12 Must-Visit Aquariums Across the U.S.

by Christina Garofalo

12 Must-Visit Aquariums Across the U.S.

by Christina Garofalo

From sub-aquatic tunnels with sharks swooshing by, to close encounters with near-extinct sea creatures, these U.S. aquariums have no shortage of amusements to amaze visitors of all ages.

From sub-aquatic tunnels with sharks swooshing by, to close encounters with near-extinct sea creatures, these U.S. aquariums have no shortage of amusements to amaze visitors of all ages.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium / dannerb / iStock
Tennessee Aquarium
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Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium features many crowd-pleasers — from penguins and sharks to swirling neon jellyfish. But the River Journey is unique to Chattanooga. Here, you’ll trace sea life of the Tennessee River from its mountain source to the Mississippi Delta. Don’t miss Miguel, the aquarium’s electric eel, whose currents are translated into a popular Twitter feedAdmission starts at $34.95 for adults, $21.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under three. 

The Tennessee Aquarium features many crowd-pleasers — from penguins and sharks to swirling neon jellyfish. But the River Journey is unique to Chattanooga. Here, you’ll trace sea life of the Tennessee River from its mountain source to the Mississippi Delta. Don’t miss Miguel, the aquarium’s electric eel, whose currents are translated into a popular Twitter feedAdmission starts at $34.95 for adults, $21.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under three. 

Shedd Aquarium
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Shedd Aquarium

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is among America’s oldest (c. 1930) and most captivating. The landmark Beaux-Arts building on Lake Michigan features a three-level Oceanarium with white beluga whales and long-nosed paddle fish, as well as a play area lets kids dress up as penguins and ride submarines. Walk through a recreation of the Amazon to see anacondas, piranhas, and stingrays. Admission costs $39.95 for adults, $29.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under three. Chicago residents receive a 50 percent discount on tickets. 

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is among America’s oldest (c. 1930) and most captivating. The landmark Beaux-Arts building on Lake Michigan features a three-level Oceanarium with white beluga whales and long-nosed paddle fish, as well as a play area lets kids dress up as penguins and ride submarines. Walk through a recreation of the Amazon to see anacondas, piranhas, and stingrays. Admission costs $39.95 for adults, $29.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under three. Chicago residents receive a 50 percent discount on tickets.

Jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium
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Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was the first in the U.S. to house a kelp forest, which spans three stories and uses a mix of natural sea water and machines to mimic California’s natural currents. It was also the first to successfully care for and display a great white shark. Fun fact: This aquarium inspired the fish hospital in the 2016 film Finding Dory. Admission costs $49.95 for adults, $39.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under three. Student and senior discounts are also available. 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was the first in the U.S. to house a kelp forest, which spans three stories and uses a mix of natural sea water and machines to mimic California’s natural currents. It was also the first to successfully care for and display a great white shark. Fun fact: This aquarium inspired the fish hospital in the 2016 film Finding Dory. Admission costs $49.95 for adults, $39.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under three. Student and senior discounts are also available. 

Georgia Aquarium
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Georgia Aquarium

At 550,000 square feet, complete with 10 million gallons of tanks, the Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest in the world. Beluga whales, otters, penguins, and whale sharks (the only ones displayed in the U.S.) are among the 60,000 animals that call it home. Don’t miss the 4-D theater, which recreates the sensation of living underwater for visitors  a truly one-of-a-kind experience. General admission costs $32.95 for adults and $28.95 for children; senior discounts are also available. For slightly cheaper tickets, plan a visit after 4 p.m., or purchase a CityPASS

At 550,000 square feet, complete with 10 million gallons of tanks, the Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest in the world. Beluga whales, otters, penguins, and whale sharks (the only ones displayed in the U.S.) are among the 60,000 animals that call it home. Don’t miss the 4-D theater, which recreates the sensation of living underwater for visitors  a truly one-of-a-kind experience. General admission costs $32.95 for adults and $28.95 for children; senior discounts are also available. For slightly cheaper tickets, plan a visit after 4 p.m., or purchase a CityPASS

