June is National Zoo and Aquarium Month. We’ve highlighted great zoos before so in this round, we’ll go deep diving to highlight some of the best aquariums in the U.S. Some fun facts – the London Zoo opened the first aquarium in 1853 and the first U.S aquarium was opened in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1873, and was later moved to Washington DC. The home of the aquarium was moved several times within DC and then ultimately, the National Aquarium, as it became known, was closed in 2013 and moved permanently to Baltimore.
Travel + Leisure magazine came out with a list of top U.S. aquariums in December 2022. Plan to glamp nearby and take a look at these underwater marvels.
California: The Monterey Bay Aquarium (montereybayaquarium.org) has the distinction of being the first aquarium to showcase a living kelp forest. Opened in 1984, it welcomes over 2 million visitors annually who can see more than 81,000 animals and plants representing 771 species. T+L gave it a nod for being a leader in ocean conservation and education. Located on Cannery Row in beautiful Monterey, the aquarium can boast many “firsts” and “onlys” – for example, they are the only U.S. aquarium to exhibit bluefin and yellowfin tuna, ocean sunfish, pyjama squid, and salmon snailfish. In addition to being the first when it comes to kelp forests, the aquarium was also the first to successfully exhibit and release great white sharks. Plan to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium when glamping in a fabulous vacation cottage at the amazing Marina Dunes (yurts coming soon!), and stroll through the more than 200 exhibits to see otters, sharks, jellyfish, penguins, and more.
Illinois: The Shedd Aquarium (sheddaquarium.org) on Chicago’s beautiful lakefront Museum Campus is one of the older U.S. aquariums, opening in 1930, but remains the third largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. The five-million-gallon aquarium has 32,000 animals, including Pacific white-sided dolphins, of which the Shedd is one of only three aquariums to showcase this acrobatic water wonder. Rent a glamping cottage at Thousand Trails Pine Country in Belvidere and take the roughly 1.5-hour drive into Chicago to visit the Shedd. The centerpiece of the aquarium is the Coral Reef Tank, which is literally in the center of the main floor, houses a giant green sea turtle, angelfish, sharks, and cownose rays. Divers drop in to feed the fish several times a day. The Amazon Rising exhibit has piranhas and anacondas, while the Wild Reef has eels, stingrays, and sharks.
Massachusetts: Rent a truly spectacular tiny house at Tuxbury Tiny House Village in South Hampton, New Hampshire, and plan to spend the day at the New England Aquarium located in Boston Harbor (under an hour’s drive). Boasting the biggest shark and ray tank on the East Coast, the New England Aquarium (neaq.org) opened in 1969 and the museum’s main feature, the Giant Ocean Tank, opened in 1970, and, at the time, was the largest circular ocean tank in the world. Other exhibits include sea jellies, seadragons, penguins and Atlantic harbor seals, which can be viewed without entering the museum as their exhibit is just outside the front doors. Visitors can enjoy special meet and greets with the Atlantic harbor seals and create art with them (these are special events with additional costs and reservations required). The Shark and Ray Touch Tank is a great way to get up close and personal with these creatures!
Oregon: The Oregon Coast Aquarium (aquarium.org) is just minutes from Thousand Trails Whalers Rest where you can choose from glamping cottages and cabins at this Oregon coast retreat. T+L liked this aquarium for several reasons including the giant octopus and the Indo-Pacific Coral Reef. We’re partial to the puffins which make their home on the Oregon coast and have an exhibit in the aquarium. The aquarium has several Ambassador Animals including a Virginia Opossum named Otis, Wilson the Barn Owl, and two Western Pond Turtles named Cuff and Link, who have the special job of educating visitors through presentations and amphitheater talks. Don’t miss the Octopus Cave, which is home to a giant Pacific octopus. Celebrating 31 years in 2023, the aquarium recently welcomed a new sea otter named Earle! Come say hello to Earle and all his friends this summer.
Washington: Book a cozy glamping cabin at Thousand Trails Thunderbird in nearby Monroe to plan to visit to the Seattle Aquarium (seattleaquarium.org), which has daily events such as All About our Otters, All About our Washington Waters, and All About Our Harbor Seals. In addition to the daily events, there are six major permanent exhibits including Pacific Coral Reef; Birds & Shores, and Marine Mammals. T+L likes that the aquarium is very interactive. Visitors point out the Window on Washington Waters tank where divers interact with Pacific Northwest fish while visitors get to watch! Touch pools allow up close and personal experiences with star fish, sea urchins and anemones while the 360-degree Underwater Dome gives the feeling of being right under the water with the fish! The Seattle Aquarium can be found on scenic Elliott Bay.
And a bonus idea for Florida visitors, check out the Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), located in Juno Beach, Florida. Loggerhead turtles are found in our world’s seas, specifically the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. The LMC is a sea turtle research, rehabilitation, education and conservation center. To find details about the best time to visit LMC and what you can expect when you arrive, go to marinelife.org.