Aquariums allow us to gaze into another world at all kinds of amazing aquatic life. They also give us a better understanding and appreciation for the planets ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans.
The great thing is that most of us in the United States are just a short drive away from one of these aquariums. Some are small dedicated affairs and others are large and breathtaking. Either way there’s something for everyone.
So let’s dive in and find the best aquarium in your state!
Alabama: Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium
102 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island
The public aquarium at Dauphin Island has 31 aquariums with over 30,000 gallons of water and more than 100 species to view. These aquariums highlight the four main habitats of coastal Alabama which include: the Northern Gulf of Mexico, the Barrier Islands, Mobile Bay, and the Mobile Tensaw River Delta.
But the Sea Lab is more than just a public aquarium. Its primary mission is oceanic and coastal research and education. They partner with 23 higher education institutions to provide studies for undergraduate and graduate students.
Alaska: Alaska SeaLife Center
301 Railway Avenue, Seward
The Alaska SeaLife Center is a public aquarium, marine research, education, and wildlife response center. The aquarium showcases native Alaskan marine life to include species such as Spotted seals, Wolf-eel, Alaska skate, Coho salmon, Giant Pacific octopus, Red King crab, various birds, and more!
For a more interactive experience, you can also reserve a puffin encounter or sea otter experience.
Arizona: OdySea Aquarium
9500 E Via De Ventura, Scottsdale
At a total of more than 2 million gallons, the OdySea aquarium in Scottsdale is the largest in Arizona. This much water is a must when you consider its 65 exhibits and 370 species!
This is the best aquarium in AZ not only because of its size but also because of its offerings. It has the world’s only revolving aquarium experience and my personal favorite SeaTREK Helmet Diving! This is an actual diving experience where you get to come face to face with fish in the aquarium.
602 President Clinton Ave, Little Rock
While not a large commercial aquarium like those found in other states the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center is still worth the trip. The focus of the center is on the outdoor recreation opportunities that the state’s natural resources provide. It features 6 different Arkansas habitat types with aquariums and the species that inhabit them.
California: Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row, Monterey
In a state such as California with multiple excellent aquariums picking a single winner is tough. But, the Monterey Bay Aquarium finds its way to the top with its focus on ocean conservation. The aquarium boasts over 200 exhibits and 80,000 plants and animals. One of these exhibits even has a living kelp forest.
In addition to the amazing public aquarium, Monterey Bay also works to rebuild sea otter populations, transform fisheries, and protect California’s ocean.
Runner up: I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Aquarium of the Pacific. While not #1 it is a close second and one you should definitely check out.
Colorado: Downtown Aquarium
700 Water Street, Denver
The Downtown Aquarium in Denver has the unique distinction of being part aquarium, part restaurant, part ballroom, and part bar.
On the aquarium side there are exhibits such as Under the Sea, At the Wharf, The Rainforest, Coral Lagoon, Sunken Temple, and more. With more than 1 million gallons and 500 species of animals, the aquarium isn’t just a sideshow, it’s the main attraction.
But should you get hungry or a little parched after looking at the exhibits, the Downtown Aquarium has got you covered. At the restaurant, you can view the 50,000-gallon centerpiece aquarium as you chow down. The Dive Lounge can satisfy your thirst for libations if you are so inclined as well!
Connecticut: Mystic Aquarium
55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic
The best aquarium in Connecticut is a close call between the Maritime Aquarium and the Mystic Aquarium. But, for me, it comes down to two words. Beluga whales.
The Mystic Aquarium has the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibit in the United States. Charismatic and gentle, these aquatic mammals are a sight to behold. They are in good hands at this aquarium as well as they are a leader in beluga research, care, and behaviors.
Beyond just the belugas there are plenty of other exhibits and experiences for the whole family to enjoy!
Delaware: Seaside Nature Center
15099 Cape Henlopen Dr, Lewes
While there aren’t any large aquariums in the state of Delaware you aren’t stuck with just the local pet store (sorry Wyoming).
The Seaside Nature Center at Cape Henlopen state park has several small tanks that are worth a visit if you are in the area. The centerpiece is their 495 gallon two-level touch tank with stingrays, horseshoe crabs, and other species. They also have five 1,000 gallon tanks with local fish species.
