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9 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit For Kids

A small child sits inside an alcove peering into an aquatic exhibit.

Spend a fun-filled day with the whole family at these best U.S. aquariums to visit with kids! From Georgia to California, families looking for an animal adventure can find impressive aquariums all over the country. Even better, you can discover destinations that offer interesting family programs and spark wonder for children! But how can you decide which aquarium is best for your little one? Whether you’re hoping to stay close to home or want to add a kid-friendly attraction to your travel itinerary, you have plenty of options to choose from! Using tips from our Families Who Love To Travel Facebook community, we’ve compiled our suggestions into this helpful list featuring the 9 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit With Kids. We’ve listed each aquarium by region to help you know where to go. Keep reading to discover the best aquariums in the U.S., perfect for your next family getaway!

Best U.S. Aquariums for Kids on the East Coast

From coast to coast, you’ll find an array of amazing aquatic adventures at the top aquariums in the U.S. Here are the best U.S. aquariums for kids on the East Coast!

The National Aquarium

Baltimore, MD

Left Image: Two young children peer into a huge aquarium tank at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Right Image: A child looks upon a large stingray inside an exhibit at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, one of the best U.S. aquariums for kids.
Photo Courtesy: Shelly Patterson

The National Aquarium in Baltimore houses aquatic treasures from around the world! Often referred to as one of the best aquariums in the world, it’s home to more than 20,000 animals, including fish, birds, reptiles, and marine mammals. It also hosts a variety of fun learning activities to teach children about the magic of marine life! With four stories of ramps and tanks extending in every direction, The Atlantic Coral Reef is sure to impress children of all ages. Shark Alley is also a kid-favorite, as well as the must-see attraction Jellies: Invasion. See dolphins in action with the bottlenose dolphin presentation! Interactive sessions promise entertainment and fascination, especially if you are in the front row splash zone. Kids can get hands-on learning in the touch tank, safely touching jellyfish, stingray, and crabs. Finally, visit the on-site café for lunch at one of the best aquariums in the United States.

The National Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

RELATED: 9 Exciting Weekend Getaways Near DC for Families, including Baltimore!

Best U.S. Aquariums for Kids in the Southeast

The Southeast boasts some truly magical aquariums for kids. Here are two of the best aquariums in the U.S!

Georgia Aquarium

Atlanta, GA

Left Image: A dad and his small child reach into a touch tank at the Georgia Aquarium, one of the best U.S. aquariums for kids. Right Image: A boy peaks his head up into a penguin tank at the Georgia Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy: Kaye Lewis

The Georgia Aquarium is nothing short of impressive! Described as the “most magical aquarium in the world,” families can witness thousands of marine animals living in more than 70 habitats, across 10 million gallons of water. Programs here are designed to entertain children of all ages in addition to educating them on sea life, like the animated “Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow.” The Georgia Aquarium also allows families to get up close and personal with the impressive creatures on display. Participate in special encounter programs to see dolphins, sea otters, and penguins one-on-one. You can even get in the water, swimming with whale sharks and manta rays! The Georgia Aquarium is also famously home to the largest aquarium habitat in the world, the Ocean Voyager. Afterward, head to The Café Aquaria to keep the fun going all day, serving a wide range of food and beverage options for the whole family!

The Georgia Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

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Tennessee Aquarium

Chattanooga, TN

Two potbelly seahorses float along an exhibit in Tennessee.
Photo Courtesy: Joanne Merriam via Wikipedia

The Tennessee Aquarium should definitely be on your family’s to-do list! From young children to elderly grandparents, this Chattanooga attraction accommodates visitors of all ages. Kids can easily spend hours here observing 10,000 marine animals! Say hello to the feisty river otters, marvel at the colorful frogs, and stop by the snapping turtles. The River Journey building features impressive freshwater exhibits, while the Ocean Journey brings the ocean directly to you. Between giant catfish and prehistoric sturgeon, the animals at the Tennessee Aquarium seem out of this world! Children can also watch the entire experience come to life at The IMAX 3D theater. Visit underwater reefs and exotic islands from the comfort of your theater seat, or stop by the virtual reality experience in the lobby. In case you’re hungry, several nearby restaurants serve delicious food. Shuttle buses also operate from downtown Chattanooga to the aquarium at no cost! 

