If you are a nature lover and have never been to an aquarium, you are missing out on a lot. Aquariums are one of the best places to go if you want to experience the beauty of the ocean and all its inhabitants.
They offer a unique experience that is not possible anywhere else. You can see exotic animals up close, be mesmerized by their beauty, and learn about their habits and habitats.
Aquariums also offer educational programs for children and adults alike. They teach us about marine life in general and how we can protect it for future generations to come.
So if you are planning a vacation or day trip, do not pass up an opportunity to visit an aquarium!
- The Top 24 Best Aquariums in America
- 1. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
- 2. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL
- 3. National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD
- 4. Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Virginia Beach, VA
- 5. New England Aquarium, Boston, MA
- 6. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA
- 7. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo, FL
- 8. Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, TN
- 9. Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT
- 10. Gulf World Marine Park, Panama City Beach, FL
- 11. Adventure Aquarium, Camden, NJ
- 12. Alaska Sealife Center, Seward, AK
- 13. Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
- 14. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, LA
- 15. Birch Aquarium at Scripps, San Diego, CA
- 16. Downtown Aquarium, Denver, CO
- 17. Downtown Aquarium, Houston, TX
- 18. Maui Ocean Center, Wailuku, HI
- 19. New York Aquarium,Brooklyn, NY
- 20. Newport Aquarium, Newport, KY
- 21. North Carolina Aquarium, Fort Fisher, Kure Beach, NC
- 22. Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, OR
- 23. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg, TN
- 24. SEA LIFE at Mall of America, Bloomington, MN
- Final Thoughts
- Other fantastic aquariums that the whole family will enjoy
The Top 24 Best Aquariums in America
The aquariums on this list have been selected based on their popularity and the reviews from visitors.
1. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a public aquarium located in Monterey, California. It was founded in 1984 and has since become one of the largest marine life centers in the world.
The aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
It is also a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s mission statement is “to inspire conservation of the oceans.”
Monterey Bay Aquarium is a world-class aquarium. It has more than 400 species of marine animals and plants. It also has different exhibits that are meant to educate the visitors about the ocean and marine life.
The two most popular exhibits are Kelp Forest and the Open Sea. The Kelp Forest exhibit is designed to show how kelp forests grow and what they look like underwater. Visitors can walk through a tunnel of kelp to see it from below the surface.
The Open Sea exhibit is an open-air habitat with sea otters, sea lions, seals, sharks, rays, and many other animals that live in the Pacific Ocean.
2. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL
The Shedd Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the United States. It is home to more than 32,000 animals and covers over 1.3 million square feet of space. The Shedd Aquarium also has a number of interactive and fun attractions, including 4D documentaries, stingray feeding, the Dolphin Show, and Polar Play Zone with a play submarine kids can jump into to explore the South and North Pole’s wildlife.
Captain Robert Benson Ford founded the Shedd Aquarium. He had a passion for the ocean and wanted to share it with others in his hometown of Chicago. In 1930, Ford donated $250,000 to create the aquarium, which was then named after him- The Robert R. Ford Memorial Museum of Natural History and Science.
3. National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD
The National Aquarium in Baltimore is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Maryland. It is home to over 70,000 aquatic animals from all around the world.
The aquarium features exhibits that are divided into four different zones:
- Caribbean Journey
- Amazon Rising
- Antarctic Edge
- Bay Waters
In addition to the animal exhibits, there are many other attractions at the aquarium, such as a 4D theater that features movies about marine life and an IMAX theater for watching documentaries about marine life. The aquarium also has an interactive touch pool where children can touch stingrays and sea stars and a shark tank where visitors can watch sharks swim overhead.
4. Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Virginia Beach, VA
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving marine life and the natural world. The Virginia Aquarium was founded in 1970 by a group of dedicated volunteers. They had the vision to create an aquarium that would serve as a place for people to come and learn about the ocean’s wonders.
The Virginia Aquarium’s mission is to inspire conservation of our marine resources through education, research, and direct action.
They feature exhibits on coastal habitats, aquariums with live animals from around the world, touch pools where visitors can get up close with sea creatures like horseshoe crabs and sea stars, and more than one million gallons of fresh and saltwater tanks.
