The Top 5 Best Aquariums You Must See in Your Lifetime

Beneath the waves lies a world waiting to be explored, but you don’t need to don diving gear or book a tropical vacation to experience the marvels of marine life. With some of the world’s most impressive aquariums located right here in the United States, one need only plan a day trip to get up close and personal with ocean creatures and their habitats. These aquariums, situated in gorgeous settings such as Monterey’s Northern California coastline, the Boston waterfront, and Seattle’s Elliott Bay, offer exhibits that let visitors mingle with beluga whales, dolphins, and even sharks while emphasizing the importance of wildlife conservation. To ensure an unforgettable subaquatic adventure, be sure to add these outstanding aquariums to your travel must-see list.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Found in Monterey, California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium endeavors to promote the preservation of global oceans, with a particular focus on marine habitats within the Monterey Bay. Since its establishment in 1984, the aquarium has dedicated its efforts towards safeguarding sea otters and extinct bird species, earning recognition as a pioneering figure in animal husbandry for its successful display of a great white shark. The non-profit organization has received numerous awards for its outstanding contributions to ocean conservation. Drawing in at least two million visitors annually, the aquarium houses an impressive collection of 35,000 animals from no less than 500 different species, providing visitors with insights into the workings of the planet’s dynamic waters. Featuring pulsating jellies and awe-inspiring scenery, Monterey Bay stands out for its uniqueness. Touring the aquarium will take approximately three hours.

Birch Aquarium, San Diego

Birch Aquarium, which is part of UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute for Oceanography, showcases the discoveries of Scripps scientists in the field of ocean science and climate. With a history spanning over a century, the aquarium is home to 5,000 animals representing 380 species, showcased in exhibits such as Shark Reef, Coral Reef, the Hall of Fishes, There’s Something About Seahorses, and Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge. Visitors can explore the wonders of marine life in the Pacific Ocean, from the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest and the California coast to the warm waters of Mexico’s tropical waters and the Indo-Pacific coral reefs. Witness feedings to observe the behaviors of various animals, including sharks, and immerse yourself in the world of Scripps Oceanography scientists to learn more about their global research activities through Expedition at Sea.

Georgia Aquarium: Atlanta

It’s no surprise that the expansive Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is a must-visit destination in Georgia. Delve into the world of marine life as you encounter rays, dolphins, sea lions, beluga whales, penguins, harbor seals, and even sharks up close. Take part in the aquarium’s animal encounter programs for an unforgettable experience, where you can swim with, touch, or dive alongside these captivating creatures. Focused on conservation education and promoting positive relationships between humans and animals, the programs are unparalleled. For a peaceful experience, observe the charming harbor seals and their training behind the scenes. Alternatively, for an adrenaline-pumping adventure, opt for a shark cage dive. The Ocean Voyager exhibit is a recent favorite among visitors, housing over 50 species in its 100-foot-long underwater tunnel. It is best to arrive early during weekends and peak seasons to avoid queues.

Shores & Aquarium At The Columbus Zoo | Powell, OH

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio is an exceptional attraction that boasts a multitude of animal habitats for hundreds of creatures from North America, Asia, and the Polar Frontier. While exhibiting West Indian manatees, Humboldt penguins, and a vibrant 88,000-gallon coral reef, the aquarium stands out as a world-class facility. Nevertheless, the real uniqueness of this top-notch aquarium lies in its attached zoo, elevating this destination to a two-for-one experience.

Heal the Bay Aquarium 

The Heal the Bay Aquarium, formerly known as the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, is located at 1600 Ocean Front Walk in Santa Monica, CA 90401. Visitors can marvel at the Two-Spotted Octopus and learn about the local marine life surrounding the pier. The aquarium gained notoriety in 2009 when the octopus accidentally caused two hundred gallons of water to flood from a pipe valve, causing significant damage. However, the main focus of the Heal the Bay Aquarium is to provide marine education, advocate for ocean health and safety, and serve as a community center for educating residents and beyond about the wonders of marine science.

Pro Tips

View From Home

Can’t make it in person? Many aquariums have live cams set up so you can see what the marine life is up to from the comfort of your couch. Just check the aquarium’s website.

Purchase Tickets In Advance

It goes without saying, but as these are some of the best aquariums in the country, they are quite popular. Therefore, you will want to purchase tickets in advance, which can also save you time in line. Arriving early during the day can help your chances of getting an up-close look at the exhibits, especially on weekends.

Shopping And Dining

Most aquariums have onsite dining in case you work up an appetite and gift shops so you can purchase a souvenir to remember your visit. Some even have online gift shops so you can just pretend you went, haha!


Parents and grandparents with tiny tots in tow beware, some aquariums may not permit strollers in their exhibits. Review the aquarium’s Frequently Asked Question page to check for stroller policies.


Most major cities offer CityPass, which includes admission to major tourist attractions such as aquariums. Check into this option if you plan on seeing more sights during your getaway!


Where is the largest aquarium in the world?

The largest aquarium in the world is China’s Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, as confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records. It boasts enclosures filled with almost 13 million gallons of water.

Where is the oldest aquarium in the world?

The oldest aquarium in the world is Brighton Aquarium, now SEA LIFE Brighton. The UK aquarium opened its doors on Saturday August 10, 1872 and is still going strong today!

Where is the largest aquarium viewing window in the world?

If you want to feel like you’re under the sea without getting your feet wet, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China has the world’s largest aquarium viewing window, measuring 39.6 by 8 meters. The Hengqin aquarium also boasts the largest underwater viewing dome and largest aquarium tank. 

Where is the longest aquarium tunnel in the world?

Measuring 155 meters long, Shanghai Ocean Aquarium boats the world’s longest aquarium tunnel.

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