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7 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit With Kids

A small child sits inside an alcove peering into an aquarium 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 ones? 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 of 7 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit With Kids. Keep reading to discover the most amazing aquariums in the country, perfect for your next family getaway!

Georgia Aquarium, GA

Left Image: A dad and his small child reach into a touch tank at the Georgia Aquarium, one of the best US 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!

Learn more about the Georgia Aquarium or book tickets online here.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, 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! Serving as inspiration for the popular film, it’s home to breathtaking fish, jellyfish, sea otters, and countless other marine creatures. Kids will surely be mesmerized by all 300,000 square feet, which feature over 35,000 animals! Luckily, posted feeding times let you and your children see marine life in action too. Visit the large jellyfish tank designed to replicate the open ocean. With floor-to-ceiling windows, be sure to 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!

Learn more about the Monterey Bay Aquarium or book tickets online here.

The National Aquarium, 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.
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. Visit the on-site café for lunch or bring your own snacks to enjoy throughout the day!

Learn more about the National Aquarium, one of the best U.S. aquariums with kids, or book tickets online here.

Tennessee Aquarium, TN

Two potbelly seahorses float along an exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium.
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! 

Learn more about the Tennessee Aquarium or book tickets online here.

Shedd Aquarium, IL

Left Image: A dad baby-wears a young child while standing in front of a large aquarium tank at The Shedd Aquarium. Right Image: A dad hold his child over a stingray touch tank at The Shedd Aquarium.
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 turtle, 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! 

Learn more about the Shedd Aquarium or book tickets online here.

Seattle Aquarium, WA

Girl looks at a fish at the Seattle Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

The Seattle Aquarium offers fun hands-on learning for everyone in the family! Whether you’re seeking shelter on a rainy day or interested in learning about fish that populate the Northwest, this kid-friendly attraction is a must. 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!  

Learn more about the Seattle Aquarium or book tickets online here.

Florida Aquarium, FL

Left Image: Two kids point to a large fish within a shallow tank at the Florida Aquarium. Right Image: Two kids play at an outdoor splash pad at the Florida Aquarium, one of the best US aquariums for kids.
Photo Courtesy: Plamena Vergilova

The Florida Aquarium is one of Tampa’s top family attractions! 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 here, including seven different animal areas! Learn about the Florida wetlands in the Wetland Trails exhibit, for example, coming up close to alligators, fish, and otters. Then, head to the Journey to Madagascar section, which showcases lemurs, geckos, cockroaches, and more animals sure to delight kids! 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 too, highlighting sea dragons from Australia that your kids will marvel over. Feeling peckish? Enjoy lunch or snacks at one of the multiple cafes, snack shacks, or cantinas afterward!

Learn more about the Florida Aquarium or book tickets online here.

Happy Travels!

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

That tops off our list of 7 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit With Kids! With options 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 of 7 Best U.S. Aquariums To Visit With Kids! 

Thank You To Our Community

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

As always, this article on the 7 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 on our Facebook group, Families Who Love To Travel! For more travel recommendations on vacationing with children, 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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Looking for more animal encounters with kids? Check out the 5 US East Coast Safaris and Animal Parks for Families or the 5 US West Coast Safaris and Animal Parks for Families.

Families Love Travel Team

The Families Love Travel Team has a zest for life and an even bigger passion for globetrotting! Comprised of real-life travel professionals, we work hard behind the scenes to provide dynamic solutions for adventuring with children. Our enthusiastic team understands the challenges that often accompany traveling with kids and is committed to making Families Love Travel an inclusive space to convey these experiences.
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