Florida: The Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Drive, Tampa
Florida is another of those states with multiple quality aquariums. One such aquarium is the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. This aquarium features 8 different habitats with 7,000 different aquatic and terrestrial animal species. The wetlands trail exhibit allows you to walk through a simulated wetland environment and view Alligators and other inhabitants from a safe distance.
In addition to these aquarium exhibits, there are additional paid experiences available. These include the wild dolphin cruise and the backstage African penguin pass.
Honorable mention: I can’t talk about Florida aquariums without mentioning the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This aquarium is home to Winter and Hope, the dolphins from the popular “Dolphin Tale” movie. So if dolphins are your thing this aquarium is a must-see!
Georgia: Georgia Aquarium
225 Baker Street Northwest, Atlanta
The Georgia Aquarium has made headlines recently in the TV series “The Aquarium” on Animal Planet. It’s no surprise either considering the scope and size of this aquarium. With more than 60 habitats featured and a total aquarium water volume of 10 million gallons this aquarium is huge. Their largest single aquarium of 6 million gallons holds more water than all of the tanks combined at most other aquarium attractions.
It’s easy to see why many people rank this aquarium as one of the best in the U.S. and the world.
Hawaii: Maui Ocean Center
192 Maalaea Road, Wailuku
With an exclusive focus on native Hawaiian species the Maui Ocean Center is a unique educational experience. The exhibits follow a progression from the waters just off of the beach to 150 foot ocean depth. There are over 2,000 species on display including one of the largest displays of live Pacific corals.
Idaho: Aquarium of Boise
64 N Cole Rd, Boise
While definitely a smaller aquarium, the Aquarium of Boise is worth the stop if you are in the area. It features 250 different species of animals with 10 different exhibits. My favorites are the ray touch pool and the Amazon exhibit with its silver arowana and pacu.
Illinois: Shedd Aquarium
1200 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has many typical marine exhibits but also focuses on a habitat most aquariums do not. The Great Lakes.
This is suiting considering the aquarium sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. In the Great Lakes exhibit, you will get to see many native species as well as invasive species like sea lampreys and Asian carp. The exhibit does a good job of illustrating the negative impact these invaders pose on the native ecosystem.
Indiana: Indianapolis Zoo
1200 West Washington St., Indianapolis
The Indiana zoo has more than just land animals. It’s also home to some very good aquarium exhibits. They’ve got such species as green moray eel, lionfish, sharks, sea horses, and more.
But the main attraction has got to be the dolphins at the St. Vincent Dolphin Pavilion. Here there are daily presentations and an underwater dolphin viewing dome.
350 East 3rd Street, Port of Dubuque
This fun little aquarium in Dubuque Iowa is also part museum. There are loads of exhibits that highlight the Mississippi River and surrounding countryside. The exhibits focus on the historical, natural, and cultural topics important to the local area.
On the aquarium side, the star of this show is the giant pacific octopus. But they also have many native and lesser-known fish like the very intriguing paddlefish. And of course the young at heart will also enjoy the cownose ray touch tank.
Kansas: Pratt Fish Hatchery
512 SE 25th Street, Pratt
There are slim pickings for public aquariums in the state of Kansas. But, the Pratt Fish Hatchery makes for a nice little outing. The hatchery consists of 87 culture ponds and two concrete raceways. Fish species raised include walleye, wiper, sauger, saugeye, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and bluegill.
In addition to this hatchery, they do have twelve 400-600 gallon aquariums with native Kansas fish species.
Kentucky: Newport Aquarium
1 Aquarium Way, Newport
Few people think about sharks when they hear the word Kentucky. But at the Newport Aquarium, there are 14 different shark species. These sharks are found at the aptly named Shark Central, Surrounded by Sharks, and Dangerous & Deadly exhibits.
Don’t worry if you’ve seen Jaws too many times and sharks aren’t really your thing. There are lots of other exhibits and animals to see. One of my favorite exhibits is Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels.
Louisiana: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
1 Canal St, New Orleans
In Louisiana, you will find the highly rated Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. The centerpiece of this aquarium is its 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico Exhibit. Themed around an underwater oil rig this tank holds sharks, various fish, stingrays, and sea turtles.
Other notable exhibits are the Jelly Gallery and the Great Maya Reef with its walkthrough tunnel.