5. New England Aquarium, Boston, MA
The New England Aquarium is a public aquarium located in Boston, Massachusetts. It was opened in 1969, and it has been ranked as one of the top five aquariums in the United States by TripAdvisor. Over one million people visit the aquarium every year to see more than 8,000 animals and 500 species of fish.
This aquarium is a great place for people of all ages to explore.
They have many exhibits and touch pools for guests to enjoy, including The Living Seashore Exhibit that showcases the animals and habitats of New England and The Ecosystems Exhibit that enables guests to explore different ecosystems. They also have The Tropical Diver exhibit that allows guests to dive into the world of tropical coral reefs and discover schools of fish.
6. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA
The Georgia Aquarium is a public aquarium in Atlanta. It is the largest aquarium in the world and houses over 100,000 aquatic animals from 500 different species. The aquarium has a total of eight tanks, including the Ocean Voyager exhibit, which is one of the biggest tanks in North America.
The Georgia Aquarium has received awards such as being named one of the top five aquariums in North America by Trip Advisor and winning an award for Best Exhibit at IAAPA’s (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) 2016 Brass Ring Awards.
Georgia Aquarium was opened on November 11, 2005, and its purpose was to educate visitors about marine life and to conserve aquatic animals through conservation projects. The aquarium started with only 40 tanks but has grown to include eight tanks, including a stunning Ocean tank.
7. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo, FL
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a protected area of the United States. It extends from Key Largo to Key West and encompasses approximately 2,800 square nautical miles of marine waters.
The sanctuary is home to a wide variety of marine life, including corals, fish, turtles, and dolphins. Some of the most common marine species you will see when visiting the sanctuary are sharks, rays, and octopi. In addition to these animals, there are also many different types of birds that call this place home.
Widely regarded as one of the best aquariums in Florida, The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was established in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush through an executive order that included over one hundred thousand square kilometers of ocean off the coast of the Florida Keys.
The sanctuary is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which manages other marine sanctuaries in American waters. In addition, the sanctuary was designated as a wetland of international importance through its designation as part of the Florida Keys Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989.
8. Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, TN
The Tennessee Aquarium is a public aquarium located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is the largest freshwater aquarium in the United States and home to more than 10,000 animals representing 300 species. The aquarium has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) since 1993 and was named one of America’s Top Ten Zoos by Reader’s Digest magazine in 2012.
The mission of the Tennessee Aquarium is to inspire the conservation of aquatic habitats through hands-on animal encounters, immersive experiences, and global outreach programs that focus on sustainable fisheries and coral reefs.
9. Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT
The Mystic Aquarium is a nonprofit public aquarium. It is a popular tourist attraction in the Northeast United States.
It has been voted as one of the best aquariums in the world by USA Today, and it is one of the most visited attractions on Connecticut’s “Quiet Coast,” with more than one million visitors annually.
The Mystic Aquarium offers more than 60 exhibits, including its two newest ones: “Sea Stars” and “Tropical Diver.”
10. Gulf World Marine Park, Panama City Beach, FL
The Gulf World Marine Park is home to over 5,000 animals from all around the world.
The park has been providing guests with educational opportunities since 1983. These include animal shows and presentations by experts on animal behavior. Visitors can also touch sea stars, sea cucumbers, turtles, and many other aquatic creatures.
Guests can also enjoy the many attractions such as rides and water slides or just relax by the pool. For guests who are looking for more active entertainment, they can rent kayaks or boats to explore the waterways of this beautiful park.
11. Adventure Aquarium, Camden, NJ
Adventure Aquarium is a family-friendly aquarium located in Camden, New Jersey. The aquarium is one of the most popular attractions in the state, and it’s been around for over 30 years. Millions of people visit each year to see the animals and exhibits that are showcased.
Adventure Aquarium is a beautiful place to take your family and friends. With over 5,000 incredible animals from all over the world, it will be hard to find something that you don’t want to see. The Sea Lion show, which runs daily and is included with admission, is one of the few places in the world where you can see penguins in captivity.
