Are you visiting Florida, or do you live in the state and are simply searching for one of the best aquariums in Florida? This is one amazingly fun, family friendly and educational option: going to one of Florida’s aquariums to learn about the wonders this planet has to offer. And it’s no surprise, but Florida has many aquariums with a wide range of sea animals to explore.
Florida aquariums are some of the best aquariums in the world. From St. Augustine Aquarium in the north all the way to Key West Aquarium in the south, no matter where you are in Florida there are many options for you to explore and enjoy. Below are listed some of the best aquariums in Florida and some of the attractions that make them worth a visit.
12 Best Aquariums in Florida You Shouldn’t Miss
The Florida Aquarium
Heading the list is the largest aquarium in Florida: the appropriately named Florida Aquarium. Located in the Tampa area, it is one of the aquariums in Central Florida that is definitely worth a look. The aquarium is involved in many conservation projects and has a wide range of animal habitats to showcase wildlife from all across the state.
These exhibits include Moon Bay, which is a 2,000 gallon area where celestial-like moon jellies live and thrive. There is also the Coral Reef, populated with everything from Stingrays and Sand Tiger Sharks to Green Sea Turtles and Moray Eels. There is also the Waves of Wonder where visitors can experience things like Clownfish and Octopus.
Another inspiring exhibit is the Mangrove Tunnel, which aquarium staff planted in 1995 when the place opened, and now years later is thriving and gives visitors the experience of a natural wetland. Mangroves are truly remarkable plants and are being used to help stop land erosion along Florida coastlines after years of their being cut down. They are also a healthy habitat for marine life, providing sustenance for fish and roosting places for birds.
One of the best aquariums in Florida, the Florida Aquarium is open daily. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Tampa, this is definitely a must see.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Another of the aquariums in Central Florida is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. One of the better known aquariums in Florida, it is known for its rescue missions, where they are continually rescuing and taking care of several different species of marine animals, including Dolphins, Sea Turtles, Otters, Pelicans, Sharks, Stingrays, and more.
The aquarium rescues and releases the animals back into the wild when they can, but some of the animals have special conditions that require them to remain at the aquarium under care, and visitors are able to spend time with those animals. The most famous and favorite of those animals are the dolphins, two of which-Winter and Hope-were shown in the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2.
Besides the animals, the aquarium focuses on environmental responsibility, showcasing how important it is to keep our planet clean and safe for marine animals everywhere. They hold community clean-ups to aid in this effort.
There is also a very popular underwater viewing tank where visitors can see mermaids swimming around as well as various sea animals. And there is a “Whales: Living with Giants” exhibit where visitors can experience whales in the wild through virtual reality.
Another of the aquariums in Florida well worth a visit, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is open daily, with extended hours over the summer. While in the area, there are also great Clearwater restaurants and Clearwater beaches to enjoy.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Another of the aquariums in Central Florida is the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, located in Sarasota. As its name implies, Mote is a research facility focused on helping our oceans heal and return to being the sustainable habitats for marine life that they are meant to be.
The Laboratory currently focuses on over 20 diverse research programs, including monitoring the health of coral reefs, which are so important to sustaining marine life; the conservation of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sharks, rays, manatees, and more; and exploration into ocean acidification, which has been rising with the increase in global warming. And there’s much, much more.
Mote’s research goes into helping the planet, but is also a teaching source for their aquarium exhibits. There are many exhibits for visitors to explore that offer a variety of interesting experiences. These include the Teeth Beneath exhibit that explores alligators and crocodiles in Florida; the SharkZone, which was the start of Mote’s research projects; and many other exhibits.
One family friendly exhibit of interest to all ages is the “Oh Baby! Life Cycles of the Sea” adventure that shows how marine life reproduces and tells a little bit about how Mote raises and breeds many different types of marine species to help with ecosystem restoration. The exhibit on seahorses is a particular fan favorite.
A must visit of the aquariums in Florida for anyone interested in science and our planet’s oceans, Mote is open daily. And there are more fun things to do in Sarasota, if you’ll be in the area for a while.
St. Augustine Aquarium
One of the best aquariums in North Florida is the St. Augustine Aquarium. It is an open air, outdoor aquarium, and is a family friendly place to visit where people can interact with sea animals directly while being educated about their lives and care.
Under guidance, visitors can actually feed some of the sharks and rays. And there is a Touch and Identify exhibit where those brave enough can touch starfish, urchins, horseshoe crabs, and more. The aquarium is currently offering guided tours with marine biologists that provide a more in-depth learning experience as visitors are led throughout the facility.