Maine: Maine State Aquarium
“Wolffish-10.MaineStateAquarium.Aimee Hayden-Roderiques” by ah_roderiques is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
194 McKown Point Rd, Boothbay Harbor
This quaint aquarium in Boothbay Harbor specializes in the Gulf of Maine species. First and foremost this means Lobsters! Chief among them is Neptune, a jumbo male with massive claws. They also have tanks showing the various stages of lobster growth from larval to juvenile.
They also have other exhibits with sport fish, sea anemones, sun stars, northern shrimp, squid, and other local species.
Maryland: National Aquarium
“Visit to the National Aquarium (Baltimore, Maryland)” by cseeman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
501 E Pratt St, Baltimore
The National Aquarium in Baltimore is consistently ranked as one of the top aquariums in the U.S. With over 20,000 specimens and 800 species on display it’s no surprise. But this aquarium’s accolades go beyond just its more than a dozen exhibits.
It is also a non-profit organization that works on conservation initiatives that include things like combating climate change, habitat preservation, and stopping plastic pollution. They also work to rescue and rehabilitate marine animals.
Massachusetts: New England Aquarium
1 Central Wharf, Boston
Attracting 1.3 million visitors per year the New England Aquarium has something for everyone. Children and the young at heart will enjoy the largest shark and ray touch tank on the east coast. Everyone will love the 4 story giant ocean tank with its giant sea turtle and hundreds of other Carribean animals.
In addition to the aquarium, you can also depart on a whale watch cruise and have a chance to spot wild humpback, finback, minke, pilot, or right whales
Michigan: SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium
4316 Baldwin Rd, Auburn Hills
Sea Life Michigan may not be as large as some of the top national aquariums but it is well laid out with quality exhibits. It has Michigan’s only underwater ocean tunnel with over 500 creatures to include sharks and turtles. It also has a 360° shoaling ring exhibit where you can view the schooling behavior of flagtails and pilchards.
You can feel good about spending your hard-earned money here as they are more than just an aquarium. They partner with the Michigan DNR to raise baby sturgeon and release them back into local waterways as well.
Minnesota: SEA LIFE at Mall of America
120 E Broadway East Entrance, Level One, Bloomington
What makes a trip to the Mall of America more complete than a stop at the Sea Life Aquarium? This aquarium is most well known for its 300-foot long tunnel exhibit. This exhibit has notable specimens such as sea turtles, sharks, and sawfish.
While the tunnel exhibit is the main attraction there are others such as the 2 story rain forest exhibit. Here you will find cockroaches, piranha, poison dart frogs, crocodiles, and more!
Mississippi: Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
2148 Riverside Dr, Jackson
While Mississippi does have the new Mississippi Aquarium it’s currently going through some growing pains. At the moment you’re better off spending your money at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.
There are 20 aquariums with 100,000 gallons of water and 200 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates. One of these is an exhibit called The Swamp. This exhibit is a 1,700 square foot greenhouse with a 20,000-gallon aquarium with alligators, turtles, and various fish.
500 W Sunshine St, Springfield
The Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium is a big place with tons of interesting things to see. Between the aquarium exhibits and the wildlife museum plan to spend at least 3 hours in this mecca.
Located in Springfield Missouri next to Bass Pro shops national headquarters this place is a destination unto itself. You will find 1.5 million gallons of water with 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, and birds. The wildlife museum is a massive 350,000 square feet with 1.5 miles of trails and exhibits.
While slightly better off than its neighbor Wyoming, the best aquarium in Montana is at a sporting goods store. The Scheels in Billings has an interesting 16,000-gallon double arch aquarium with three pillars.
While not a destination on its own, there’s a lot to see and do in the store. Did I mention there’s an indoor Ferris wheel?
Nebraska: Henry Doorly Zoo
3701 S 10th St, Omaha
The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is a highly rated world-class zoo. You will find all kinds of interesting, educational exhibits and can easily spend an entire day at the zoo.
Most of the exhibits are terrestrial or land habitats but they do have the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium. One of the main attractions of this aquarium is the 70-foot shark tunnel. You will find aquatic species such as sharks, rays, eel, octopus, jellyfish, and more.
