages to stay afloat.
As such, SEA LIFE earns a spot on the list of best aquariums in Florida. Visitors can check out the 360-degree underwater tunnel exhibit (the only one in the state).
This aquarium also features some unique exhibits from the Indian Ocean, including a zebra shark named Joy. And if you’re looking for more interactive programs, check on the availability of the aquarium’s shark frenzy feeding demo or the interactive dive feeds.
You might even get a chance to help the aquarists prepare the creatures for bedtime—just don’t fall asleep yourself in the process.
If you’re visiting the Tampa Bay area, you have to stop at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. One of the best aquariums in Florida, Clearwater Marine Aquarium is perhaps best known as the rescue site for Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tail that inspired the movie Dolphin Tales.
Guests can explore the movie set while viewing dolphins, otters, sea turtles, sharks, and more. The cool part about this aquarium is that it’s not just for education and entertainment — it also functions as a marine wildlife hospital.
Visitors can get up close and personal with rehabilitating animals through this aquarium’s signature Animal Care experiences. You can sign up to view and learn about the care of dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and more.
Tarpon Springs is a seaside town at the northwestern end of the Tampa Bay region. This smaller aquarium and animal refuge is a family-owned business, and it offers visitors a rare chance to get up close and personal with a unique array of Florida wildlife.
This is an especially good place to visit if you’ve already paid homage to the nearby Florida Aquarium and are looking for a somewhat different take.
Visitors can interact with sharks, the signature Florida Goliath grouper, stingrays, and many native invertebrates. And if you want, you can pair your love of sea creatures with exploring the land-dwellers too.
This site also features native reptiles, including alligators. You can also sign up to see trainers feed the sharks and gators—just don’t get too close to the action.
Some folks might think of SeaWorld as more of an amusement park rather than an aquarium, but it’d still be amiss to not at least mention it on a list of the best aquariums in Florida.
SeaWorld is all about entertainment, but there are plenty of educational opportunities for visitors too. SeaWorld’s aquarium features one of the world’s largest viewing tunnels, and visitors can embark on many different encounters and experiences during their stay.
SeaWorld is also a big attraction because it features several of the more exotic ocean species, such as orcas, walruses, and belugas.
Sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour of the orca tanks, or you can make a stop at the dolphin nursery to see some adorable baby cetaceans. And don’t forget to sign up for an up-close encounter with the resident Arctic sea life or the manatee rehab center.
Founded by the famous marine biologist Eugenie Clark, known as the “Shark Lady,” this Sarasota-based aquarium is all about ocean research and education.
Firm believers that humanity is tasked with being a steward of Earth’s oceans, this nonprofit research center has become a world-class destination for marine researchers. But never fear, there is still much at the Mote for the layperson to enjoy too.
Visitors can explore sharks, manatees, otters, and sea turtles, as well as a variety of aquatic Florida river species. Guests can also sign up for a variety of enhanced encounters and experiences.
Check out doing a behind-the-scenes tour of the Mote or trying your hand at one of the guided kayaking tours—this aquarium even offers nighttime kayaking opportunities!
The Cox Science Center doesn’t just focus on river and sea life—it’s also focused on turning everything science-related into an immersive, interactive experience. Based in the world-class vacation destination of West Palm Beach, the Cox Center brings the sciences to life for all ages.
Guests can learn all about Florida’s various water-based ecosystems in exhibits such as Aquariums of the Atlantic, a 10,000-gallon tank of wonder and native Florida ocean life.
Visitors can also explore the wonder of the Everglades through the Hidden World of the Everglades exhibit and find out more about this unique Florida treasure.
And in case you want to move beyond the water stuff, there are plenty of other things to do that will educate participants about the world around us. From a planetarium and observatory to an educational toddler playground, there’s something here for everyone.
It’s easy to see why the Miami Seaquarium makes the list of best aquariums in Florida. This South Florida attraction takes the word “interaction” to the next level in its space.
General admission gets you stunning views of the underwater sea life locals, such as sharks, sea turtles, and even flamingos (those are above ground).
Guests can take their experience to the next level with one of the many encounter experiences that this aquarium offers. Visitors can interact with nurse sharks and rays in a mangrove forest or cuddle with the resident African penguins.
Or you can brave the water mammals and try swimming with the dolphins or seals. Interested in getting another perspective? Try playing SCUBA diver and doing the seaquarium’s reef encounter (no SCUBA certification needed).
As the name suggests, this aquarium is all about interacting with the unique Florida wildlife. With its fun-filled opportunities, guided tours, and many encounter experiences, this spot has earned a solid place on the list of the best aquariums in Florida.
The list of interactions at this site is pretty impressive, but one that stands out is the coral reef encounter in the aquarium’s 200,000-gallon tanks.