There is also a snorkeling experience in a natural Florida reef where adventurous souls who have a bathing suit and towel can snorkel surrounded by hundreds of Florida Rays and Reef Fish. The facility provides the masks, snorkels, wetsuits, vests, and shoes. Visitors need to call ahead to book this experience.
The aquarium is expanding, so there will be even more to experience in the near future! At present the facility is open daily, and is absolutely one of the aquariums in Florida to visit for those looking for up close interaction with marine life. And St. Augustine offers a lot more fun things to do while you’re visiting.
Sea Life Orlando Aquarium
Less than a two-hour drive south of St. Augustine is the Sea Life Orlando Aquarium, another one of the must see aquariums in Florida.
One of the highlights of Sea Life Orlando is their 360° Ocean Tunnel. This tunnel leads visitors through the middle of 350,000 gallons of aquarium where they can see sharks, a rescued sea turtle, and a wide diversity of other marine life swimming around them. It is almost like walking right into the middle of the ocean.
There is also an interactive Coastal Rockpool Exhibit where visitors brave enough to do so can touch real sea creatures like anemones and starfish. Other exhibits include the Jelly Wall, filled with jellyfish, and a replica of the ecosystem of the Everglades that visitors can walk through. There are also a seahorse temple, for those who love the adorable species, and areas for visitors to learn about Ocean Caves as well as some of the species prevalent in the different oceans around the globe.
The aquarium is open daily and should be on any visitor’s Florida aquariums list. And besides the aquarium, and of course the famous theme parks, Orlando has a lot more to offer visitors who are looking for fun things to do in Orlando.
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters
Located in Marathon, the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounter is one of the aquariums in South Florida that is known for its family friendly programs and attractions.
The aquarium has many hands on, immersive experiences that are sure to please the entire family. One of the most famous of their interactions is the Big Shark Bay Encounter. There, a marine biologist educates visitors on the steps involved in behavioral training of adult nurse sharks, and leads those who would like to do so in feeding and even petting these majestic animals.
There is also a Coral Reef Snorkel Encounter where guests can safely snorkel and view firsthand the marine life that thrives in a natural Mangrove habitat. The gear is provided, including fins, masks, snorkels, and wetsuits. And while snorkeling, visitors might also get the opportunity to feed stingrays and other types of reef wildlife.
The Florida Keys Aquarium Encounter should be on everyone’s Florida aquariums list, and it’s open daily, so there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy the Florida marine life. There is also a lot more to do in the Florida Keys if you’re looking for fun.
Key West Aquarium
Not too far away from Marathon is the Key West Aquarium, another of the must see aquariums in South Florida. This aquarium has a touch tank that showcases the marine life found in the Florida Keys, such as Conchs, Giant Hermit Crabs, Slate Pencil Sea Urchins, and more.
This aquarium also has an exhibit educating the public on the most common of the Florida Keys sharks: the Nurse Shark. This opportunity also helps visitors learn about which things rumored about sharks are true and which are myth, and gives advice on what humans can do to help preserve these animals. They also choose people from the audience to help feed the sharks after the presentation, so those interested should keep an eye out for the chance to interact more closely with the sharks.
Two other popular exhibits that this aquarium offers are the Sea Turtles Conservation Tour, and the Jellyfish exhibit. The Turtle Tour introduces visitors to resident sea turtles that the aquarium has saved, and educates the audience on how to help with conserving the sea turtle population. And the Jellyfish exhibit gives people an up close look at the moon jellyfish, which is the most common jellyfish in the Florida Keys.
This fun place, open daily, is one of the best aquariums in Florida to visit if you want a truly educational experience and to really learn about conserving and protecting marine life in the Florida Keys. And then you can go discover what else the Florida Keys have to offer visitors.
St. Lucie County Aquarium
The St. Lucie County Aquarium is located on the east coast, and is one of the aquariums in Central Florida that is well worth a visit for those interested in learning more about saving the oceans and the wildlife that lives within it. The facility has over 8,000 gallons filled with marine life for visitors to explore.
The main attraction at the St. Lucie Aquarium is the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit. The goal of this exhibit is to educate the public about six of the different marine ecosystems to be found throughout Florida’s waters. The aquarium has replicated the six ecosystems, so visitors can experience the live models and learn how intricate these coastal habitats are, and how important it is for us all to make certain they stay safe and healthy for all the plants and animals that inhabit them.
The largest of the models is the Caribbean coral reef area, but there are also seagrass, lagoon hardbottom, a deepwater Oculina coral reef, a mangrove habitation, and a nearshore reef area.
Besides these habitats for larger marine life, there are also several smaller tanks for visitors to witness microscopic sea life more closely. The aquarium also has the ever popular touch tank where people can interact directly with some of the local marine life.