12. Alaska Sealife Center, Seward, AK
The Alaska Sealife Center is a nonprofit aquarium and research center operating for over 40 years. It is located in Seward, Alaska, and offers visitors the opportunity to explore the marine environment interactively. It’s a place where visitors can learn about the animals that call the ocean home, as well as their habitats.
The Alaska Sealife Center has three main exhibits:
- The Inshore Exhibit: This exhibit features animals found in coastal waters near shorelines, including sea stars, sea cucumbers, squid, and octopuses.
- The Pelagic Exhibit: This exhibit features animals found in open water away from shorelines, such as sharks, whales, and seabirds.
- The Tide Pool Exhibit: This interactive wildlife exhibit features animals found at or near the tide pool. Visitors can experience the amazing variety of marine life in a sand and water environment and learn about the tides, currents, and important features of this habitat.
13. Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
The Aquarium of the Pacific is a nonprofit public aquarium located in Long Beach, CA. It is another one of the largest aquariums in the United States and in North America. The aquarium was founded by Robert Pritchard and opened to the public on July 1, 1998.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is a great place for both adults and children to explore marine habitats worldwide. It has over 500 species on display, including sea otters, humpback whales, penguins, jellyfish, and sea dragons.
Seven major galleries show off different marine habitats:
- The Southern California Coast Gallery
- The Tropical Pacific Gallery
- The Northern California Coast Gallery
- The Coral Reef
14. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, LA
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving aquatic life and habitats. John James Audubon founded it in 1869 as a place for him to display his artwork and live animals he had been collecting.
The aquarium is a New Orleans landmark, and it’s located on Canal Street, just a few blocks from the French Quarter.
It features more than 70 different exhibits, including areas for reptiles, mammals, invertebrates, and more. The museum also has a walk-through tunnel that takes visitors through an underwater environment with sharks and stingrays swimming overhead!
The Aquarium of the Americas is a must-see when visiting New Orleans. The exhibits are divided into three main sections: Freshwater, Saltwater, and Bayou Country. All visitors will enjoy the fish jaws and teeth on display in the Freshwater Hall, while those interested in marine life will love exploring the exhibits in the Saltwater Hall.
15. Birch Aquarium at Scripps, San Diego, CA
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a public aquarium located in La Jolla, California. It is one of the few aquariums in the world to house both living marine mammals and sea turtles.
The Birch Aquarium was founded in 1933 by Helen and Charles Birch and opened to the public in 1936. It was originally housed at Scripps Institution of Oceanography on the campus of UC San Diego. Still, it moved to its current location near UCSD’s Torrey Pines Mesa Research Center in 1970.
16. Downtown Aquarium, Denver, CO
The Downtown Aquarium is in Denver, Colorado, United States. The aquarium was created by the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA) with the intention to revitalize the downtown area after the construction of Coors Field. The Downtown Aquarium opened on July 1, 1995, and cost $134 million to build.
The Downtown Aquarium is home to more than 100 species of aquatic animals worldwide. It has over 30 exhibits that house penguins, sharks, and other sea creatures. There are also interactive opportunities for visitors, such as a touch pool where they can touch stingrays and sharks or go inside an underwater tunnel and explore what it’s like living in an ocean environment.
17. Downtown Aquarium, Houston, TX
The Downtown Aquarium is a 40-acre entertainment complex in Houston, Texas.
It is home to more than 100,000 aquatic plants and animals representing 600 species on display. In addition, the facility features a variety of interactive exhibits, shows, and galleries that are designed to educate visitors about aquatic life.
18. Maui Ocean Center, Wailuku, HI
The Maui Ocean Center is a marine science museum and aquarium in Wailuku, Hawaii. The center features interactive exhibits that highlight the marine life of Maui’s reefs and shorelines.
Maui Ocean Center is an educational nonprofit organization that strives to educate the public about Hawaii’s ocean environment and inspire conservation of its natural resources. They are proud to be one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit aquariums.
Maui Ocean Center was founded by a group of Maui residents committed to educating visitors about the beauty, diversity, and fragility of Hawaii’s ocean environment. They have accomplished this goal by partnering with other local organizations like the University of Hawaii at Hilo, which provides content for their exhibits.