National Aquarium
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National Aquarium

Baltimore’s National Aquarium houses more than 750 sea species. Among its top attractions are a multi-story coral reef (home to a 500-pound sea turtle named Calypso), an open shark tank, and seven bottlenose dolphins who is known to interact with guests. What's more, aquarium plans to increase its dolphin exhibit by up to 100 percent, as they plan to open their own dolphin sanctuary in 2020. Admission costs $39.95 for adults, $24.95 for children ages three through 11, and is free for children under three. Senior discounts are also available. 

Baltimore’s National Aquarium houses more than 750 sea species. Among its top attractions are a multi-story coral reef (home to a 500-pound sea turtle named Calypso), an open shark tank, and seven bottlenose dolphins who is known to interact with guests. What's more, aquarium plans to increase its dolphin exhibit by up to 100 percent, as they plan to open their own dolphin sanctuary in 2020. Admission costs $39.95 for adults, $24.95 for children ages three through 11, and is free for children under three. Senior discounts are also available. 

Newport Aquarium
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Newport Aquarium

There are less than 100 albino alligators alive today, which makes Snowflake and Snowball  permanent residents at Kentucky’s Newport Aquarium  a major draw. (The pearly-white gators are about six feet long and can weigh up to 85 pounds.) Other highlights include five transparent tunnels for underwater viewing, as well as a bridge that lets visitors walk just inches above the shark tank. Admission costs $25.99 for adults, $17.99 for children ages three through 11, and is free for children under two. Be sure to their site for special promotions on tickets. 

There are less than 100 albino alligators alive today, which makes Snowflake and Snowball  permanent residents at Kentucky’s Newport Aquarium  a major draw. (The pearly-white gators are about six feet long and can weigh up to 85 pounds.) Other highlights include five transparent tunnels for underwater viewing, as well as a bridge that lets visitors walk just inches above the shark tank. Admission costs $25.99 for adults, $17.99 for children ages three through 11, and is free for children under two. Be sure to their site for special promotions on tickets. 

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
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Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

This Ohio aquarium’s 88,000-gallon coral reef exhibit is one of the largest in the country. However, the standout here is Manatee Coast, which is home to the endangered West Indian manatee — one of just two manatee habitats outside of Florida. Outdoor exhibits include flamingos, alligators, and Humboldt penguins. Added bonus: The attached zoo provides great value as a two-for-one attraction. Admission costs $21.99 for adults, $16.99 for children ages three through nine, and is free for children under three; senior discounts are also available. Residents of Franklin County are also entitled to discounts.  

This Ohio aquarium’s 88,000-gallon coral reef exhibit is one of the largest in the country. However, the standout here is Manatee Coast, which is home to the endangered West Indian manatee — one of just two manatee habitats outside of Florida. Outdoor exhibits include flamingos, alligators, and Humboldt penguins. Added bonus: The attached zoo provides great value as a two-for-one attraction. Admission costs $21.99 for adults, $16.99 for children ages three through nine, and is free for children under three; senior discounts are also available. Residents of Franklin County are also entitled to discounts.  

New England Aquarium
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New England Aquarium

Upon entering the New England Aquarium, a 200,000-gallon Caribbean coral reef recreation exhibit features sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, and barracuda. Around it, a spiral, windowed walkway lets visitors look in from every angle. The aquarium uses its location on Boston Harbor to offer combined tickets with whale watching tours. Admission starts at $27.95 for adults, $18.85 for children ages three through 11, and is free for children under three. Senior discounts are also available. 

Upon entering the New England Aquarium, a 200,000-gallon Caribbean coral reef recreation exhibit features sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, and barracuda. Around it, a spiral, windowed walkway lets visitors look in from every angle. The aquarium uses its location on Boston Harbor to offer combined tickets with whale watching tours. Admission starts at $27.95 for adults, $18.85 for children ages three through 11, and is free for children under three. Senior discounts are also available. 

