What Are the Best Aquariums in the Country?

When it comes to our gift list this Christmas, we always try to do one “experience” gift for the whole family! So far we’ve done season passes to the zoo, to Busch Gardens and to our local aquarium. And for some reason, the girls REALLY took to the aquarium. Our passes have been expired for a few months now, and they ask almost weekly to go back! We were pretty happy that they enjoyed this experience, because our ultimate goal is to go Long Beach whale watching when they get a bit older – we’re pretty confident they’ll enjoy that!

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For many people, particularly families traveling, aquariums can, in and of themselves be a reason to visit a particular location. And aquariums are great for parents and children alike. When you take your children to an aquarium, it allows them to see first-hand different animals and habitats. It expands their minds beyond what they see in their everyday world. 

Aquariums can also be a good place to learn about protecting the environment and the effects our behaviors have on the world around us, plus many aquariums provide opportunities for interactive and hands-on learning. 

So, what are some of the best aquariums in the country to visit?

Ripley’s Aquarium Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach is in and of itself one of the country’s top tourist destinations, and the aquarium is one great reason to visit this South Carolina coastal location. 

Ripley’s Aquarium features holiday-themed events, such as the Festival of Trees, happening right now.

The aquarium opened in June 1997 in Myrtle Beach, and there’s also a location in the Great Smoky Mountains. 

Some of the features of the aquarium include:

  • 750,000-gallon Dangerous Reef tunnel located on a moving path
  • Sharks up to 10-feet long
  • The interaction Discovery Center with horseshoe crab touch tanks
  • The interactive SWARM exhibit where you can crawl below the underwater tunnel and then come back up in the middle of schools of fish
  • Rio Amazon showcases poison dart frogs, piranhas, and redtail catfish
  • Aloha Cove, which is one of the newest exhibitions and showcases sea life native to Hawaii

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is settled on the Pacific Ocean in Monterey, California. It’s within a day trip of San Francisco, and it focuses on the sea life of the California coast. 

The aquarium features well-known exhibits like Viva Baja Life on the Edge, and the Life on the Bay Exhibit, which is a view deck where you may be able to spot sea otters and humpback whales. There’s also the Splash Zone & Penguins, with more than 45 interactive exhibits. 

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium is in Chicago, and exhibits include the Caribbean Reef and Amazon Rising. At the Caribbean Reef exhibit, you get a 360-degree view of the sea life contained within the exhibit, including Nickel, who is a sea turtle rescue. You can watch during daily dive sessions and ask the divers questions.

Amazon Rising focuses on life in the Amazon and the effects of the river rising and falling. Creatures in this exhibit include catfish, piranhas, and tambaquis. 

The Wild Reef exhibit features a Philippine coral reef and the life surrounding it, including stingrays, colorful fish, and sharks. 

Georgia Aquarium

Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the country, and it’s often ranked as the best in the U.S. and one of the best in the world. We went there and totally enjoyed it pre-kids – I’d love to take the girls now!

The aquarium is home to 10 million gallons, and there are seven galleries within the facility that are home to more than 500 worldwide sea animal species. 

The Georgia Aquarium was also the largest aquarium in the world until the Marine Life Park opened in Singapore in 2012. Some of the notable animals that call the Georgia Aquarium home include beluga whales, California sea lions, whale sharks, bottlenose dolphins, and manta rays. 

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, who is a billionaire, opened the Georgia Aquarium. He wanted it to be an aquarium that would encourage economic growth and education, and before the opening of the Georgia Aquarium, Marcus toured 56 aquariums in 13 countries. 

Tennessee Aquarium

Not too far from the Georgia Aquarium is the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. This aquarium features more than 12,000 animals and almost 800 species. The aquarium is on the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, and there are two separate structures that make up the facility—there is the original River Journey building, and there’s the next-door Ocean Journey building, which was part of an expansion that opened in 2005.

River Journey, at the time it opened, was the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. The theme of this building is the Story of the River, and it follows a raindrop from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Exhibits in River Journey include the Appalachian Cove Forest with River Otter Falls and Delta Country, which includes species from the Mississippi River Delta. 

The Ocean Journey building is a 60,000 square foot structure that follows the river into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Specific exhibits include The Secret Reef and The Boneless Beauties and Jellies. 

When was the last time YOU’VE been to an aquarium? Have you ever visited any of these?

It is not always possible for me to respond to each blog post comment. However, I absolutely do read them all, and if you’d like to address something specific, or have a question for me, please don’t hesitate to email me at Kristen@theroadtodomestication.com. I will respond to your email as soon as possible! Thank you for visiting the blog!

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