Top U.S. Aquariums

Be sure to visit the country’s coolest aquariums, where you can play with dolphins and wade barefoot through live marshes.

I always make a point to visit the aquarium in the city I’m visiting. There is something so soothing about watching sea creatures. Who can fail to be delighted at the antics of a dolphin or admire the gorgeous colors of tropical fish? You can drop out of the human bustle for awhile and take a breather. Virtually every aquarium offers enticing kids’ programs and activities, making it an almost guaranteed successful family outing. While there are many great aquariums across the United States, some stand out above the rest. Here are some of my favorites.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, Calif.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium tracks up the accolades, with good reason. There are more than 200 exhibits, including a million-gallon open ocean exhibit, a two-story space for sea otters and a recently upgraded Splash Zone for families, which has a kelp forest glass tunnel, a 40-foot animal touch pool and a water play area. It’s so popular that Travel + Leisure magazine named it one of “10 Places to See Before You’re 10.” For a special treat, pay extra for the behind-the-scenes tour to see how the staff works with the animals.

886 Cannery Row, tel. 831-648-4800, Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets: adults, $24.95; kids ages 3 to 12, $15.95; under age 3, free.

Miami Seaquarium, Miami, Fla.

The 38-acre Miami Seaquarium has plenty to keep you enthralled, from sea lion shows to killer whale presentations to just hanging out at the Main Reef Aquarium, a 750,000-gallon saltwater aquarium packed with reef fish. Make sure to catch a Reef Presentation when a diver hand feeds the tropical fish, groupers, cobia, loggerhead turtles and moray eels. Dolphin lovers should sign up for the Dolphin Encounter or Dolphin Odyssey, where you can get in the water and play with the creatures.

4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, tel. 305-361-5705, Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets: adults, $35.95; kids ages 3 to 9, $26.95. $8 for parking.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Ga.

Plan to spend a lot of time at the world’s largest aquarium because you’ll find it hard to tear yourself and your family away from all it offers. The 550,000-square-foot Georgia Aquarium contains more than 8 million gallons of fresh and salt water. The Ocean Voyager exhibit alone contains 6 million gallons of saltwater and is home to whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world. The exhibit has 4,574 square feet of viewing windows and a 100-foot-long underwater tunnel with the second largest viewing window in the world (23-feet tall by 61-feet wide and 2-feet thick). Also inside are small and large stingrays, grouper and hammerhead sharks.

225 Baker St., tel. 404-581-4000, Open Sun. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. General admission: adults, $26; kids ages 3 to 12, $19.50.

John. G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Ill.

While its popular Oceanarium is being renovated (scheduled to reopen June 2009) there is still plenty to see at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. The Wild Reef exhibit has 20 different habitats featuring 500 species, including more than two dozen sharks. The 400,000-gallon tank lets you get up close and personal with the sleek animals. A see-through floor allows you to watch stingrays swimming under your feet. In the Waters of the World exhibit, 90 different habitats are featured with hundreds of species. The Caribbean Reef, a huge circular tank, will entrance you with its sea turtles, rays and eels. Make sure to go when a diver feeds the animals and takes questions.

1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., tel. 312-939-2438, Open weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Total experience pass admission: adults: $17.95; kids ages 3 to 11, $13.95.

Atlantis Marine World, Riverhead, N.Y.

Atlantis Marine World, based on the Lost City of Atlantis, takes a whimsical approach to educating and entertaining people. For those who’d rather be on the other side of the glass, you can even book a shark dive in a cage in the Lost City of Atlantis Shark exhibit. Located on Long Island, about 75 miles east of New York City, the aquarium has the western hemisphere’s largest all-living coral reef display, a hugely popular Ray Bay, where you can touch and feed stingrays, and an interactive salt marsh. Visitors (taller than 42.5 inches) can actually take off their shoes and walk into the marsh to check out Long Island’s marine life while a staff member tells you what’s in the marsh. Several other exhibits will draw you in, making this an easy all-day excursion.

431 East Main St., tel. 631-208-9200, Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets: adults, $21; kids ages 3 to 17, $18.

Destinations: Monterey, Miami, Atlanta, New York, Chicago

Activities: Museums, Sightseeing

User Comments

Baltimore deserves a mention Still one of the best: