The Seattle Aquarium is the first I ever visited. Located on Pier 59, it offers great views of downtown Seattle, Puget Sound and the Olympic Penninsula and mountains beyond. Although a relatively small aquarium, it is perfect for families. Their tidal/touch pools are the best that I've seen. Included is a Giant Pacific Octopus tank and a ring of Jellies tank that comes out of the floor. They have a very distinctive underwater dome room with a salmon ladder around it that is always a favorite. They also have otters and seals and views from both above and below them. Just recently they added a huge "Window on Washington Waters" exhibit, meant to replicate the marine environment in Puget Sound. On the second floor, just above this, is a brand new cafe where you can sit inside or outside and watch the Washington Ferries coming and going.
The aquarium at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is small for sure, but they do have a good selection of species from the Pacific. Their facilites were rather older, last time I visited in 2007, but it was a great addition to the zoo. The views of Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier are just breathtaking! My favorite exhibit was their leafy seadragons! They were really neat! Apart from the aquarium, the zoo had beluga whales that were very active! A real treat to see!
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma, WA
If interested in cetology, be sure to stop by the maritime museum in Westport, Washington. They have several whale skeletons behind glass outdoors. You can just drive up, get out and look.
Maritime Museum, Westport, WA
You wouldn't think there would be much to a one-room, 5-tank "marine life center", would you? Could you spend an hour there? I did! It was fun! For a donation of a dollar, I had lots of fun with this little place, run by students at Western Washington University. Less can be more, sometimes. I took some of my favorite pictures there, uninterruped and undestracted and not on a schedule to "see everything". They had all kinds of interesting signage, colorfully illustrating interesting facts about the marine life on exhibit.
Marine Life Center, Bellingham, WA
Even more so than the Bellingham Marine Life Center, the Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles was outstanding! In September 2009 I made my way over to Washington's Olympic peninsula for a trip to Hurricane Ridge and stopped by. The center is in the middle of town, right on the beach. This one had two rooms, was open by donation only, and had extremely friendly staff. Since my Mom and I were the only patrons at the moment, the volunteer took us over the place showing and telling us all about it. In the second room they had a basket sea star! Absolutely incredible! And due to recent tides, and for some unknown reason, many squid had recently washed up on beaches nearby. The center took a specimen to save the beak for the center. At the time I was there, it had some of its legs and tentacles still and let us touch it and feel the sharp teeth in the suction cups! I had no idea they were so treacherous! And to complete the experience, the Crab House restaurant was next door! What a day!
Feiro Marine Life Center, Port Angeles, WA
In December 2007, I made my only visit to Hawaii. Besides Pearl Harbor and hiking up Diamond Head, my favorite thing was to the Waikiki Aquarium, the oldest aquarium in the United States. It is run by the University of Hawaii, and although small, has really lovely exhibits. They have a small seal and sea lion show outside, and have many tropical fish tanks. And the location is to the east of downtown Waikiki, just out of the busy district, but not far away, either. Very family friendly!
Waikiki Aquarium, Oahu, Hawaii
The Monterey Bay Aquarium really needs no report from me. It is certainly world-renowned for its excellent exhibits and conservation efforts. I just loved the otter tank, right near the entrance, and the hanging, life-size models of whales. The shark tank and kelp tank were just fabulous! I loved the leapord sharks and the huge bull kelp. While looking out to sea outside (where they filmed part of Star Trek IV) I saw a wild otter about 50 yards out! How cool! Not only that, but these guys have their own line of toy replica whales... I purchased a gray whale. This is the aquarium experience at its best.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
In October 2008, I visited Sea World, San Diego. A fish-lover's dream world! They still have Shamu along with the other Orcas perfroming! Surprisingly, I liked the dolphin show better, even though I am not usually a dolphin fan. "Look at me... I'm a little filppin' dolphin..." (Finding Nemo). But it certainly is not limited to Orcas and Dolphins... I loved the arctic exhibit, the sea turtles, the seal show, the tank where you could pet the bat rays! ...yeah, that was really cool! ...the behind the scenes tour, where they showed you the baby sharks and the rescue animals they are nursing back to health (they release all that are fit... around 75%) and they had the cutest little baby seal... wow! And all this is not including the 3 or 4 other small aquariums on site. I think I spent 7 hours there... and I almost saw everything.
Then in 2011, I visited again with my family. They're updating their sea turtle experiance, and added fluff to their dolphin show. Shamu's show also recently got a change: the trainers don't ride on the whale's noses anymore, (it must be because of the trainer that got killed in Florida) and it was given a new theme, but that was after we visited.
Sea World, San Diego, CA
The Seaside Aquarium usually doesn't even show up on most site's lists of marine aquariums, but this one is special, even though small. Their main feature is allowing customers to hand feed their harbor seals! What an experience! The aquarium is located right on the popular beach, just north of the turnaround at the flagpole. Astonishingly, they had three Giant Pacific Ocotpuses, and two large wolf eels... quite a feat for a one room aquarium! This aquarium is very kid friendly, and is a great addition to an otherwise fun town to visit.
Seaside Aquarium, Seaside, OR
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is all that it is celebrated to be! I visited Newport in March 2009; the special exhibit at the time was called "Oddwater: Where it's OK to be weird". They have quite the facility! Equally large, indoors and outdoors, they have lots of stuff, like Japanese Giant Spider Crabs, which I hadn't seen since visiting the Shanghai Aquarium, the year before. This was a real treat of
a place, especially the walk-through shark tanks. And as a bonus, Newport is also home to Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Research Center, which is a small, but interesting little place just down the street from the aquarium. And across Newport Bay is a small, commercial "Undersea Gardens" where you go down a flight of stairs into the bay. Outside this is the marina, where sea lions, seals and otters congegate. This is a great marine science town, and a must for anyone in or around Oregon.
The Vancouver Aquarium. Not living too far from the border, I took a day trip up north to British Colombia in May 2009. The aquarium is in Stanley Park on a tiny peninsula. It was hard to locate since the signs were not very clear. Overall, it was nice, but I was not overly impressed. They had a couple exhibits that had nothing to do with marine life: nearly the whole downstairs was devoted to frogs; there was a Bald Eagle demonstration outside (which I loved); and they had a sizable African exhibit inside. Rather random. It was also a little frustrating that they had a "little kids area" that people like me were excluded from. I thought that a little odd. I did love their lionfish tank though! It was right next to the popular shark tank, and sufficiently out of the way. There were Beluga whales viewable outside, and giant Pacific octopus inside, and that was very fun to see. But I was flustered when visiting because it was stressful to drive alone in a foreign country. I wasn't used to the traffic downtown and I did get a little lost. So that may have impacted my perception of the whole experience.
[I cannot publish any picture of this aquarium without their "expressed written consent", so for now you'll have to imagine it.]
Vancouver Aquarium, British Colombia, Canada
The Birch Aquarium is situated in La Jolla, California, just 10 miles north of San Diego. They are a branch of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography which has research centers nearby. I visited in July 2009. They are a small aquarium, but they have many species in a neat series of tanks, some that I didn't even know existed, like the upside-down jellyfish that sits on the bottom with tentacles that float. There were leafy sea dragons and many types of corals... the exhibit details animals up and down the American coast of the Pacific Ocean. There is a touch pool outside, and friendly volunteers. One lady had a table of shark jaws and teeth for folks to touch and talk about. This place is wonderful for kids; a summer day camp tour went through while I was there. And their gift shop is top notch! Great variety.
The Birch Aquarium, La Jolla, CA
The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is on the beach in scenic San Pedro. For a donation of whatever you feel led to give, you are treated to very well laid out displays of marine life ranging from a room for whale bones and interactive displays to a little glass tank for sand dollars. This is by far the most fun aquarium I've been to. They have dark passages you can walk through to look at the other side of the tanks... where some of the animals would hide, like the giant lobsters. They had displays with preserved sharks... they had stuffed mammals, such as otters and seals... they had a variety of stuffed sea birds... it was a little sad, but it was incredible to look at, nonetheless. Oh! And their tank with nudibranchs was very impressive! Hundreds of them! I would love to go back there sometime, even though the throngs of little kids were loud in the echo-y halls.
Returned again in July 2011... and it was practically the same. Wonderful place to go!
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, San Pedro, CA
Just up the hill from the Cabrillo Aquarium is the Marine Mammal Care Center, just across the street from the gun battery museum at Fort MacArthur (also a fun place to visit). This place takes in injured Californian marine mammals and nurses them back to health. Some go back to the wild and some are taken in by aquariums. The staff here are very friendly and will take a break to tell you all about their animals. You can't go into the cages, but they are very visible from just outside the chain-link fence. This is also a by donation only operation. It's definitely worth a stop if you're in the area. Those seals and sea lions really get to barking and flapping around, and it's quite fun to watch.
Marine Mammal Care Center, San Pedro, CA
The Aquarium of the Pacific is new and large. It's two levels with a huge lobby and adjoining exhibit rooms and an outside exhibit area. It was so modern, they have a movie theater for special animated underwater shows for kids, and their very own cafe on the second floor. It felt more like an amusement park... especially when I was getting done around noon. I made sure to get there when they opened so I wouldn't get stuck in crowds. They had beautiful exhibits, but it felt like it was a little much. I did love their weedy and leafy sea dragons (are you noticing a pattern? :) and their giant octopus put on quite a show. It changed colors and flew back and forth right on the glass... I must have watched it for at least 15 minutes. So neat. They also have mp3 files available for download that talk about the exhibits as you walk by. You can either do that or call a number on your cell phone to get the same message. This aquarium wasn't my favorite because of the grandness of everything, but they did have neat exhibits and it was worth the trip.
Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
Another fun little aquarium, tucked under the famous pier at the end of Historic Highway 66 is the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Spent a good couple hours there, although it was another one of those scientific aquariums... I think I like them best, actually. A better animal to visitor ratio! And a person can get just as much enjoyment without having to do all the walking that's required at something like the one in Long Beach. I particularly loved the pair of morey eels in a big tank adjacent to the door. They had lots of tanks for touching sea stars and anenomes, as well as one for petting small sharks. Always a fun one! And this aquarium is special... got in the news a few years back for a little mischievous octopus that climbed out of its cage and broke a water pipe, flooding the place and ruining their flooring. The culprit has since passed away, but they have the specimen preserved, along with lots of other very interesting creatures in jars. I'd go back here in a heartbeat.
Heal the Bay, Santa Monica, CA
Who'd a thought?! I was cautious about this one when we had to watch a short video about the experience before being let in... but it was one of the nicest I've been to. It started with freshwater fish, like large-mouth bass, then progressed to California coasts (including a very upset Giant Pacific Octopus), and then to their special exhibit on crabs and lobsters: "CLAWS", and then to a walk-through dome of shoaling fish, a theater (where I watched their movie about Lego divers in search of Atlantis) and tide-pool touch tank, a big walk-through tank with sharks and rays, a great exhibit with 3 species of seahorses, and finally, the gift shop. The 3-foot Lego figures (in diving gear) weren't really a distraction. They just made the background more interesting. Anyway, highly recommended.
Sea Life Aquarium, Legoland, Carlsbad, CA
I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta during August 2009. It was very much like the Aq. of the Pacific, but much bigger. And they had whale sharks... how much cooler can you get? If you can, go see it! The ray petting tank was fabulous! And their lionfish tank had maybe 20 or 30 specimens? Amazing!
Also checked out the Oklahoma Aquarium in Tulsa the same month. Loved their freshwater stuff... including the largest largemouth bass I've seen in my life. Also got a close-up of a beaver!
If you ever get the chance to go to China, and are near Shanghai, by chance... be sure to check out the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium in downtown, right next to the TV tower.
I went there all alone, on my day off from my group's activities, and had the time of my life there... four hours, I think. Anyway, it's definately worth a peek. Read about my experiences here: on my blog.
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