The Best Aquariums in the US to Visit

There’s something magical about visiting an aquarium that makes it feel like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Whether you’re sightseeing with the family or just want to check out something cool for yourself, the US has no shortage of amazing places to see what life under the sea is all about.

What are the best aquariums in the US?

Some of the most popular aquariums in the US are the Georgia Aquarium, Tennessee Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, and Maui Ocean Center in Hawaii.

There are lots more to visit across the country though, and a quick search in your state will likely show at least one worth checking out.

A visit to an aquarium is a must when you’re visiting a city that has a renowned one, so we’ve compiled the best ones in a list.

Check out what makes these underwater adventure playgrounds so special and what you can expect when you pay them a visit.

The 12 Best Aquariums in the US

They say there are plenty of fish in the sea, but if you want to just visit one place to see the coolest and most awe-inspiring ones, we can help.

Check out our list of the best aquariums in the US and see what’s out there to explore.

#1 Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

#1 Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

If we were giving out prizes for the most beautiful aquariums and the best, Monterey Bay would make that list as well.

This expansive dwelling is situated right on the California coast and it gives visitors a look at the marine animals that live close by, as well as others that now call it their home.

At Monterey Bay, you’ll witness great things like otter feeding and play sessions, get to look through the glass into the three-story kelp forest and its inhabitants, and watch as keepers swim with sharks.

As a nonprofit organization, every dollar you spend there is going towards something good, and we can forgive the $50 admission fee because of their ongoing conservation efforts.

#2 National Aquarium, Maryland

#2 National Aquarium, Maryland

The National Aquarium is located in Baltimore, Maryland and at the last count, had around 20,000 water-dwelling creatures that call it home.

A daily visit to the National Aquarium will show you sights like an Indo-Pacific reef habitat where you get to see things not found at others, like bright neon fish and blacktip reef sharks.

One of the standout features of the National Aquarium is Shark Alley that lets you walk through and feel as if you’re up close and personal with the gnarly beasts.

To spend the day at the Baltimore institution, expect to pay around $40 for an adult and $25 for a child, with reduced prices for group bookings.

As an aquarium dedicated to conservation and education, it’s nice to know your money is going somewhere important when you visit the National Aquarium.

#3 Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio

#3 Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio

There are lots of amazing animals and sea life to visit at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, including manatees, penguins, and a coral reef that spans 88,000 gallons of water.

You can get a glimpse of creatures from all over the world and easily spend half a day here without getting bored.

The cool thing about this aquarium, besides the fact that it has a zoo attached that gives you a two-for-one attraction, is how affordable it is.

An adult ticket will cost around $20 and a child $15 so you can visit as many times as you want to soak it all in without spending a fortune.

#4 Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

#4 Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

Shedd Aquarium is a standout on our list because not only is it an amazing venue, but it’s also a conservation center and National Historic Landmark.

Within this aquarium, you’ll find everything from beluga whales to tarantulas and turtles, and get to witness dolphin shows or take your time strolling around the architectural wonder.

Situated on the bank of Lake Michigan, Shedd Aquarium has a unique setting, and it costs around $40 for an adult pass and $30 for children, with Chicago residents getting a half-price discount.

They also offer multi and annual passes, and there’s always something happening like shark feeding, penguin encounters, and educational tours.

#5 Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans

#5 Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans is committed to educating and displaying aquatic life from North and South America.

If you’re lucky enough and willing to pay a fee, you can check out the Penguin Backstage Pass to get up close and personal where most visitors don’t get to go.

At the Audubon, you’ll get to witness sea life in a massive 400,000-gallon water tank which is one of the largest in the country.

With a tank this big, it’s no surprise that it features some of the biggest sharks as well, with some reaching 17 feet long.

Tickets cost just $30 for an adult and $25 for a child and you’ll more than get your money’s worth with a visit here.

#6 New England Aquarium, Massachusetts 

The New England Aquarium in Boston has tried to set itself apart from the pack, and succeeded, with features like a giant IMAX 3D feature to watch movies and excursions you can take away from the aquarium to go whale watching in Boston Harbor.

There’s lots more to do in Boston Harbor once you’re done exploring the aquarium and you can easily spend a few days there checking it out.

This is more than your average aquarium and there are lots of interactive games and exhibitions you can enjoy, including a shark and ray touch tank.

An adult pass costs just under $40 so it’s on the higher end of the scale, but because it offers so many things to do, we think the higher price is worthwhile.

#7 Seattle Aquarium, Washington

#7 Seattle Aquarium, Washington

If you prefer to visit an aquarium that has a huge emphasis on conservation, you’ll love everything about Washington’s Seattle Aquarium.

