Best Aquariums For Unforgettable Sea Life Encounters

The best aquariums care for their aquatic residents and provide visitors unforgettable experiences. Learning should be fun after all. When planning your family vacation, consider starting with these destinations that offer award-winning aquariums and extra programs.
The whole family will want to learn more about the best aquariums for unforgettable sea life encounters:

best aquariums sea life encounter

Birch Aquarium at Scripps, La Jolla, CA

The Birch Aquarium is located at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the San Diego area. What makes this one of the best aquariums for encounters is the more than 60 habitats that visitors can explore. Exhibits range from seahorses and whales to coral displays and a hall of different fish.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, kids can learn and share at the Explore-It Think Tank. Other activities include tidepooling, snorkeling, whale-watching and moonlit pier walks. For about $30 per person, guests can take a full moon pier tour of the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, which is normally closed to the public. The aquarium also hosts group tours, outdoor concerts and educational lectures.

Florida Aquarium, Tampa, FL

Often ranked as one of the best aquariums in the U.S., the Florida Aquarium in Tampa features more than 20,000 aquatic animals and plants. Exhibits include Madagascar with lemurs, wetlands, bays and beaches, and coral reef. Kids should also plan to bring their suits and play at the 2-acre outdoor waterpark, the Splash Pad. The play area is perfect for kids to interact and cool off while parents relax in the shade.

For more up-close encounters, take a wild dolphin cruise and see some of the 500 dolphins that live in the Tampa Bay area. Visitors can also scuba, take behind-the-scenes tours, or try the backstage penguin adventure.

Maui Ocean Center, Wailuku, HI

Home to the largest collection of Pacific corals, the Maui Ocean Center ranks high on the list of best aquariums. The attraction welcomes families to learn about native Hawaiian fish, sea turtles, six shark species and more. Guests will also have opportunities to see more than 60 indoor and outdoor exhibits, including walking through a 54-foot tunnel.

To enhance the experience, take the behind-the-scenes tour where participants can assist feedings at the turtle lagoon and hammerhead harbor. Shark Dive Maui offers a more extreme experience as guests come face-to-face with sharks, rays, fish and more in a 750,000-gallon open ocean exhibit.

best aquariums sea life encounter

Miami Seaquarium, Miami, FL

For more than 60 years, the Miami Seaquarium has delighted guests in the greater Miami area. The 38-acre attraction features sea life favorites such as manatees, sea lions, sharks, dolphins and more. Families should also plan to see killer whale and dolphin shows, as well as birds, tropical fish and crocodiles. Popular close encounters range from swimming with the dolphins to serving as a trainer for the day. Visitors can also swim with seals, take a VIP tour, to meet all kinds of animals, and an underwater walking journey.

Mote Marine Aquarium, Sarasota, FL

With a sole purpose to research and preservation, the Mote Marine Aquarium features visible working labs and more than 100 species of marine life. Visit Mote and meet the residents and scientists at this working aquarium. Guests will see manatees, sea turtles and a 135,000-gallon shark habitat. Other exhibits educate visitors on the Florida Bay habitats, rivers, oceans, otters, reef creatures and more.

This attraction also hosts several tours. Families can have breakfast at the Mote, where they enjoy early admission and a filling start to the day. Other adventures include shark encounters, kayaking, research charters and boat tours.

National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

Those staying in Delaware Shores have easy access to the world-renown National Aquarium in Baltimore. One of the best aquariums in the world, this attraction offers visitors the chance to see more than 20,000 fish, birds, reptiles, marine life and more. More than a dozen exhibits will delight guests of all ages.

Families can also get up-close with dolphins, and adults can join the aquarium guest diver program. For more daring adventures, take the shark tour and icky, creepy, slimy, cool tour. Both are open to families with children over the age of 8 years old. Visitor tip: As this is one of the most visited aquariums in the U.S., it’s best to buy tickets a few days in advance.

best aquariums sea life encounter

Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, SC

Bright colors welcome guests to explore two levels of animals and exhibits at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach. As one of the top destinations in Myrtle Beach, the aquarium features dozens of exhibits and programs for the whole family. The attraction hosts permanent and temporary exhibits, including stingrays, reefs, jellyfish, sharks, and even a mermaid meet-and-greet.

In addition, guests can try a custom experience – such as a summer camp or sleeping with the sharks. The Sleep with Sharks activity suits guests of all ages; even adults and families can schedule a sleepover for their whole group. Other things to try include swimming with the sharks, stingray encounters and behind-the-scenes tours.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg, TN

Not only one of the best aquariums for unforgettable encounters, but Ripley’s of the Smokies is also one of the top in the world. It’s no coincidence that two Ripley’s Aquariums made this list. At this popular Smoky Mountain attraction, visitors can learn about ocean life, penguins, sharks, sting rays and more.

After exploring the aquarium, plan to try one of the unique encounters. Packages include penguin encounters, sting ray encounters, penguin paintings, shark scene investigator and kids’ night out. The Kids’ Night Out program allows kids to stay in the aquarium overnight, participating in fun educational activities, while the parents enjoy their own night out.

South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston, SC

Charleston is home to the South Carolina Aquarium, a top attraction for all sea life fans. The aquarium houses more than 5,000 animals and the state’s only sea turtle hospital. Animals include fish, seahorses, reptiles, sharks, octopus and more. The South Carolina Aquarium also showcases exhibits that feature everything from the Carolina Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

To complete the trip, tour the Sea Turtle Hospital. For only $10 per adult, $5 for children under 12, guests can see how the aquarium cares for and rehabilitates sea turtles. Adopt an animal programs are also available to guests who want to make a difference and show support.