The United States has some of the world’s best aquariums, which are home to a wide variety of ocean life, including sharks, dolphins, and colorful fish. The cool thing about the country’s aquariums is they provide a way for us to experience the undersea world without getting our feet wet.
Just head to one of our top picks in the U.S. where you are guaranteed to see your favorite sea creatures without investing thousands of dollars on travel and diving classes. You’ll find educational exhibits, guided tours, and exciting shows to enhance the experience while advocating for ocean preservation and wildlife protection.
Below are some of the best aquariums in the U.S, from east coast to west. Each one offers a unique experience that will enhance your appreciation of the world’s oceans and seas.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, California
Often considered the top aquarium in the United States, Monterey Bay boasts 550 different species and over 35,000 animals! The seaside facility pumps in over 2,000 gallons of seawater per minute to maintain the natural habitats of marine life, including the three-story high kelp forest that grows about four inches each day. Monterey Bay was the first aquarium to successfully maintain a living kelp forest in an artificial backdrop.
At Monterey Bay Aquarium, you will also see sharks, penguins, eels, and even a giant octopus. Plan at least one full day so you have plenty of time to tour this once-in-a-lifetime attraction.
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940 | 831-648-4800 | montereybayaquarium.org
New York Aquarium, New York
On the other side of the country, on Brooklyn’s Coney Island, is the New York Aquarium, the oldest and one of he best aquarium in the United States. More than 260 marine species call this facility home. The goal of the New York Aquarium is to raise public awareness about marine wildlife and conservation efforts.
New York’s famous east coast aquarium attracts nearly 750,000 visitors each year and has made several enhancements in recent years to attract a younger audience. Currently, there are five main exhibits:
- Sea cliffs
- Ocean Wonders – Sharks
- Conservation Hall
Different shows are held in the 4D theater that spotlights sea lions, sharks, and colored reefs. A visit to the New York Aquarium is a must-see when visiting the Big Apple.
2300 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10460 | 718-220-5100 | nyaquarium.com
New England Aquarium, Massachusetts
The one-of-a-kind giant ocean tank puts the New England Aquarium at Boston Harbor on our list of best east coast aquariums in the US. This 200,000-gallon tank, with a breathtaking view of a Caribbean coral reef, showcased sharks, eels, turtles, stingrays, barracudas, and a wide variety of fish.
Visitors can take the spiral walkway from top to bottom to catch all the marine life the aquarium has to offer. It’s no wonder over a million people visit this Top Ten attraction on the East Coast.
Beneath one of the biggest shark tanks in the United States sits a 150,000-gallon penguin exhibit which includes both the southern rockhopper and African penguin.
As you venture farther into the New England Aquarium, you will discover other exhibits including:
- The Thinking Gallery, an assortment of schooling fish.
- The Freshwater Gallery, a cultural lesson on South American ecosystems with marine life such as piranhas, anacondas, and eels.
- The Edge of the Sea Tide Pool, where visitors can get the hands-on experience of touching some of the marine wildlife including sea stars, hermit crabs, and sea urchins.
- The Tropical Gallery, a vivid and colorful world with tropical fish and live coral.
Before you enter the aquarium, there is also a free harbor seal exhibit.
1 Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110 | 617-973-5200 | neaq.org
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon
Home to the largest outdoor aviary in the United States (and North America), the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport easily makes our top list of best aquariums to visit. If that doesn’t sell you, how about this aquarium was home to Keiko, the orca who was famous for starring in the movie Free Willy.
The west coast aquarium is most notably famous for is collection of different flora native to the area. It’s main exhibits include:
- Sandy Shores, marine life from the shores of Oregon
- Rocky Shores, a venture into the waters where you can see jellyfish and a variety of fish
- Coastal Waters, a glimpse into the ocean’s massive kelp villages
- Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, where visitors can go back in time and see what Oregon was like in prehistoric times, from vivid coral reefs to the giant Pacific octopus
The main attraction is Passages of the Deep where Keiko lived. The tank has a beautiful walkthrough section where you can observe sharks and stingrays.
2820 SE Ferry Slip Rd., Newport, OR 97365 | 541-867-3474 | aquarium.org
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Louisiana
Located on the east coast and along the Mississippi River in New Orleans’s historical French Quarter, Audubon Aquarium of the Americans is home to over 10,000 marine animals and 520 different species. Since the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2006, which killed many of the facility’s fish, the Aquarium of the Americas has rebuilt its structure and its sea life population to showcase the amazing marine life of North and South America.
Audubon Nature Institute is affiliated with the Aquarium of the Americas and takes an active role in the preservation of endangered species and working with the Coastal Wildlife Network.
Some of the top exhibits to visit are:
- Caribbean reef, a stroll through a 30-foot tunnel through a 132,000-gallon tank with an eclectic range of fish.
- Amazon, a highlight of the facility, this greenhouse features piranhas, anaconda, stingrays, and macaws
- Mississippi River, a local exhibit that explains the unique New Orleans marine life, from catfish to alligators to sea otters.
- Gulf of Mexico, a 400,00-gallon tank with breathtaking views of sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles.
New Orleans has a lot to offer the traveler, but make sure you take some time to visit one of the best aquariums in the U.S.
