Aquariums give us a unique opportunity to see exotic sea life as well as other creatures that live in lakes and rivers. In addition, visiting aquariums is an excellent opportunity to release stress and immerse yourself in the aquatic world.
To get the most out of your visit, it’s worth narrowing down the candidate destinations to the best aquariums in the US.
The 16 Best Aquariums in the US in 2023
Aquariums are commonly one of the most popular destinations in any city. They provide an opportunity for a unique birthday party, combining education with entertainment, or simply meeting your favorite underwater creatures face to face.
Read on as we delve into the best aquariums in the US and what makes them stand out.
1. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Located in Monterey, California, Monterey Bay Aquarium aims to inspire the conservation of world oceans. This public aquarium is well known for its focus on Monterey Bay marine habitats.
Founded in 1984, the aquarium focuses on conserving sea otters and various extinct bird species. Monterey Bay prides itself as the pioneer of animal husbandry by successfully displaying a great white shark.
The nonprofit aquarium has been awarded multiple awards for its ocean conservation efforts.
Currently, Monterey Bay Aquarium receives at least two million visitors each year. The aquarium boasts 35,000 animals and at least 500 species.You can visit the aquarium and understand what happens on the planet’s waters.
Monterey Bay is unique because of its pulsating jellies and breathtaking scenery. It’ll take approximately 3 hours to walk through Monterey Bay Aquarium.
2. Georgia Aquarium
Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the United States, with over 100,000 creatures and 500 underwater species. It’s the only aquarium in the United States that houses whale sharks.
You can view the whale sharks through large viewing windows. You will also meet sea otters and sea lions in the aquarium. Georgia Aquarium has strict policies as guests aren’t required to carry weapons.
You need to provide your ID when entering the aquarium. Dolphin shows and the Dolphin Celebration program at Georgia Aquarium is free with your general admission ticket. Most of the shows in the aquarium take approximately 30 minutes.
Children under two years don’t need an admission ticket to access the aquarium. In addition, the aquarium offers considerable discounts to seniors, but you must purchase the ticket online.
3. National Aquarium
Established in 1981, the award-winning National Aquarium receives more than 2 million visitors each year. National Aquarium is currently the largest paid tourist destination in Maryland. You can visit the aquarium and see thousands of reptiles and mammals.
People spend around three hours at the National Aquarium. National Aquarium is home to several shark species and sand tigers. The aquarium does not have dolphin shows.
Instead, they allow visitors to view the animals from tanks. Dividers separate the dolphin section in the aquarium so you can’t swim with them. National Aquarium is a can’t miss destination if you desire to see at least 20,000 aquatic animals.
Some tanks in the aquarium have a capacity of two million gallons of water. Visit the east coast aquarium in Baltimore to explore diverse ecosystems and sea creatures. Tour Penguin Coast Exhibit and see more than 50 black-footed penguins.
4. New England Aquarium
New England Aquarium is a premier tourist attraction in Boston. The aquarium has thousands of aquatic animals, including African penguins. You will also find different freshwater species such as salmon and anaconda snakes in New England.
The world gallery boasts of lobsters and octopus. The concave habitat in New England Aquarium showcases different colors of the ocean.
Tour the aquarium and explore Atlantic rays and different shark species. Visitors can find sea jellies exhibits at the Shark and Ray Touch. Key features in the aquarium include ocean tanks and huge barracuda.
5. Shedd Aquarium
Shedd Aquarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Chicago. The ever-evolving aquarium boasts of color-changing fish species. You will have unforgettable encounters with more than 32,500 marine creatures in the aquarium.
The Abott Oceanarium is home to jellyfish and penguins. You can stay in the aquarium for 3 hours to explore the Waters of the World galleries. While you’ll have to pay for the general admission to the aquarium, the community around the aquarium is free.
Food and drinks are allowed in the aquarium, but you must take them to the designated areas. Alternatively, you can take your lunch at Deep Ocean Café. Parking at Shedd Aquarium is free.
The best parking slots in the aquarium are Michigan Avenue and Wabash Avenue. The must-see dolphin show takes about 75 minutes. Ensure to contact the public relations department if you want to bring a camera to the Shedd Aquarium.
6. Ripley Aquarium of the Smokies
The state-of-the-art facilities in Ripley Aquarium attract more than 1 million visitors each year. Visit the aquarium during the off-season, specifically between June and September.