Not only are there a host of wonderful animals and sea life there, but they’re committed to sustainability, education, and doing what they can to ensure these creatures continue to enjoy their natural habitat on earth.

Tickets are mid-range in price at $35 for an adult, but knowing how much they put into conservation and education, you don’t mind at all.

There’s so much to see including birds, seals, fish, and cephalopods, and more, and you can easily spend a few hours there checking out everything the Seattle Aquarium has to offer.

#8 Georgia Aquarium, Georgia

#8 Georgia Aquarium, Georgia

Located in Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium is a must-see on anyone’s list who’s coming to the area.

What sets this apart from others is how interactive it is for kids, while still respecting the sea life, and toddlers will be able to wade in the shallow waters to get up close and personal with all kinds of slippery creatures.

The Georgia Aquarium has all of the standard fares you’d expect, like jellyfish, sharks, and penguins, and also a few beluga whales, plus cool exhibits including a 4D theater.

Entry is reasonable at just over $35 for adults and with lots of options for discounted rates for students and seniors.

#9 Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon

#9 Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon

The Oregon Coast Aquarium can be visited in Newport and it’s one of the most expansive sites in the US.

At this aquarium, you cover everything from prehistoric times with the Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline exhibit and Behind the Scenes Tours so you can see the animals in a way that most people don’t.

A great thing about this aquarium is that they hold regular beach clean-up sessions where you can volunteer your time to help the sea life in their natural habitat.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is exceptionally priced at around $25 for adults and $20 for kids, so the whole family can enjoy a day out without breaking the bank.

#10 Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut

#10 Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut

If you have a deep fascination with beluga whales, the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut is the place to be.

This aquarium has the biggest outdoor beluga habitat in the country and there’s something magical about watching them where they’re meant to be.

Aside from belugas, there’s plenty else to see at this aquarium, including cute sea lions and seals, and a Jurassic Giants exhibition Your kids will get a chance to be closer to some of the safer sea life as well, with a touch shark habitat that’s sure to excite.

An adult pass to Mystic Aquarium costs $35 for adults and $25 for sharks, so it’s a little costly, but for all of the wonders you’ll witness there, it’s money well spent.

#11 The Florida Aquarium, Florida

#11 The Florida Aquarium, Florida

As one of the country’s most famous aquariums, it would be crazy to leave Florida off the list.

This aquarium goes above and beyond what most offer so it’s not just sea life you’ll get to experience, but wetlands, Madagascar, and Bays and Beach backdrops that give you a glimpse of animals, insects, and sea life in their natural habitats.

The Florida Aquarium is reasonably priced as well, with adults tickets costing less than $25 and a range of options for passes and discounts.

They recommend visitors giving themselves at least three hours to explore which should tell you how much there is to see, and this Florida institution will not disappoint.

#12 Maui Ocean Center, Hawaii

#12 Maui Ocean Center, Hawaii

Most people visit Hawaii for its beautiful beaches and if you’re lucky enough to go there, you’ll want to check out the Maui Ocean Center as well.

This aquarium is committed to education as well, and your kids can take part in the Ocean Aloha program that teaches about the importance of caring for sea life and what happens in the ecosystem underneath the water.

The Maui Ocean Center has unique creates like green sea turtles, monk seals, and a living reef, plus the chance to witness an expansive ocean setting with rays and sharks abound.

Entry to this aquarium is a little costly at around $40 for an adult and slightly less for children, but if you’re in Hawaii and want to see what their local sea life has to offer before you check out the real-life beaches, there’s no better place.

Related Questions

There’s a lot to marvel at when you visit one of the country’s best aquariums but if you’ve never been lucky enough to go before, you might have questions.

We’ve answered a few of the more commonly asked ones to give you the rundown on what to expect when you go to an aquarium.

Do Seniors Get Discounts at Aquariums?

Most aquariums in the US offer a discounted ticket rate for senior citizens, and will usually do so for other groups as well.

Special rates include those for students and young children, but it’s best to check with the aquarium you plan on attending to confirm whether discounts are available.

Are Aquariums Ethical?

While there are some aquariums that operate with unethical standards, the quality ones incorporate conservation, advocacy, research, and rehabilitation as part of their operations.

The aquarium is also a great way to educate others and the future generation about the importance of taking care of our marine life.

How Long Does It Take to Walk Around an Aquarium?

The average time you can expect to spend walking around an aquarium is at least two hours, but it depends on the size.

Within two hours, you should have ample time to slowly discover all parts of the aquarium and attend some live shows, but it’s possible to spend the day there and enjoy it for longer if you wish.