35 Best Aquariums in America, Ranked
Aquariums have always been a fascination for humans. Why? They give us a glimpse into a world that we would otherwise never be able to see. For a brief moment in time, aquariums take us from our terrestrial perches to the shallow coral reefs of the Caribbean and beyond to the darkest depths of the deepest oceans.
Fortunately, the United States is home to a wide variety of aquariums across the country that showcase hundreds of thousands of miraculous sea animals. From frolicking, cuddly sea otters to some of the more elusive creatures of the deep, the top-rated aquariums in the U.S. are not short on exciting educational exhibits.
Some aquariums go above and beyond the traditional exhibits to offer unique experiences like touch tanks, underwater tunnels, and even restaurant venues and live entertainment. So if you're ready to explore the best aquariums in America, we've combed review sites like Yelp to determine which aquariums are the absolute best.
35. Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium
Location: Springfield, Missouri
Most Bass Pro shops have an aquarium to peek at, but this is something totally next-level.
The Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium is huge, so you will need at least an hour or two to see all it has to experience.
What to Expect: Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium
There's a reason it's called a wildlife museum.
Unlike ordinary aquariums, this one includes 1.5 miles of trails to explore, with 35,000 fish, reptiles, birds and mammals to view along the way.
34. Adventure Aquarium
Location: Camden, New Jersey
If you like sharks, Adventure Aquarium is one of the best aquariums to visit. It's home to the biggest shark collection on the East Coast.
What to Expect: Adventure Aquarium
After visitors walk across the (nerve-racking) shark exhibit suspension bridge, there's an entire world of aquatic life to explore that's not quite so toothy.
There are tons of fish and even a couple of Nile hippos.
33. Long Island Aquarium
Location: Long Island, New York
The Long Island Aquarium has one of the biggest, real indoor coral reefs in the world, plus over 100 additional aquatic exhibits to check out.
What to Expect: Long Island Aquarium
If looking at fish isn't enough of a thrill, skim through the educational exhibits and sign up to snorkel with tropical fish.
For the most adventurous visitors, there's also a scuba diving adventure with live sharks.
But don't worry. Swimmers are in a cage for safety.
32. Steinhart Aquarium
Location: San Francisco, California
The Steinhart Aquarium opened at the California Academy of Sciences nearly a century ago. It strived to be an innovative aquarium that served three purposes: to educate, to explore and to entertain.
By the looks of it, the biologists there have accomplished their mission and more.
What to Expect: Steinhart Aquarium
Steinhart Aquarium is home to the biggest living indoor coral reef and boasts almost 40,000 live animals.
It's one of the best aquariums in California, and one of the most diverse in the world.
31. Oklahoma Aquarium
Location: Jenks, Oklahoma
When it opened in 2003, the Oklahoma Aquarium was an instant hit. One of the most popular exhibits is the epic, 380,000-gallon shark tank/tunnel.
Here's hoping it doesn't crack.
What to Expect: Oklahoma Aquarium
The Oklahoma Aquarium features what's arguably the coolest, creepiest exhibit of any aquarium in the U.S.: the largest collection of bull sharks in captivity.
There are even interactive tanks where you can touch much smaller, less hungry-looking creatures.
30. PPG Aquarium
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
PPG Aquarium takes up 45,000 square feet and two stories of the popular Pittsburgh Zoo.
Some of the coolest exhibits include living coral reefs and species from the tropical rainforest.
What to Expect: PPG Aquarium
You'll see plenty of fish at PPG Aquarium, but you'll also have a chance to see an entire zoo's worth of other animals.
Not too many other aquariums have baby leopard cubs in their lineup.
29. Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach
Location: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
It's South Carolina's favorite aquarium, and it's easy to see why.
This place is huge, with a total of 1.4 million gallons of water hosting some mind-boggling creatures.
Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach
Visitors can walk through the largest single tank at Ripley's: the 750,000-gallon Dangerous Reef tank. Lots of aquariums have tunnels, but few have tunnels that are 340 feet long.
There's also a hands-on Discovery Center, where kids can hold live crabs and other harmless ocean critters.
28. Reiman Aquarium
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Is it the biggest aquarium? No, no it is not.
Nevertheless, the Reiman Aquarium at Discovery World is the coolest aquarium in the state.
What to Expect: Reiman Aquarium
Ten different exhibits take visitors from the clear waters of local Lake Michigan all the way to the Caribbean.
The aquatic tunnel is arguably the coolest feature, especially for kids.
27. Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
One of the best aquariums on the East Coast, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is home to over 300 aquatic species.
What to Expect: Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Unlike most aquariums, this one gives visitors the option to get up close and personal with the biggest marine animals around via whale and dolphin watching excursions. These boating trips allow visitors to see whales and dolphins in their natural habitat.