If you visit the aquarium in October, make sure to arrive there before 4 p.m. You need at least two hours to visit every exhibit in Ripley Aquarium. Ripley Aquarium has different sharks like Sand Tiger Shark and Green Moray.
Furthermore, like other aquariums in the US, Ripley Aquarium has rainbow-hued tropical fish and stingrays. Although the authorities allow visitors to come face to face with sawfish and sea turtles, you are prohibited from swimming with sharks at the Ripley aquarium.
Only licensed and certified divers are allowed to dive at Ripley Aquarium. Carry a backpack and t-shirt if you want to dive into the Dangerous Reef.
It’s time to explore the wonders and mysteries of the sea at SeaWorld. The San Diego-based aquarium has amazing touch pools with numerous fish species. The aquarium provides you with camouflaging octopus and up-close animal encounters.
The breathtaking aquarium has coral reef fish and dart frogs. Other unusual treasures in the Explorer’s Reef include sea horses and clownfish. SeaWorld, San Diego, has 20 killer whales.
Visiting SeaWorld allows you to encounter a wide range of ray species, including a manta ray-shaped train. You will have a great learning opportunity with sharks when you visit the 280,000-gallon exhibit.
However, the authority has closed Manta and Kraken for refurbishment. You can take your family to the 200 acres attraction, and they will mingle with flamingos.
8. Mystic Aquarium
Opened on October 7, 1973, Mystic Aquarium is one of two United States facilities with sea lions. Tour Mystic Aquarium and explore the depths of the ocean planet.
The aquarium has a large display where tourists can see Beluga whales, penguins, and jellyfish. Interestingly, you can access Mystic Aquarium free on your birthday. However, you must prove it’s your birthday using a birth certificate or photo ID.
Your friends are also given a minor discount, but they must provide proof of AAA membership. You are also eligible for a free ticket to Mystic Aquarium if you are a RI EBT cardholder.
Other documentation required includes a valid personal identity card and timed tickets. California sea lions show at the aquarium starts at 11:30 every day.
9. Texas State Aquarium
Texas State Aquarium was established on July 6, 1990, to promote environmental conservation around Texas. The underwater creatures in this aquarium are primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico.
Texas State Aquarium seeks to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. Visitors can learn more about bamboo sharks and brine shrimps in the nursery exhibit. The Blue Hole Exhibit in the aquarium has mysterious nurse sharks and several tarpons.
The biosphere, on the other hand, hosts reptiles and flying bats. You can also view reef sharks in the Caribbean Sea exhibit. The undersea wildlife is brought to life before your eyes at Texas State Aquarium.
Students and the military are eligible to considerable discounts to access the aquarium. The aquarium opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. So if you’re in the area, book your slot and meet different marine creatures.
10. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is found along the Mississippi close to the French Quarter. The comprehensive aquarium seeks to preserve underwater species.
It takes 4 hours to tour the Aquarium of the Americas, but it depends on how long you view things. You can take two hours if the aquarium is not crowded. The aquarium can hold 400,000 gallons of water.
The aquarium allows visitors to learn about marine life in the Mississippi River. Most of the marine creatures in this aquarium are found in North and South America.
The Amazon area and Caribbean reef are the most visited exhibits in the Aquarium of the Americas. In the exhibits, you will see catfish, paddlefish, and different types of owls. Sharks and turtles are displayed in the huge Gulf of Mexico exhibit.
11. The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida, is well known for its dedication to wildlife conservation. You don’t need a reservation to visit the Florida Aquarium. However, members should secure their reservations before visiting the aquarium.
Florida Aquarium offers a wide variety of treats, so you don’t have to bring food. Like other top aquariums on this list, Florida Aquarium is home to freshwater animals.
Your kids can enjoy the water adventure zone as you learn about river otters and sea stars. Florida Aquarium hosts several education shows each year. Scuba divers can swim with the fish adventure, provided they are licensed and certified.
12. New York Aquarium
Celebrated for its boardwalk, New York Aquarium is a must-see attraction on Coney Island. You will have an enjoyable experience when you meet the sharks and rays at New York Aquarium.
The aquarium has more than 115 underwater species and several types of sharks. The oldest operating aquarium attracts thousands of visitors each year. The aquarium plays an instrumental role in wildlife conservation and educating people to value marine creatures.