The Tennessee Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

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Newport Aquarium

Newport, KY

A family of four looks at two albino alligators in an exhibt at the Newport Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy: Newport Aquarium

Gather your family to visit the Newport Aquarium! Located in Newport, Kentucky, this aquarium showcases everything from sharks to eels, stingrays, penguins, and more exciting animals. As part of their Sea, Touch, Explore initiative, families will find plenty of exhibits, kid-friendly activities, and other things to do. Some family favorite exhibits are the Shark Tank Overlook, the Amazon Tunnel, and the Shore Gallery. Of course, you can’t miss the Shipwreck: Realm Of The Eels, where kids can discover the ruins of a shipwreck filled with eels, brightly colored fish, and other marine animals! For animals other than sea life, there’s also Gator Alley, Penguin Palooza, and Frog Bog, all worth visiting with kids. Little ones will definitely enjoy the aquarium’s more hands-on activities too, like the shark or tide pool touch tank. Make sure to secure tickets and passes prior to visiting one of the best aquariums in the U.S

The Newport Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

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Florida Aquarium

Tampa, FL

Left Image: Two kids point to a large fish within a shallow tank. Right Image: Two kids play at an outdoor splash pad.
Photo Courtesy: Plamena Vergilova

The Florida Aquarium is one of Tampa’s top family attractions, not to mention one of the best U.S. aquariums for kids! Alluring children with a simple, circular design, this kid-friendly spot is perfect to enjoy on a family vacation or day trip. Educational exhibits are available for all ages, including seven different animal areas! Learn about the Florida wetlands in the Wetland Trails exhibit, for example, featuring alligators, fish, and otters. Then, head to the Journey to Madagascar section, showcasing lemurs, geckos, cockroaches, and more! Children can even touch stingrays and sharks in the Bays & Beaches exhibit. Or, pet anemones, sea cucumbers, urchins, and sea stars in the No Bones Zone! The Dragons Down Under exhibit is a unique experience, highlighting sea dragons from Australia. Feeling peckish? As one of the best aquariums in Florida, you can enjoy lunch or snacks at one of the many on-site cafes.

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The Florida Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

Best U.S. Aquariums for Kids in the Midwest

Some of the best aquariums in the U.S are located in the center of the country. If you live in the Midwest or plan to visit, here are the best aquariums in the United States from Ohio to Minnesota!

Shedd Aquarium

Chicago, IL

Left Image: A dad baby-wears a young child while standing in front of a large fish tank at The Shedd Aquarium. Right Image: A dad hold his child over a stingray touch tank at The Shedd Aquarium, one of the best U.S. aquariums for kids.
Photo Courtesy: Robin Velazquez

Add the Shedd Aquarium to your family’s list of must-see attractions! This historic Chicago destination first opened in 1930 and is now home to more than 30,000 animals. Permanent exhibits and limited-time showcases are sure to wow children of all ages! The Caribbean Reef exhibit dates back to 1971, home to green turtles, stingrays, bonnethead sharks, and more. Diving sessions occur each day, and your kids can watch aquarium staff interact with the impressive animals! Then, take a walking tour of the rain forest with Amazon Rising. Experience a wide range of species in one place, including catfish, piranhas, and stingrays! Children can also enjoy some recreational time in the Polar Play Zone, wearing penguin suits and experiencing the North and South Poles up close. The Shedd Aquarium has two cafes and a food court, but you can also bring your own food to enjoy at nearby garden tables! 

The Shedd Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

Greater Cleveland Aquarium

Cleveland, OH

An African-American mom and her three young kids put their fingers in a touch tank at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy: Greater Cleveland Aquarium

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is one of the best U.S. aquariums for kids. Located in the city’s Flats district, it’s a fantastic place for kids to discover sea life from the Great Lakes and beyond. Different galleries are divided by themes like Ohio Lakes & Rivers, showcasing catfish and other local marine life. Or, Asia & Indonesia, with exotic turtles, lizards, and more. In the Tropical Forest, kids will ooh and aah at the poison dart frogs, majestic birds, and white lizards! Next, try the Tropical Reef, which has lots of colorful fish. There’s also the Shark Gallery, and a Giant Pacific Octopus! Take kids to the hands-on Coastal Boardwalk, where they can touch stingrays. For a truly interactive experience, kids 15+ can even go scuba diving in the aquarium’s shark tank, provided they’re accompanied by a scuba-certified parent. Tickets must be purchased online to plan your visit.