1 Canal St., New Orleans, LA 70130 | 504-565-3033 | audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium
Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska
A premier aquarium since it first opened its doors in 1998, the Alaska SeaLife Center has the dual goal of introducing visitors to marine life and serving as a research and rehabilitation center for mammals and the aquatic ecosystem of Alaska. Conservation and public education take center stage at the Seward-based facility, making it our choice for one of the best aquariums in the U.S.
The Alaska SeaLife Center is located at Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska. Visitors are offered a variety of exhibits including:
- Touch tanks where you can feel sea urchins and sea stars
- Aviary with countless resident birds
- Nose 2 Nose which offers an immersive underwater experience through tunnels where you can come within inches of octopuses, seals, sea lions, rocketfish, crabs, and many others.
With so many things to see and do at the Alaska SeaLife Center, it is truly an adventure for all ages.
301 Railway Ave., Seward, AK 99664 | 888-378-2525 | alaskasealife.org
Shedd Aquarium, Illinois
As one of the best indoor aquariums in the United States, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium attracts millions of visitors each year. The facility, on the shore of Lake Michigan, is home to an astonishing 32,000 animals and marine life with 1,500 different species.
Although it is an inland aquarium, but still hosts a variety of saltwater fish. Marine biologists visit regularly to study whales, dolphins (the rare white-sided), reptiles, sea lions, and many more. Several exhibits tourists can enjoy are:
- Waters of the World, one of the oldest exhibits at the aquarium offers views of octopus, iguanas, turtles, and species local to the region.
- Caribbean Reef, a live demonstration with a diver who interacts with the mammals, giving you a great lesson in marine life.
- Amazon Rising, a huge 8,600-square-foot forest and jungle habitat where one can walk around and explore over 250 different species.
- Wild Reef, a 400,000-gallon tank home to sharks, stingrays, and a Philippine coral reef.
- Polar Play Zone, one of the best attractions at the Shedd Aquarium that lets you get to see up close the beluga whale.
- Stingray Touch, an exhibit where visitors can touch a life cownose or yellow spotted stingray.
1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605 | 312-939-2438 | sheddaquarium.org
National Aquarium, Maryland
Located at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the National Aquarium is the biggest tourist attraction in the entire state and one of the top aquariums in the U.S. It boasts over 750 different species of marine life and more than 17,000 animals. In 2008, its Wild Extremes portion was awarded with a Best Exhibit award.
The east coast aquarium aims to educate the public on conservation and confront the global issues with mammals habitats. Some of the exhibits you will encounter are:
- Upland Tropical Rain Forest, where you can enjoy a two-story Coral Reef with sharks.
- Wild Extremes, an Australian river gorge exhibit with thousands of fish and dolphins to observe.
- 4D Immersion theater with a history and education on marine wildlife.
The National Aquarium in Maryland is truly a one stop shop for learning about aquatic life all throughout the world.
501 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, MD 21202 | 410-576-3800 | aqua.org
Georgia Aquarium, Georgia
At one time, the Georgia Aquarium was the largest aquarium in the world and it remains the largest in the U.S. It was designed and constructed with the sole purpose of showing off the whale shark from Thailand in a 6.3-million-gallon tank, a first-of-its-kind exhibit that made it a top tourist destination.
There are several amazing exhibits to explore while viewing mammals such as whales, dolphins, alligators, sharks, manta rays, and thousands of fish. Adults can even partake in “Sips Under the Sea” while their kids play at Camp H20. Some of the best exhibits we recommend are:
- Tropical Diver
- Ocean Voyager
- Cold Water Quest
- Southern Company River Scout
- Dolphin Coast
- Truist Pier 225
- Aquanaut Adventure
In 2020, the newest exhibit, Predators of the Deep, opened featuring hammerhead, tiger, silky, zebra, and silvertip sharks. There is even a tank where you can get in and hang out with the zebra sharks and sting rays.
Plan a few days to completely explore the entire aquarium with all its demonstrations and exhibits. It truly is one of the greatest aquariums in the U.S.
225 Baker St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30313 | 404-581-4000 | georgiaaquarium.org
Seattle Aquarium, Washington
The last aquarium, Seattle Aquarium, on our list of top aquariums in the U.S. takes us back to the west coast, this time to the Emerald City of Seattle. A million people each year visit this facility that is focused on public education and marine life conservation. You will be able to see such animals as otters, lionfish, jellyfish, and sea anemones. Some of their best exhibits include:
- Window on Washington Waters, a 120,000-gallon tank that is home to a variety of local marine life including salmon, sea anemones, and rockfish. There are several shows daily with divers interacting the sea life.
- The Crashing Waves, an exhibit that replicates the Washington shores. Who doesn’t love a wave tank?
- Life on the Edge, an interactive exhibit where visitors can touch some of Seattle’s local marine life.
- Life of a Drifter, surround yourself around moon jellies and a giant Pacific Octopus
There are several tunnels to also give you a first-hand look at sharks, rockfish, eels, and many more. If you are in the Seattle area, this aquarium needs to be on your bucket list.
1483 Alaskan Way Pier 59, Seattle, WA 98101 | 206-386-4300 | seattleaquarium.org
A visit to one of these best aquariums in the U.S. will be a day well spent. Each of the top aquariums will give you a chance to see the fascinating aquatic animals and fish as you learn about conservation efforts in fragile ocean ecosystems.