This unique place should absolutely be on any Florida aquariums list. The hours for the aquarium change, and there are some times when they offer free admission, so those who are going to visit should check the aquarium’s website for more information. The Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens are also a must see if you have time while you’re in the area.
IMAG History & Science Center
Located in Ft. Myers in southwest Florida, the IMAG History and Science Center offers a lot for visitors who are interested not only in the marine life of Florida, but many other scientific aspects to be found in the area. And though it does expand past sealife, the attraction certainly should be included on any Florida aquariums list for the quality of the marine exhibits they offer.
Some of the marine exhibits offered at the Center are the Stingray Feedings, where visitors can experience feeding a stingray right out of the palm of their hands; and a SEA-to-See Touch Tank, where brave souls can pet not only stingrays, but hermit and horseshoe crabs, urchins, marine snails, sea stars, and other animals.
There is also the fascinating exhibit Shaping SWFL Watersheds: An Interactive, Augmented Reality Sandbox, which helps visitors, through computer programmed AR to see what happens on the surface of the water when sands far below shift. As visitors shift the sand in the box, the computer accurately projects onto the sand, water flow changes and how watersheds, very important ecosystems, are made or destroyed.
Since it’s not just an aquarium, the museum also offers other scientific exhibits, including 3D movies that explore anything from space travel to dinosaurs; a Hands-On Hall, with puzzles that teach kids and adults alike more about the mysteries of science; a Hall of History about southwest Florida’s past; and an Earth and Space Science area that educates visitors about Earth’s weather.
And there’s a lot more to do in the area, so check out the fun things Ft. Myers has to offer.
Tarpon Springs Aquarium
Another of the aquariums in Central Florida is the Tarpon Springs Aquarium. It is a family run aquarium with fun exhibits for the whole family. The aquarium partners with many eco friendly groups, and emphasizes humane care and conservation of animals across Florida and beyond.
The aquarium offers three shows. One is to show off a Florida alligator, letting audience members see the ferocious bite of the majestic animal as it is being fed. Another show, in a large tank filled with Florida marine life, showcases a diver swimming amongst the large animals and feeding them while visitors learn how and what these marine creatures eat. And the last one shows off a group of reptiles found in the Florida ecosystem, such as lizards, snakes, and tortoises.
Besides the shows, visitors can wander and experience the marine life for themselves. The wide array of animal life to learn about on site includes the ever popular shark, stingrays, alligators, turtles and tortoises, crabs and other invertebrates, and much more.
There is also a touch pool for visitors who wish to interact more closely some of the animals. And there are opportunities to hold some of the snakes and alligators and take pictures with them. And while in Tarpon Springs, why not check out other fun experiences in the area?
Marine Science Center
Just south of Daytona Beach, the Marine Science Center is another destination that should be included in any serious Florida aquariums list. The attraction focuses on educating visitors about the unique ecosystems to be found in Volusia County where the Center is located.
One of the main focuses of the Marine Science Center is the rehabilitation and conservation of the area’s wildlife. Visitors can see this process themselves at the medical facilities found on sight where seabirds and sea turtles are taken care of after injury or illness. People who visit the facilities can learn all about what it takes to heal these animals and release them back into the wild.
There are also exhibits to educate the public on how to take care of the nature surrounding the Center and preserve it for the animals now and into the future.
Besides the upkeep and care of animals, the Science Center includes a large visitor center that offers many aquariums and displays that educate about the biodiversity of the area. This includes an artificial reef that shows how such places can be built as animal habitats, and how important they are for marine survival. There is also an exhibit about freshwater estuaries, which are plentiful in Florida and filled with life. And there is much more.
Alongside the extensive exhibits, there is an interactive touch pool where people can pet stingrays, as well as The Blue Room that showcases the wide range of animals found nearby, such as seahorses, octopus, and lionfish amongst others. And, of course, Daytona Beach has a lot more to offer visitors after you’ve seen the aquarium.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Though not technically an aquarium, the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is also a place of interest to anyone wanting to visit one of the aquariums in Central Florida.
Like the Science Centers discussed above, the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park works hard to conserve Florida’s wildlife, both in and out of the water. Called “the most beautiful river and springs in the world,” the Park is filled with an amazingly diverse population of both fresh and saltwater fish, including snapper, snook, and many others.
One very popular attraction at the park is the Fish Bowl Underwater Observatory floating in the main spring where visitors can descend into the bowl to see not only a variety of fish in their natural habitat, but also experience manatees in an underwater environment.
What Else There is to Do on Your Visit
After you’ve seen some of the best aquariums in Florida, there is a lot more to see in the state! We have lists of some of the best things to do in North Florida, Central Florida, and South Florida, for when your trip to the aquariums is finished.