19. New York Aquarium,Brooklyn, NY
The New York Aquarium is located in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. It is a world-class facility that provides unparalleled educational and entertainment experiences for visitors of all ages. The aquarium has over two million gallons of water and houses more than a thousand animals from around the world.
The aquarium was founded in 1896 by a group of businessmen interested in creating an institution to make marine life accessible to the public. In addition, the founders wanted to create an attraction that would be both educational and entertaining, so they built a facility with exhibits that were designed to show visitors how marine life interacts with one another in their natural habitat.
20. Newport Aquarium, Newport, KY
The Newport Aquarium is a public aquarium in Newport, Kentucky. It contains about 60 exhibits with over 500 species of aquatic animals and plants. The aquarium is located on the banks of the Ohio River in Newport’s downtown area.
The Newport Aquarium features many different types of animal exhibits, including tropical fish, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, piranha, turtles, and alligators. The aquarium also has a large number of interactive activities for children and adults alike to enjoy, such as shark feedings and turtle touch tanks.
21. North Carolina Aquarium, Fort Fisher, Kure Beach, NC
The North Carolina Aquarium is located in Fort Fisher, Kure Beach, North Carolina.
It is an aquarium with over 100 exhibits of animals from all over the world. They have a variety of different tanks and habitats that include an open-air shark exhibit, a jellyfish tank, and a touch tank.
The North Carolina Aquarium is a great place for people of all ages to visit. It has something for everyone to enjoy.
22. Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, OR
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a public aquarium located in Newport, Oregon. It is the only aquarium on the Oregon coast, and it has been open since 1977. The aquarium features over 200 species of marine life, including sharks, otters, seals, and sea lions.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium offers many different exhibits that showcase different parts of the ocean. One of these exhibits is called Sea Cliffs, and this exhibit is home to many sea birds, including puffins, cormorants, gulls, and pelicans. Another exhibit called Seaside Cove features a variety of sea life such as crabs and jellyfish that are native to the Pacific Northwest coast.
23. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg, TN
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of North America’s biggest aquariums and is a must-see attraction for visitors to Gatlinburg. It features more than 12,000 aquatic animals from around the world and offers many interactive attractions.
The aquarium is home to more than 12,000 aquatic animals from around the world. It also has many interactive attractions, including an ocean tunnel that allows guests to swim with sharks and stingrays. The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a must-see attraction for visitors to Gatlinburg, TN.
24. SEA LIFE at Mall of America, Bloomington, MN
SEA LIFE at Mall of America is one of the most popular attractions in Bloomington. This aquarium is home to over 25,000 animals from more than 500 species.
Additionally, it’s been recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its commitment to animal welfare and conservation. The aquarium is also home to Minnesota’s only touch pool, where visitors can interact with sea life such as stingrays, horseshoe crabs, and sea cucumbers.
Aquariums combine learning about the biodiversity of the world’s oceans and having fun at the same time. They provide us with an unforgettable privilege to see hundreds of exotic animals and even interact with some of them! From touching stingrays to feeding dolphins and more, many aquariums feature interactive exhibits and various other attractions that will make your visit worthwhile.
There is nothing quite like spending a day at an aquarium. In particular, the best aquariums we’ve listed here are stacked with activities for kids and adults alike, making any of them a great choice for a family vacation.
Other fantastic aquariums that the whole family will enjoy
If you’re hoping to find other incredible aquariums that the kids will be sure to love, look no further than our round-up below!
- 9 of the Best Aquariums in Las Vegas
- 10 of the Best Aquariums in New Jersey
- 6 of the Best Aquariums in New York
- 10 Of The Best Aquariums In North Carolina
- 9 of the Best Aquariums in California
- 27 of the Best Zoos & Aquariums in Texas
- 11 of the Best Aquariums in Florida
More about our TFVG Author
A seasoned traveller, Dad, and avid sports tourist, James foundered The Family Vacation Guide to share his expert vacation experiences- especially when it comes to being a travelling family man.
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