By Alexa Joy Sherman
» Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, Calif.; aquariumofpacific.org):
California’s largest aquarium and the fifth largest in the U.S. has a long list of programs for kids including a stroller-friendly “Sea Life Stroll” (ages 0-3), sensory-stimulating “Aqua Tots” classes (ages 2-3), a “Saturday Family Fun” course (ages 4-6) and Preschool Programs (ages 4-5)—all of which involve observation and touch time with animals, as well as craft projects.
» The Florida Aquarium (Tampa Bay, Fla.; flaquarium.org):
This 250,000- square-foot home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals features “Explore A Shore,” a two-acre outdoor water adventure for kids with waves, slides, geysers and giant sea-creature figures. The kid-friendly “No-Bone Zone” is an interactive presentation featuring a 600-gallon touch pool.
» Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta; georgiaaquarium.org):
Here in the world’s largest aquarium, a tunnel in the Ocean Voyager gallery surrounds visitors with water on three sides while tens of thousands of fish swim overhead. The sea lion exhibit is popular with tots, and the Georgia Explorer gallery has a kid-friendly padded floor, crawl tubes and a slide.
» John G. Shedd Aquarium (Chicago; sheddnet.org):
Tot favorites here include a Marine Mammal dolphins show; a clownfish (like Finding Nemo) exhibit; the Wild Reef, where sharks swim overhead and rays swim under your feet; and the SpongeBob 4-D show. “Animal Encounters,” modified for preschoolers via “Tots on Tuesdays,” introduces guests to cockroaches, millipedes, hermit crabs, turtles, snakes and geckos. The Tuesday program includes story time, crafts, videos, costumed characters, dancing and singing.
» Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, Calif.; mbayaq.org):
Highlights at this living gallery of plants and animals from California’s central coast include a three-story kelp forest, a two-story sea otter exhibit, a “Splash Zone” (for kids 0 to 9) with penguins, sea dragons, corals, eels and tropical fish, as well as more than 30 hands-on exhibits and play areas.
To find an aquarium in your area, visit the Association of Zoos & Aquariums website at aza.org.