New York Aquarium has electric eels and recently launched sea horses. The aquarium staff will educate you on penguins and colorful tropical fish. Currently, the aquarium is managed by New York Zoological Society.
13. Downtown Aquarium
Downtown Aquarium doubles as an adventurous aquarium and an entertainment complex. The multifunctional tourist destination boasts a Ferris wheel and several aquatic pools.
The largest tank in Downtown Aquarium has a capacity of 200,000 gallons of water. Downtown has eight major exhibits which host at least 200 underwater species. In the Downtown Aquarium, you will learn about underwater creatures mostly found in North America.
The Aquarium Express train will help you tour South Platte River exhibits. Make sure to attend Mystic Mermaids shows when you visit Downtown Aquarium.
14. Seattle Aquarium
The Seattle Aquarium is the ninth largest aquarium in the United States and was opened on May 20, 1977. The short tunnel in the underwater aquarium allows you to view hundreds of underwater creatures in a 360-degree view.
The aquarium has a record 12,000 mammals and fish species. So take your friends and family to Seattle Aquarium to learn about sharks and Skates.
You can also step into the exhibit and meet dolphins and sea otters. Other incredible creatures in Seattle Aquarium include seals and orcas. Moreover, this stunning aquarium has Beluga whales and penguins.
15. Newport Aquarium
Discover thousands of animals and other wonders of the underwater world at Newport Aquarium. The staff at Newport Aquarium allows you to touch sea stars and sharks at Shark Central. Gator Alley is home to Snowball and Snowflake.
In the coral reef, you will meet unicorn fish and rays.
However, Newport Aquarium does not have dolphins and jellyfish. The aquarium is indoors, so it’s not dependent on the weather. You can visit Newport Aquarium anytime to see the great marine displays.
16. Tennessee Aquarium
Situated in Chattanooga, Tennessee Aquarium is home to hundreds of marine species. The largest tank in Tennessee Aquarium has a capacity of 618,000 gallons of water. You will meet huge turtles in the constantly changing exhibits.
You can tour the whole aquarium in two hours. Visitors can also view penguins and other birds by touring Penguin Exhibit, River Journey, and Ocean Journey. Recently, the aquarium introduced seven sharks consisting of Sandbars and Sand Tigers.
Green Sea Turtle is also common in Tennessee Aquarium. The aquarium is home to both freshwater and saltwater fish. In addition, Chattanooga Aquarium is one of the few aquariums that hosts West Indian manatees and red wolves.
Things to Consider
It’s vital to consider a few things before visiting the aquariums on this list. Here are the top things to consider before touring the best aquariums in the United States:
- Cost: It’s advisable to check the entrance and parking costs with the aquarium management. Likewise, you or others in your group may be eligible for discounts or free entry, so it’s worth learning about such benefits.
- Time: Most aquariums in the US are busy from 12 p.m. You need to arrive early to cover the aquarium in peace. Consider visiting the aquarium on weekdays to avoid crowds.
- Diversity: The range of marine creatures varies in aquariums. So check with the aquarium staff what marine creatures they have in their tanks. For instance, Newport Aquarium has no dolphins, while most aquariums on this list have them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning as much as possible about the different aquariums in the US can help you narrow down your search for the best ones for you. As such, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the best aquariums in the US:
Is the Georgia Aquarium the biggest?
Georgia is the largest aquarium in North America. It’s the only aquarium with whale sharks in the western part of the world.
What is the best aquarium in the United States?
Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is rated the best aquarium for an unforgettable sea experience. Other best aquariums you need to add to your bucket list include Seattle Aquarium in Washington and Monterey Bay in California.
Which aquarium has the biggest shark?
Georgia Aquarium boasts of whale sharks. The whale sharks found in the aquarium measure at least 30 feet.
What aquarium has the most sharks?
Oklahoma Aquarium has the largest number of sharks. You will find several nurses and bull sharks in the huge tanks and tunnels.
Which aquarium is better, Florida or Clearwater?
Florida Aquarium is better than Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Florida Aquarium is highly rated by travel experts and has received positive reviews from Lonely Planet.
So, What’s the Best Aquarium in the US?
It can be overwhelming to decide on the best aquarium in the US. Georgia, Monterey Bay, and New York Aquarium should be on your bucket list because they offer numerous underwater creatures.
However, a visit to any of the above aquariums offers an unforgettable experience and a chance to explore exotic sea life that we wouldn’t normally encounter.