Nevada: Shark Reef Aquarium
3950 Las Vegas Blvd S Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas
Located at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Shark Reef Aquarium has the unique distinction of being attached the Mandalay Bay resort and casino.
The aquarium is home to more than 20,000 animals to include sharks, giant rays, endangered green sea turtles, piranha, and more. You can even dive with over 30 different types of sharks! So if you’re down on your luck in the casino why not take a break and check out this great aquarium.
New Hampshire: Seacoast Science Center
570 Ocean Blvd In Odiorne Point State Park, Rye
The Seacoast Science Center doesn’t have massive aquariums with scores of exotic animals. But what it lacks in size and flair, it makes up for in education and advocacy.
In the new Restoring Reefs exhibit, you can view beautiful live corals. This includes the recently discovered cold-water corals only recently discovered in the Gulf of Maine. This exhibit will also educate you in the threats that reefs face and motivate you to help protect these important living systems.
New Jersey: Adventure Aquarium
1 Riverside Dr, Camden
Home to the largest collection of sharks on the east coast the Adventure Aquarium is a must-see. Not only does it have the only great hammerhead shark on exhibit in the US it has a shark bridge for kids. This V-shaped suspension rope bridge will take you just inches over the Shark Realm exhibit.
But this aquarium is much more than just sharks. It’s home to other great exhibits such as Hippo Haven. Here you can view 2 giant Nile hippos from a split above/below water viewing glass.
New Mexico: ABQ BioPark Aquarium
2601 Central Ave NW, Albuquerque
Located next to the Rio Grande river the ABQ BioPark Aquarium is a medium-sized aquarium that isn’t too big nor too small. It highlights habitats and animal species from the Rio Grande down to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. This includes species that are no longer found in the Rio Grande.
The centerpiece of this aquarium is the 285,000-gallon oceanic aquarium. This aquarium holds 6 different species of sharks, turtles, and various other fish.
Some other interesting exhibits include a real-life shrimp boat, touch pools, jellyfish, a shipwreck, and river otters.
New York: Long Island Aquarium
431 E Main St, Riverhead
The Long Island Aquarium is home to one of the largest all-living coral reefs in the northern hemisphere. And that’s not all, they also have more than 100 other exhibits to explore.
Once you’re done viewing the many different exhibits why not try one of the adventures or interactive experiences? How about snorkeling with tropical fish in the Pirate Snorkel Adventure? Or if you’re more adventurous you can scuba dive with sharks while safely in a shark cage.
North Carolina: North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
374 Airport Road, Manteo
The North Carolina state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources administers not 1 but 4 aquariums. While none of them are huge, each one is great in its own right and well worth the visit. They are the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll, Roanoke Island, Jennette’s Pier, and Forth fisher.
But if we could only pick one which is the best? That’s a tough call but I’ll go out on a limb and say the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.
North Dakota: The Dakota Zoo
602 Riverside Park Rd Box 711, Bismarck
North Dakota doesn’t have much for aquariums but you can still admire some tropical fish at The Dakota Zoo. At the indoor learning center you will find some small aquariums with blue tang and royal gramma.
2000 Sycamore St, Cleveland
You will find the Greater Cleveland Aquarium located in the historic FirstEnergy Powerhouse. While not as big as some major city aquariums it is still worth the visit. It’s a small aquarium with lots of variety.
Highlights include the 175-foot long shark tunnel and an 11,000-gallon stingray touch pool.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma Aquarium
300 Aquarium Drive, Jenks
The Oklahoma Aquarium opened its doors in 2003 and quickly became a must-see attraction. It is home to the world’s largest collection of bull sharks. Regarded as “the most dangerous” shark they can be viewed in their 380,000-gallon tank and tunnel.
Also on display are thousands of other fish, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles from a wide variety of habitats.
Oregon: Oregon Coast Aquarium
2820 SE Ferry Slip Rd, Newport
The aptly named Oregon Coast Aquarium focuses on local Oregon sea and coastal life. These aquarium exhibits include seals, sea lions, sea otters, Dungeness crabs, halibut, eels, urchins, octopus, and more!
Pennsylvania: PPG Aquarium
7370 Baker St, Pittsburgh
Located at the Pittsburgh Zoo the PPG Aquarium is a 45,000 square foot two-story aquarium. Here you will find exhibits highlighting the tropical rainforest, Allegheny River, coral reefs, and the open ocean.
