Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, adventurer and the author of twenty acclaimed books of nonfiction. Her most recent book, The Soul Of An Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, is out now from sister company Simon & Schuster and available wherever books are sold. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, border collie and flock of chickens.
Aquatic life is among the most fascinating and entrancingly beautiful aspects of planet Earth. Sea otters and octopuses, coral reefs and fish, ocean life is a complex and spirited world which is why aquariums are among our most visited and beloved tourist attractions. Here are the five most must-visit aquariums in the U.S. where you and your family can wonder at the richness of the sea up close. Take a trip across the country or visit your local aquarium and see for yourself!
New England Aquarium
1 Central Wharf
Boston, MA 02110
Home to an electric eel, a 550-pound green sea turtle and a giant pacific octopus, the New England Aquarium is one of Boston’s jewels. The centerpiece of the aquarium, the Giant Ocean Tank, was rebuilt in 2013. This 200,000 gallon replica of a Caribbean reef community sports more than 4,000 coral sculptures and more than 1,500 animals — sharks, rays, moray eels, turtles and schools of gemlike tropical fish — nearly double what it had before.
1483 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98101
Best Valentine’s date ever: catch the “Octopus Blind Date” the morning of February 14, when a male and female giant pacific octopus meet and hopefully mate (rather than eat each other, another possibility.) But on any day of the year, The Seattle Aquarium is an exceptional spot to watch these intelligent creatures hunt, people-watch and play with toys.
1 Broad St
Chattanooga, TN 37402
The world’s largest freshwater aquarium when it opened in 1992 (today, only Singapore’s facility is larger), The Tennessee Aquarium is still Chattanooga’s most-visited attraction. Here you can trace the story of a raindrop as it falls in the Appalachian Mountains and flows into the Tennessee River. Start on the aquarium’s rooftop greenhouse where you’ll also enjoy waterfalls and meet river otters and woodpeckers. Follow the water’s story down through exhibits showcasing Tennessee’s river habitats and creatures both above and below the water. Other galleries feature exotic aquatic life from Russia to the Amazon. A second building added in 2005 features salt-water denizens as well as touch tanks, macaws and a butterfly garden.
1200 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605
With frequent special exhibits and a permanent collection of more than 32,500 fish, beluga whales, dolphins, seals and sea otters, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium has loads of animals to see in gorgeous, naturalistic habitats. The architecture alone is worth the trip. The octagonal structure is a classical Beaux Arts confection, a palace built in 1930 to house the first inland collection of saltwater fishes in the world. Look for graceful images of sea horses, waves, tortoise shells and the Trident of Poseidon everywhere, even on the ceiling. While touring this vibrant institution also be sure to visit Granddad, the lungfish, the oldest fish in captivity, who may be over 100 years old.
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
Meet the giants. Here at the world-famous Monterey Aquarium, you can visit one of the tallest underwater exhibits in the world. Visit 10-foot-long sharks and tuna or gaze hypnotically at the forest of kelp called the redwoods of the sea. This forest of kelp is home to leopard sharks, rockfish and wolf eels that dart between swaying fronds of golden brown stretching up to 60 feet long. The aquarium was the first in the world to grow giant kelp; a surge machine keeps the tides crashing and since kelp can grow four inches a day, underwater gardeners tend to it regularly.
Bonus for kids: The Splash Zone, with touch tanks, pint-sized microscopes and underwater cameras.
Related: 5 Must-See Sights In Hong Kong