The aquarium also has traditional aquatic exhibits, including a 300,000-gallon shark tank.
26. Loveland Living Planet Aquarium
Location: Draper, Utah
The moderately sized Loveland Living Planet Aquarium isn't just an aquarium. It's also home to plenty of birds, reptiles and mammals, so it's more like a mini-zoo than a plain old aquarium experience.
What to Expect: Loveland Living Planet Aquarium
With a total of 600,000 gallons, it's not the biggest aquarium on this list, but it's also not the smallest. One of the coolest aquariums in the country, this one includes a Deep Sea Lab, Penguin Research Station, and Discover Utah.
In summers, it also features a spectacular light show and musical event called Nights Under Lights.
25. Georgia Aquarium
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
A facility with more than 11 million gallons of water, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is a paradise for underwater aficionados. It was the world’s largest aquarium when it opened in 2005 (though now it ranks at No. 3).
Still, it is the largest aquarium in the United States. Among its notable species include whale sharks, beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, and manta rays.
What to Expect: Georgia Aquarium
The aquarium has more than 100,000 and 120,000 underwater creatures. But perhaps the biggest reason to visit (pun intended?) is that it is home to massive whale sharks.
This is the only aquarium outside of the continent of Asia to have these gentle giants.
24. John G. Shedd Aquarium
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium dates all the way back to 1930. Back then, the 5 million gallon facility was the largest in the world. In fact, it was the first inland aquarium to have a permanent saltwater fish exhibit.
Among its notable exhibits are those dedicated to the Amazon, stingrays, the Caribbean and the Polar Play Zone.
What to Expect: John G. Shedd Aquarium
The aquarium has at least 25,000 fish in its 5 gallons of water.
Expect to see animals like Giant Pacific Octopus, Beluga whales and jellyfish.
23. Aquarium of the Pacific
Location: Long Beach, California
Perched on Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach, California, the Aquarium of the Pacific spans 5 acres and is home to more than 11,000 animals across 500 species.
The aquarium has three permanent galleries as well as a series of rotating exhibits.
What to Expect: Aquarium of the Pacific
Visit the Southern California/Baja Gallery for the three-story Blue Cavern tank.
You can also visit the Amber Forest for a kelp forest replica or the Gulf of California gallery, which has a vibrant display of exotic creatures from south of the border.
22. Seattle Aquarium
Location: Seattle, Washington
The Seattle Aquarium opened its doors in 1977 on Pier 59 on Elliott Bay. In 2007, it expanded, adding 18,000 square feet, including a 120,000-gallon exhibit.
Today, the aquarium is committed to marine conservation and education on the human impact on the oceans.
What to Expect: Seattle Aquarium
A visit to the Window on Washington Waters is a must.
This exhibit demonstrates the Washington coastline and features many native species, like rockfish, salmon and sea anemones.
21. Downtown Aquarium Houston
The Downtown Aquarium, Houston is a place to really get a taste for underwater adventure — literally. Not only is the space a public aquarium, but it is also a restaurant.
The aquarium sits on 6 acres and houses more than 200 species of animals in 500,000 gallons of water. You can also dine in one of the two restaurants.
What to Expect: Downtown Aquarium Houston
Feast your eyes on electric eels and exhibits like the Texas Bayou, the Rainforest and a sunken hull of a 17th-century Spanish galleon.
20. North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Location: Kure Beach, North Carolina
The North Carolina coastline is one of the most beloved in the country, so it's only fitting that it houses one of the nation's best aquariums as well.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is known for showcasing the many indigenous species that can be found in the waters in and around North Carolina. It features 235,000 gallons of water.
What to Expect: North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Several exhibits give a well-rounded look at indigenous Carolina creatures.
The Coastal Waters Gallery features a hands-on exhibit to learn about sea urchins, horseshoe crabs and whelks, while the Open Oceans Gallery has species like pufferfish and filefish, as well as octopus and jellyfish.
19. National Aquarium
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Located on Baltimore's Harbor right on Pratt Street, the National Aquarium is, well, a national treasure. It's known for its exhibits like the Living Seashore, Atlantic Coral Reef and Sea Cliffs.
Plus, the various floors of the aquarium have picture-perfect views of the ocean and harbor.
What to Expect: National Aquarium
Within the 2.2 million gallons of water are 17,000 animals from more than 750 species.
Don't miss the top exhibits, like Australia: Wild Extremes, Jellies Invasion or the Upland Tropical Rain Forest.
18. Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Location: La Jolla, California
The Birch Aquarium is affiliated with the University of California at San Diego. The sizable aquarium spans 64,157 square feet and is home to more than 3,000 animals across 380 species.
Exhibits feature more than 60 different habitats, including a two-story, 70,000-gallon Giant Kelp Tank.