There are multiple ways to get down and see the coral up close, from snorkeling to doing a certified dive. You can also strap on a snorkel and feed sharks if you’re brave enough.
Or, if you want to play it safe, you can stick to swimming with the rays and other, smaller fish. And speaking of smaller fish, you can also stop by the nursery and get up close with the little ones.
This site not only ranks as one of the best aquariums in Florida, but it’s also one of the most popular attractions on Key West itself. It’s an especially great stop for those traveling with children.
The touch tank is complete with starfish, horseshoe crabs, and sea cucumbers and is always a hit with the younger crowd. This aquarium also offers several conservation lectures and tours, plus demos of feeding the sharks.
Guests can also learn about the invasive species that have made Florida their new home, plus get an inside look into the unique ecosystem of the Florida Keys.
This aquarium is also a great bang for your buck — educational presentations are included with admission, plus locals can get an added discount too.
Things to Consider
There are a few things to consider when you’re packing up and planning to spend the day at any one of these best aquariums in Florida. Here are a few things to bear in mind as you and the family are heading out the door.
Since the advent of COVID-19, many zoos and aquariums are taking every needed precaution to protect not only guests but their wildlife hosts as well. Many aquariums in Florida still require masks, especially indoor facilities, so come prepared.
It’s always good to get an idea of how long it takes to stroll through the entire exhibit(s); depending on the size of the aquarium, that can range from 30 minutes to several hours. Many aquariums will have this information on the website, but you can always call and ask too.
You can buy tickets online at almost all of the best aquariums in Florida, and many times you’ll also get a discount for booking ahead.
And speaking of discounts…if you’re a Florida resident, be sure and check for local discounts. Florida attractions tend to be kind to their locals, so even if you don’t see anything listed online, it’s always worth asking.
Be sure to take the time and do an online scroll beforehand to see what sort of amenities the aquarium does—or doesn’t—have. Some aquariums are outdoor attractions, for example, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when you’re planning your day.
Lastly, think about what sort of experience you’re hoping for on your visit. Are you wanting to interact and get up close to the wildlife? Are you the more adventurous type, hoping to maybe swim with a dolphin or shark?
Or maybe you’re just looking for a cool indoor exhibit you can push a stroller through.
Whatever you’re leaning towards, deciding what you want out of your visit beforehand is a good idea. Many of the add-on experiences, such as the animal encounters, require reservations, so plan ahead!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions that come up when folks are searching for the best aquariums in Florida:
What is the number one aquarium in Florida?
This is a matter of opinion, but most folks agree that The Florida Aquarium takes the cake here. As Florida’s largest aquarium, this Tampa-based attraction offers visitors the chance to tour five different animal habitats as well as get some hands-on experience with jellyfish, stingrays, and more.
What is the largest aquarium in Florida?
Florida’s largest aquarium is, appropriately, The Florida Aquarium. Located in downtown Tampa, this aquarium sits on a total of six acres. Its animal hosts include 20,000 specimens and feature large creatures such as sand tiger sharks, alligators, otters, stingrays, and more.
How many aquariums are there in Florida?
According to Wikipedia, there are 21 total aquariums in Florida. But keep in mind that most of the wildlife in Florida is at least partially aquatic, and so you’ll often find that many zoos and wildlife preserves around the state offer an interesting look at underwater critters, both salt and freshwater.
What’s better: The Florida Aquarium or Clearwater Marine Aquarium?
Both aquariums are rated similarly on Google, 4.5 stars versus 4.2 stars in the Florida Aquarium’s favor. The Florida Aquarium is a more traditional display of a fascinating array of sea and river life. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, on the other hand, is a cool place to visit because of its animal rehabilitation work and its large animal encounters, including dolphins.
What is the number one aquarium in the United States?
Generally, either the Georgia Aquarium or the Monterey Bay Aquarium are ranked highest among the nation’s top aquarium destinations. The Georgia Aquarium is America’s largest and hosts a fascinating array of aquatic creatures, including several whale sharks. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to a variety of unique marine habitats including a kelp forest and a deep-sea exhibit.
The Best Aquariums in Florida: A Summary
So which of these best aquariums in Florida is the true number one? Well, that’s all going to depend on what you’re looking for. From exotic ocean life encounters to marine rehabilitation centers, aquariums in Florida have something for every taste.
Florida has an amazing variety of water-related ecosystems, and the local aquariums are a great opportunity to showcase these unique habitats.
Whether it’s learning about the Florida Everglades or helping an injured manatee, the state’s aquariums are truly helping to steward the seas. And there’s only one way to find out which one of these best aquariums in Florida you prefer the best — you’ll just have to plan a visit!