Fun and education come together when your family visits one of the great aquariums across the United States. These family-friendly destinations give you a chance to get up close and personal with marine life in fun, interactive experiences. Dive into an underwater wonderland of dolphins, sharks and whales and open your eyes to the magical world under the sea.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
On the outside, the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the California coastline looks like a sardine cannery, but inside you can find almost 200 exhibits featuring more than 35,000 animals and plants. Head over to the Splash Zone where you can find 7,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits for the kids. Flip books, slide-up panels and other touchable interactive displays here help children learn more about water life or they can steer their way through tide pools and wetlands with underwater video cameras. Four touch pools give kids a chance to interact with the animals.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, 831-648-4800. www.mbayaq.org
The world’s largest aquarium calls Atlanta home. The Georgia Aquarium, across from Centennial Olympic Park, is filled with more than 8 million gallons of water in the 550,000-square-foot attraction. Check out the Ocean Voyager, the biggest exhibit in the aquarium, with more than 60,000 animals, including the only whale sharks in the United States. A 100-foot-long tunnel gives you a a chance to get up-close with the animals while children will love the touch-screen wall where they can learn fun facts about the fish in the exhibit. Kids can touch bonnethead sharks, rays and sea urchins or play with pop-up windows for a look at penguins and piranhas.
Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30313, 404-581-4000, georgiaaquarium.org
John G. Shedd Aquarium
The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is an architectural masterpiece with a Beaux Arts-style rotunda that features fossils embedded in the walls. Elaborate recreations of global habitats abound. The Wild Reef makes you feel like you’re under water with sharks swimming overhead and stingrays gliding underneath, while the Amazon flood plain feels real with squawking birds and thatched tribal homes. Don’t miss the three-level Oceanarium, where you can find dolphins and beluga whales in this marine mammal setting. On some days, children can touch shark eggs. Be sure to check out Spooky Seas if your family is visiting during Halloween.
John G. Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, 312-939-2438. www.sheddaquarium.org
New England Aquarium
The New England Aquarium is the type of place the whole family can explore. Sitting on the Central Wharf on Boston’s historic waterfront, you can find more than 20,000 animals from 600 species in the aquarium. On the first and third Monday of every month, you can participate in Family Day when children can touch creatures in the Curious George Discovery Corner while educators read stories and help out with art projects. Opportunities abound for kids to get to know penguins on a path where they can stamp a passport at eight stations along the way while they can get interactive in the tide-pool touch tank. Save some time for a cruise 25 miles out to sea to see America’s only whale-feeding sanctuary from April to October.
New England Aquarium, 1 Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110. 617-973-5200. neaq.org
The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay, Fla., is a mecca for children. Their instinct will be to run out to the Explore a Shore, an outdoor water park with a 24-foot pirate ship with water cannons, a wave tunnel and a moray-eel balance beam. But make sure you get them inside where they can see more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals such as rare leafy sea dragons from Australia and gators from Florida’s backyard. The 200,000-square-foot attraction features the Coral Reef Gallery that is modeled after the coral formations along the Florida Keys. Here you can walk through a tunnel that descends into an underwater coral cave filled with soldierfish, scorpion-fish and more. The whole family can touch a juvenile alligator, climb on a mermaid sculpture or pet a ray and bamboo shark. If you want something with a bit more adventure, take an eco-tour of Tampa Bay aboard a catamaran.
Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602, 813-273-4000. flaquarium.org