What to Expect: Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The exhibits are truly mesmerizing. Take the Hall of Fishes, for instance, which has hundreds of fish from the waters in the Pacific Northwest as well as the Caribbean. Shark Reef has several different species of reef sharks.
An important exhibit to note is the aquarium's Feeling the Heat, which is dedicated to climate change and the research being done at the university.
17. Downtown Aquarium Denver
Location: Denver, Colorado
Similar to the one in Houston, Downtown Aquarium Denver is more than just a space for learning — it's an entertainment zone. Formerly the Ocean Journey Aquarium, it became part of Landry's Restaurants in 2005.
Today, it has more than a million gallons of water teeming with 500 species of animals.
What to Expect: Downtown Aquarium Denver
The aquarium has both freshwater and ocean exhibits, including those that cater to endangered or threatened species.
But it also puts on performances like a special live mermaid show in the Under the Sea exhibit.
16. New York Aquarium
Location: Brooklyn, New York
If you like history, you're going to love the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn. Located on Coney Island, it is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States.
It opened in 1898 in Battery Park in Manhattan and moved to its current location in the 1950s.
What to Expect: New York Aquarium
The aquarium is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. It sits on an impressive 14 acres and has 266 species of wildlife.
Check out popular exhibits like Spineless, which is devoted to the world of invertebrates. You can also discover the wide world of sharks and even an outdoor Aquatheater.
15. Waikiki Aquarium
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
You'd expect an archipelago state to have a pretty sweet aquarium — and you'd be right. The Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu was founded in 1904 and is one of the oldest aquariums in the United States.
It has more than 3,500 animals across nearly 500 species. It also was the first aquarium in the United States to develop living coral displays.
What to Expect: Waikiki Aquarium
The living coral display is truly remarkable. The aquarium was able to grow different types of coral, which are now more than 30 years old.
You can also see broad club cuttlefish, giant clams and a mahi-mahi hatchery.
14. The Florida Aquarium
Location: Tampa, Florida
One of the largest aquariums in the country, Tampa's Florida Aquarium is a whopping 250,000 square feet. Within the walls are more than 20,000 aquatic animals and plants, both native to Florida and from around the world.
The aquarium is also leading the way in terms of coral reef research. It has set a goal to help restore 125 acres of coral reef by 2022.
What to Expect: The Florida Aquarium
The exhibits run the gamut, from the freshwater springs of Florida to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.
One of the newest to check out is the Waves of Wonder exhibit.
13. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies shows off an impressive 10,000 creatures across 350 species.
While it is considered to be one of the smaller aquariums on this list, it certainly can hold its own, thanks to its host of exciting programming, like petting a penguin and behind-the-scenes tours.
What to Expect: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Among the impressive exhibits, favorites tend to be the walk-through tunnel that puts the sea world directly over the heads of viewers.
There is also a glass-bottom boat ride over the shark lagoon and plenty of hands-on experiences that families love.
12. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
A sister to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas shows off a wide array of sea creatures from its 400,000-gallon water tank.
Inside, you'll be able to see stingrays, sea turtles, sharks and more.
What to Expect: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
The Gulf of Mexico exhibit at the aquarium is one of its most popular, but you'll also find exhibits dedicated to the wildlife of the Mississippi River, the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Maya Reef in Mexico.
11. Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration
Location: Mystic, Connecticut
A jewel on the Connecticut coastline is the seaside town of Mystic, home to the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration. The aquarium is one of only a handful of aquariums in the U.S. to house Steller sea lions.
It is also the only aquarium in New England to have beluga whales.
What to Expect: Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration
Get up close and personal with sharks in the shark touch pool, or feast your eyes on African penguins and jellyfish.
The aquarium is also home to harbor seals, a unicorn fish, sand tiger sharks and stingrays.
10. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is one of the top-rated attractions, not only in Nebraska but the entire country. The aquarium spans 71,000 square feet and has 1.2 million gallons of water.
Exhibits include those devoted to the Amazon rainforest, coral reefs and the polar regions.
What to Expect: Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
One of the top exhibits is the 450,000-gallon shark tank, which has a 70-foot shark tunnel under which you can view a kaleidoscope of colorful wildlife.
From the sharks to the sea turtles, stingrays and coral, this is definitely not an exhibit to miss.
9. Newport Aquarium
Location: Newport, Kentucky
With 70 exhibits across 14 galleries and five 200-foot-long tunnels, the Newport Aquarium in Newport has enough to keep the whole family entertained all day.
The aquarium is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which means it offers several outreach programs that help to educate the public about ocean conservation.
What to Expect: Newport Aquarium
The aquarium has 1 million gallons of water and is the first aquarium to successfully breed shark rays.
You can also say hello to Burmese pythons in the rainforest exhibit or stroll down Gator Alley to meet Mighty Mike.
