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Plan a great family road trip: The best aquariums in the U.S. for kids

Your kiddos will have lots of stories to tell when they get home

Family enjoying an exhibit in an aquarium
Tim B Motivv / Unsplash

Sebastian said it best when he told Ariel that “life under the sea is better.” Of course, we can’t technically live under the sea, but the next best thing is a visit to an aquarium. If you’re planning your family’s next adventure, a road trip to an aquarium is a perfect pick, especially if your kiddos are fascinated by life under the sea. For families glued to the television during Shark Week, seeing sharks in person is a must-do task.

Thankfully, some of the best aquariums in the U.S. are actually just a road trip away and are in hot spots, offering families a super cool vacation. The top aquariums in the U.S. just happen to be in major tourist attraction cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago. So, if you’re ready to see one or more of the most sensational U.S. aquariums in person, we’ve got the don’t-miss list below.

Assortment of fish swimming in an aquarium
Pengxiao XU / Unsplash

Best aquariums in the U.S.

Ready to dive into the list of the top aquariums in the U.S.? Life under the sea is exciting to look at up close and personal in one of the many beautiful aquariums that the U.S. has to offer. Aquariums are also a wonderful family outing appealing to all ages. Even tweens and teens won’t roll their eyes at a visit to an aquarium. They will love the snaps and Instagram-worthy posts they’ll get from the stunning exhibits.

The other plus to one of the many aquariums is that some may be closer than you think. An aquarium adventure is a fabulous family day trip. You can also plan an aquarium visit if you happen to be vacationing in a destination with an aquarium nearby. For those families with future marine biologists in the mix, you can always plan an amazing aquarium road trip. Whatever the way you want to dive under the seas, these are the best aquariums in the U.S. to have on your bucket list.

Mystic Aquarium

This aquarium is located in Mystic, Connecticut, and it houses the only beluga whales in New England. The Mystic Aquarium features thousands of species of marine life, fish reptiles, and more. Its main attractions include the beluga whales, the African penguins, California sea lions, and its seals. In addition to the aquarium, Mystic is a great spot for a family vacation. The village of Mystic is a historic Connecticut seaport situated on the Mystic River. After your aquarium visit, you will find lots of fun things to do in and around Mystic.

New England Aquarium

If you’re checking out the Mystic Aquarium, don’t forget to stop by this Boston hot spot. The New England Aquarium is one of the busiest aquariums on the East Coast, welcoming over a million visitors every year. Its picturesque location is right along Boston Harbor. Inside, you’ll find one of the largest shark and ray tanks in the East. The African penguins are always a hit with visitors, as are the green sea turtles and the California sea lions.

New York Aquarium

There isn’t a shortage of things to do in the Big Apple — that’s why it’s hard to sleep there. The New York Aquarium along Coney Island’s iconic boardwalk is one of the oldest operating aquariums in the U.S. The whole family will have fun exploring this historic aquarium, checking out everything from the sharks to sea lions. It also features a playquarium that younger kids will love.

National Aquarium

Families planning a trip to Washington, D.C., must put Baltimore’s National Aquarium on the list of places to visit. A stop at the National Aquarium takes you around the globe with exhibits showcasing the Amazon River Forest, the Atlantic’s coral reef, Blacktip Reef, the underwater magic of Australian waters, and more. Be sure to stop at Shark Alley and don’t miss the Dolphin Discovery. The aquarium offers different experiences, too. If you’re in D.C. or Baltimore for an extended stay, take advantage of half-price Friday nights.

Shedd Aquarium

Another don’t-miss aquarium is in Chicago. The Shedd Aquarium is the third biggest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. From sharks to belugas and sea lions to otters, the Shedd Aquarium has it all. Dolphin lovers will enjoy taking a peek at a white-sided dolphin. Shedd is one of only three aquariums in the U.S. with white-sided dolphins. If you’re heading here, make sure to get tickets in advance. In addition to being one of the largest, it’s also one of the busiest.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

For folks looking for a West Coast excursion, plan to visit this aquarium in Monterey, California. It’s one of the largest in the U.S. and features a living kelp forest along with a whole host of underwater species and remarkable exhibits.

Stunning exhibit from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
roy zeigerman / Unsplash

Other top aquariums in the U.S.

It’s not surprising that these amazing aquariums only scratch the surface of the cool aquariums that make a huge splash. Here are some more to put on your must-see list for your next day or road trip.

If you’re looking to make a splash on the next family vacation, be sure to plan a stop at one of these top aquariums in the U.S. These 12 are the best aquariums in the U.S. and certainly won’t disappoint. A day at the aquarium is a fun outing, offering something for everyone, from adults and teens to the youngest members of the family. Aquariums are educational and give you a glimpse into life under the sea and more.

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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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