Oregon Coast Aquarium
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Oregon Coast Aquarium

The Newport, Oregon aquarium has the largest outdoor seabird aviary in North America, and its residents include tufted and horned puffins, black oystercatchers, and rhinoceros auklets. A 200-foot tunnel lets guests walk beneath sharks and rays. Outside, there are nature trails, a butterfly garden, and a touch tank, which allows visitors to touch sea anemones. Admission costs $22.95 for adults, $14.95 for children ages three through 12, and free for children under two. Both senior and young adult discounts are also available. 

The Newport, Oregon aquarium has the largest outdoor seabird aviary in North America, and its residents include tufted and horned puffins, black oystercatchers, and rhinoceros auklets. A 200-foot tunnel lets guests walk beneath sharks and rays. Outside, there are nature trails, a butterfly garden, and a touch tank, which allows visitors to touch sea anemones. Admission costs $22.95 for adults, $14.95 for children ages three through 12, and free for children under two. Both senior and young adult discounts are also available. 

Aquarium of the Pacific
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Aquarium of the Pacific

Located in Long Beach, California, this aquarium has devoted three permanent galleries to the world’s largest ocean — with sea life from as far as the Bering Sea, to the coasts of Baja and Palau. Other highlights: The Shark Lagoon (home to 150+ sharks and rays; a rainbow of exotic lorikeets), and the innovative rehab center for aquatic animals in need. General admission costs $29.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages three through 11. Senior discounts are also available.  

Located in Long Beach, California, this aquarium has devoted three permanent galleries to the world’s largest ocean — with sea life from as far as the Bering Sea, to the coasts of Baja and Palau. Other highlights: The Shark Lagoon (home to 150+ sharks and rays; a rainbow of exotic lorikeets), and the innovative rehab center for aquatic animals in need. General admission costs $29.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages three through 11. Senior discounts are also available.  

New York Aquarium
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New York Aquarium

The New York Aquarium is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the U.S. (it opened in Manhattan in 1896 and moved to Coney Island in 1957). The building was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and a small staff saved 90 percent of its animals, which included otters, walruses, cownose rays, and moray eels. Fun fact: it's home to the original Bathysphere, a famous deep-sea submarine from the 1930s. Admission costs $24.95 for adults, $19.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under two. Senior discounts are also available. 

The New York Aquarium is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the U.S. (it opened in Manhattan in 1896 and moved to Coney Island in 1957). The building was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; a small staff saved 90 percent of its animals (which include otters, walruses, cownose rays, and moray eels). And it's home to the original Bathysphere, a famous deep-sea submarine from the 1930s. Admission costs $24.95 for adults, $19.95 for children ages three through 12, and is free for children under two. Senior discounts are also available. 

SEA Life Minnesota
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SEA Life Minnesota

Starfish, stingrays, and jellyfish swim about in a 1,200,000-gallon tunnel beneath department stores at the Sea Life Aquarium, located on the first floor of Minneapolis’s Mall of America. Glass tunnels burrow through shark-infested waters, and specialty experiences like behind-the-scenes tours, snorkeling, and sleepovers provide enticing upgrades. Pro tip: Buy your tickets online to save some extra dough. When buying online, general admission costs $19.99 for adults (originally $24.49); $14.99 for children ages three through 12 (originally $17.49); and is free for children under three. 

Starfish, stingrays, and jellyfish swim about in a 1,200,000-gallon tunnel beneath department stores at the Sea Life Aquarium, located on the first floor of Minneapolis’s Mall of America. Glass tunnels burrow through shark-infested waters, and specialty experiences like behind-the-scenes tours, snorkeling, and sleepovers provide enticing upgrades. Pro tip: Buy your tickets online to save some extra dough. When buying online, general admission costs $19.99 for adults (originally $24.49); $14.99 for children ages three through 12 (originally $17.49); and is free for children under three. 

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