8. South Carolina Aquarium
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston's South Carolina Aquarium is a relative newcomer to the aquarium scene. It opened in 2000 right on the beautiful Charleston Harbor.
Today, it has more than 10,000 animals and plants. Undoubtedly the fan-favorite exhibit is its 385,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank, which spans three floors and houses more than 700 animals.
What to Expect: South Carolina Aquarium
Other exhibits to explore take visitors through Mountain Forests, the Piedmont, Coastal Plains, Saltmarsh Aviary the Coast, and a popular touch tank, where guests can get hands-on with various invertebrates and even Atlantic stingrays.
7. Tennessee Aquarium
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
The Tennessee Aquarium calls Chattanooga home, with glorious views of the Tennessee River. The aquarium opened in the 1990s but underwent a major expansion in 2005.
Today, it houses more than 12,000 animals across 800 species.
What to Expect: Tennessee Aquarium
The aquarium’s exhibits are spread across two buildings. The first is the 130,000-square-foot River Journey, which has 400,000 gallons of water. It follows the North American rivers from the Appalachian Mountains south to where they spill into the Gulf of Mexico.
The 60,000-square-foot Ocean Journey is in the second building. This 700,000-gallon facility picks up the rest of the journey from the Gulf of Mexico out to sea.
6. Oregon Coast Aquarium
Location: Newport, Oregon
The Pacific Northwest has some impressive coastline. Oregon, in particular, has a stunning stretch of seashore. Nowhere is it more celebrated than at the Oregon Coast Aquarium on Yaquina Bay in Newport.
Fun fact: The museum was made famous as the home of Keiko, the orca whale who starred in “Free Willy.” Keiko was released in 1998.
What to Expect: Oregon Coast Aquarium
The aquarium features marine and land animals and plants that are native to the Oregon Coast. Permanent exhibits include Rocky Shores, Sandy Shores and Coastal Waters.
An outdoor aquarium features a seabird aviary and mammals like sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions.
5. Texas State Aquarium
Location: Corpus Christi, Texas
Everything's bigger in Texas, or so they say, and that is certainly the case with the Texas State Aquarium. The largest aquarium in Texas, and one of the largest in the country, this aquarium is dedicated to conserving wildlife specific to the Gulf of Mexico.
It has many popular exhibits, particularly the 400,000-gallon Dolphin Bay, which has four Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
What to Expect: Texas State Aquarium
The Texas State Aquarium is packed with fascinating exhibits.
The Blue Hole, for example, explores the creatures of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, while Islands of Steel recreates an ocean habitat that developed around an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
4. Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium
Location: Bloomington, Minnesota
Located within the world-famous Mall of America, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium is a 1.2 million-gallon aquarium packed with 11 exhibits and an underwater tunnel.
Thousands of creatures from 200 species include sharks, stingrays, sawfish and guitar sharks.
What to Expect: Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium
The museum kicks off with the Stingray Adventure. Here, visitors will find the Ray Pool, a spot where they can interact with stingrays. Other exhibits include the Jellyfish Discovery, Shark Discovery and an exhibit with six different types of seahorses.
Of course, the 300-foot tunnel is another incredible experience, which flows through four different tanks.
3. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Location: Monterey, California
Monterey's Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in the 1980s and has grown to be one of the top aquariums in the world. California's waterways and coast are remarkable, and Monterey Bay is one of the best places to learn about its marine life.
In 34 galleries with 200 exhibits, housing 35,000 animals, this aquarium is one of the most comprehensive in the world.
What to Expect: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Exhibits include all types of habitats, from beaches and dunes to kelp forests, open waters and deep sea. You'll be able to see African penguins, jellyfish, sea otters and sharks.
Plus, it is one of the top aquariums in the world for its marine conservation institutions.
2. Alaska SeaLife Center
Location: Seward, Alaska
For all the marine mammals you can find in the waters around Alaska — and there are quite a few — the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward is the only permanent rehabilitation facility for marine mammals in the state.
It also happens to be the top aquarium in Alaska and uses much of its funding for research, conservation and rehabilitation.
What to Expect: Alaska SeaLife Center
The Alaska SeaLife Center is the world's only aquarium dedicated exclusively to the northern waters of the world.
Here, you'll find sea birds, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, fur seals and otters, among others.
1. New England Aquarium
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Boston has many claims to fame, especially when it comes to world-renowned institutions, and its aquarium is no different. The New England Aquarium, located on the Central Wharf, is home to thousands of animals, from African penguins to Giant Pacific octopus.
It also features the Simons IMAX Theatre as well as the seasonal New England Aquarium Whale Watch, which runs from April through November.
What to Expect: New England Aquarium
The most popular attraction at the aquarium is the 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank, which simulates a Caribbean reef system.
The atrium-located tank has stingrays, bonehead sharks, oral eels and sea turtles, among many others.