Rhode Island: Save The Bay Exploration Center & Aquarium
“Save the Bay Exploration Center, First Beach, Newport, RI” by Jason Dettbarn is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
175 Memorial Blvd, Newport
This aquarium is an interactive marine science center owned and operated by the non-profit Save The Bay organization. Here you will find more than 40 species from the local Narragansett Bay. They also have 3 touch tanks and dozens of exhibits for you to explore.
South Carolina: Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach
1110 Celebrity Cir, Myrtle Beach
Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach is a large aquarium with a total of 1.4 million gallons of water. The largest single aquarium at Ripley’s is the 750,000-gallon Dangerous Reef. You can view this remarkable aquarium on a gliding path that takes you through the 340-foot long tunnel.
Adults with children will also appreciate the Discovery Center. Offered in this exhibit are hands-on learning experiences which include the opportunity to hold live horseshoe crabs.
South Dakota: Butterfly House & Aquarium
4320 S Oxbow Ave, Sioux Falls
How many aquariums also have a live butterfly exhibit? At the Butterfly House & Aquarium in Sioux Falls, you can view 800 free-flying butterflies and 12 different aquarium habitats. It’s not a large aquarium with only 10,000 gallons of water but it makes up for this with its charm!
Tennessee: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
88 River Road, Gatlinburg
Ripley’s makes this list twice with its Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg. Just like with its aquarium in South Carolina, the highlight is the moving walkway that takes you through a 340-foot tunnel. In this aquarium, you can see green moray eel, sand tiger sharks, and tarpon.
There are over 10,000 exotic sea creatures representing 350 different species. One of my favorites is the weedy scorpionfish found in the Ocean Realm exhibit!
Texas: The Dallas World Aquarium
1801 North Griffin Street, Dallas
The Dallas World Aquarium is really more zoo than an aquarium. It’s essentially an indoor rainforest with a wide variety of terrestrial and aquatic animals. The 10 main aquariums feature aquatic life from around the world. This includes Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, British Columbia, the Bahamas, Fiji, Palau, Southern Australia, Lord Howe Island, and the Solomon Islands.
12033 S Lone Peak Pkwy, Draper
At a total of 600,000-gallons the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is moderate in size. It’s also more than just an aquarium. In addition to aquatic species, you will also find mammals, birds, reptiles, and more. Notable exhibits include the Deep Sea Lab, Penguin Research Station, and Discover Utah..
1 College St, Burlington
ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain focuses on the wonder, nature, and care of Lake Champlain. While ECHO is primarily a science and nature museum it does have several aquariums. These aquariums contain native fish such as freshwater drum, pumpkinseed, lake trout, bowfin, and perch.
“Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center turtles fish” by watts_photos is licensed under CC BY 2.0
717 General Booth Blvd, Virginia Beach
You will find over 300 species at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. The main attraction at this aquarium is the 300,000-gallon tank with sharks, rays, and more.
In addition to the aquatic exhibits, they also offer whale & dolphin watching boat trips.
Washington: Seattle Aquarium
1483 Alaskan Way Pier 59, Seattle
The focus at the Seattle Aquarium is the waters in and around the Pacific Northwest. This aquarium was opened in 1977 and showcases 6 major exhibits. The largest of these exhibits is the 400,000 gallon underwater dome aquarium. In the dome, you have 360° views of Puget Sound fish such as salmon, lingcod, sharks, rockfish, and sturgeon.
West Virginia: Cabela’s
1 Cabela Dr, Triadelphia
Yes, you read that correctly. The best public aquarium you’ll find in West Virginia is at the local Cabela’s in Triadelphia. Despite it being in a sporting goods store the indoor trout stream is still very cool.
Wisconsin: Reiman Aquarium at Discovery World
500 N Harbor Dr, Milwaukee
Located at Discovery World in Milwaukee you will find the Reiman Aquarium. This aquarium takes you from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean with 10 different tanks. It begins with the fresh waters of Lake Michigan, to the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Florida Keys, and ultimately to the Caribbean.
Sorry, Wyoming! Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find a public aquarium worth mentioning. It looks like your best bet is to take a trip down to Denver.