RELATED: Fun Things To Do In Chicago With Kids

Greater Cleveland Aquarium is open and adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. Learn more here.

Best U.S. Aquariums for Kids on the West Coast

These West Coast aquariums rank highly among the best U.S. aquariums for kids! Not only are these top aquariums in the U.S. located on the ocean, but they feature some of the world’s most amazing marine creatures.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey, CA

Left Image: A large jellyfish swims along in a tank at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Right Image: A small child peaks into a special aquarium exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy: Gunjan Prakash

If your family loves Finding Dory, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see attraction and one of the best aquariums in California! Serving as inspiration for the popular film, it’s home to breathtaking fish, jellyfish, sea otters, and countless other marine critters. Kids will be mesmerized by all 300,000 square feet, featuring over 35,000 animals! Luckily, posted feeding times let your family see marine life in action too. Visit the large jellyfish tank designed to replicate the open ocean. With floor-to-ceiling windows, say hello to the 6-foot-long Giant Pacific Octopus! The auditorium also hosts films for children, with staff conducting live animal demonstrations throughout the day. Experience an underwater stroll with a jellyfish, without ever getting wet! Though there’s a restaurant on-site, you can also pack a picnic lunch. To make the most of your trip, download the Monterey Bay Aquarium app for quick access to the daily schedule!

RELATED: 8 Awesome Weekend Getaways from the Bay Area with Kids

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

Seattle Aquarium

Seattle, WA

Girl looks at a fish at the Seattle Aquarium, one of the best U.S. aquariums for kids.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

The Seattle Aquarium offers fun hands-on learning for everyone! Whether you’re seeking shelter on a rainy day or interested in learning about fish that populate the Northwest, this is certainly one of the best U.S. aquariums for kids. Discover marine life from the Puget Sound right before your very eyes! Birds and other animals from the waterfront are on full display here too, including sea lions and sea otters. Stop by the salmon hatchery or visit the floor-to-ceiling Window on Washington Waters! The starfish touch pool is also an incredible hands-on experience for kids, while the curved jellyfish aquarium makes visitors feel like part of the ocean. Appropriate for all ages, the Seattle Aquarium also hosts popular events throughout the year. Occasionally, scuba divers demonstrate during the day, teaching guests of all ages from inside the aquarium. Grab lunch from the on-site café or bring a picnic to enjoy nearby!  

RELATED: 3 Fantastic Days in Seattle with Kids

The Seattle Aquarium is open and following COVID-19 protocols. Learn more here.

Happy Travels to the Best U.S. Aquariums for Kids!

A young boy sits along a huge fish tank watcing the schools of fish.
Photo Courtesy: Biljana Martinic

That tops off our list of 9 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit With Kids! With several aquariums in the United States spanning coast to coast, we are sure your family found one or two things on this list to love too! Whether you’re interested in a low-key attraction close to home or want to make a day of it, we know you will treasure this time together. We hope you’ve enjoyed our list featuring the top aquariums in the U.S.!

Thank You To Our Community

Two little boys looking at a whale in an exhibit in Mystic CT.
Photo Courtesy: Brittany Hamrick Mazur

As always, this article on the 9 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit With Kids would not have been as helpful, informed, or family-friendly without the contributions and input from the amazing members of our Facebook group, Families Who Love To Travel! For more travel recommendations on vacationing with children or visiting the best U.S. aquariums for kids, be sure to join us on Facebook at Families Who Love To Travel. It’s a community of dynamic families who love to adventure and explore through travel. Plus, follow us on Instagram (@families.love.travel) to connect with other families who love the unique experiences travel has to offer – and to get sneak peeks of upcoming articles! 

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the accommodations, restaurants, or activities on this list may also be closed this year. Please ensure availability before making your decision.

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*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.

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