From the scenic West Coast to the Arizona desert to the shores of Lake Michigan, here are 15 great aquariums in the USA, perfect for kid-friendly outings, rainy afternoons, and exploring new cities across the country. There may be thousands of fish in the sea, but there’s only one way to see them without heading to the ocean. In some cases, we factored in the value of the attached zoo, providing visitors a two-for-one experience.
Monterey Bay Aquarium | Monterey, CA
Perched at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the Monterey Bay Aquarium highlights the California coast’s naturally abundant sea life. Glimpse the rich diversity of marine life within a three-story tall kelp forest, feel the ocean’s force at the wave crash tunnel, or catch one of the four daily otter feedings to see the popular marine animals roll through the water and play with toys—a favorite among children. Plus, know that your visit is doing good with every trip, as the aquarium operates as a nonprofit that funds a number of conservation and research initiatives. Save time in long ticket lines by booking your admission ticket in advance, or visit on a day trip from San Francisco for a scenic ride down the famous 17-Mile Drive.
Georgia Aquarium | Atlanta, GA
Not only a top aquarium in the USA, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is also the largest in the country at an astounding 10 million gallons. General admission includes access to the aquarium’s seven galleries with over 500 species of sea animals from around the world, while specialty experiences like the Sleepover Under the Sea and Behind the Seas Tour make your trip extra memorable. Save time in the ticket line by booking your ticket in advance, or save money on admission when you purchase a CityPASS, which includes general admission to the aquarium and four other top Atlanta attractions.
Shores & Aquarium At The Columbus Zoo | Powell, OH
Exhibits of West Indian manatees, Humboldt penguins, and a lively 88,000-gallon coral reef are just the cherries on top of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio. Though the aquarium lives up to world-class standards, the attached zoo sets it apart, providing habitats for hundreds of animals from North America, Asia, and the Polar Frontier and making this top USA aquarium a two-for-one attraction.
Tennessee Aquarium | Chattanooga, TN
With its location on the green banks of the Tennessee River, it only makes sense that the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga would have an entire River Journey building dedicated to its freshwater neighbors, constituting the most diverse exhibit of freshwater animals in the country. An equally-impressive Ocean Journey building featuring saltwater animals has this aquarium doing double duty and makes it a top USA aquarium. A Chattanooga city tour lets you explore the beautiful waterfront for a chance to see animals like river otters in the wild before heading into the exhibits.
Mystic Aquarium | Mystic, CT
The sole home to beluga whales in New England and one of only three aquariums housing endangered Steller sea lions in the country, the Mystic Aquarium combines specialty exhibits with family-favorites like touch tanks, tropical fish, and jellyfish for a crowd-pleasing visit. Plus, the aquarium functions as a research and conservation center to help protect aquatic animals in the wild.
Maui Ocean Center | Wailuku, HI
On an island wrapped by the Pacific, the Maui Ocean Center allows visitors to discover the rich diversity of native Hawaiian wildlife without stepping foot in the water. This outdoor aquarium is small and interactive enough to keep young children entertained, while informative enough to leave adults feeling satisfied. An exclusive focus on native Hawaiian animals makes this great USA aquarium unlike any other in the country. Save money by booking your Maui Ocean Center admission as part of a Maui Value Pass, with additional savings on other top area attractions.
National Aquarium | Baltimore, MD
Visit the National Aquarium in Baltimore to see why it is the top tourist attraction in the state of Maryland and a top aquarium in the USA. An innovative dolphin sanctuary, three-story fish tank, and niche exhibits from around the world keep the crowds flowing in.
Suzanne & Walter Scott Aquarium At The Henry Doorly Zoo | Omaha, NE
The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium brings the wonder of the oceans to the midwest with a shark tunnel, coral reef, and Antarctic penguins, all in land-locked Nebraska. The aquarium is part of the larger Henry Doorly Zoo, a top Omaha attraction with sprawling animals exhibits that take visitors all over the world (and keep them well entertained and informed).
Newport Aquarium | Newport, KY
Put a thrilling twist on your aquarium experience at the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky, most famous for the swinging Shark Bridge hanging just inches above the Shark Tank Overlook. Less adventure-prone visitors can still enjoy the penguin encounter, Gator Alley, and a tidewater touch pool.
Shedd Aquarium | Chicago IL
More than a world-class aquarium and conservation center, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is a National Historic Landmark and architectural beauty, housed in a stunning Beaux-Arts building on the banks of Lake Michigan. The beluga whales, dolphin show, and shark tank make this a top aquarium in America, and the Chicago Explorer Pass and hop-on hop-off tours make visiting a cinch.
Florida Aquarium | Tampa, FL
Pack a swimsuit and a day bag for a trip to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, which features a kid-friendly water play area dubbed the “Splash Pad” in addition to typical aquarium exhibits. Learn about native Florida wildlife like alligators and pelicans on the Wetlands Trail, as well as specialty exhibits like a Madagascar habitat, coral reef, and invertebrate area. Book specialty experiences like a dolphin cruise or shark swim in advance for an extra memorable experience.
Ripley’s Aquarium | Gatlinburg, TN
A massive aquarium in the midst of the Smoky Mountains may not seem feasible, but you better believe it. The moving sidewalk at Ripley’s Aquarium glides beneath the shark tunnel for unbelievable views of the ocean’s most notorious residents, while a four-story play structure and glass-bottom boat provide interactive experiences perfect for kids.
Waikiki Aquarium | Honolulu, HI
Don’t let its size fool you: the Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu is all about quality over quantity. Exhibits include coral farms, giant clams, and specialty Hawaii exhibits featuring the islands’ unique wildlife like monk seals and extremely rare tropical fishes. Make a full day of your visit by going as part of a larger Waikiki tour, as the actual aquarium can be seen in as little as an hour.
Wildlife World Aquarium | Litchfield Park, AZ
It may not be your first guess, but the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium in the middle of the Arizona desert makes the cut as one of our top picks for aquariums in the USA. A sea lion show and special freshwater exhibit are particularly popular, while the connected zoo features a dragons exhibit, safari park, kangaroo habitat, and much more.
Sea Life Aquarium | Bloomington, MN
Starfish, stingrays, and jellyfish swim beneath department stores at the Sea Life Aquarium, located on the first floor of the Mall of America. A series of glass tunnels burrow through shark-infested waters, and specialty experiences like behind-the-scenes tours, snorkeling, and sleepovers provide enticing upgrades. Buy tickets ahead of time to skip the long ticket line.
*Algorithm methodology: Destination reviews were analyzed and ranked by aquarium-related keywords present within the review text.