Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies Named Best U.S. Aquarium!

Georgia Aquarium takes second place

There's something undeniably captivating about the world beneath the surface of the water, where colorful and sometimes bizarre life forms survive in seascapes vastly unfamiliar to our terrestrial senses. Aquariums make these marine worlds more accessible by showcasing aquatic plants and animals, educating visitors on the vital importance of these unique habitats and helping to conserve and protect our planet's waters.

  • Aquarium of the Pacific
    Long Beach, Calif.

    The Aquarium of the Pacific – the largest aquarium in Southern California – displays over 500 species from the largest body of water on the planet, the Pacific Ocean. More than 150 sharks populate Shark Lagoon, including toothy sand tiger sharks and whitetip reef sharks, and guests can even feel the slippery skin of bamboo and epaulette sharks. The largest exhibit, the Tropical Reef Habitat, houses more than 1,000 fish, colorful coral, sea turtles and sharks. The NOAA Science on a Sphere exhibit offers imagery and real-time ocean and weather data.
    Photo courtesy of Visit California/Hub

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium
    Monterey, Calif.

    Known for their groundbreaking exhibits, including the first display of a live kelp bed and innovative exhibits on jellyfish and large ocean schooling fish, Monterey Bay Aquarium has long been a leader in the aquarium industry. Their collection of marine life from the bay is extensive and accompanied by engaging interpretive pieces. Stand-out exhibits feature sand dollars, brittle sea stars, schooling tuna, sharks and sea turtles.
    Photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium

  • Adventure Aquarium
    Camden, N.J.

    Many surprises await visitors at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, including hippos, the world’s smallest species of penguin and the world’s largest species of hammerhead shark. Guests can reach out and touch sharks, sting rays, sea stars and horseshoe crabs. Live diver presentations and keeper interactions with sea turtles and hippos enhance the visitor experience.
    Photo courtesy of R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

  • Texas State Aquarium
    Corpus Christi, Texas

    The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi celebrates the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico by replicating an array of habitats, including shoreline, bay, estuary and deep waters – most notably the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This coral reef display teems with colorful sea life, like angelfish, rays, filefish and butterflyfish, and divers entertain with during daily presentations. Visitors to the aquarium have the opportunity to interact with stingrays, crabs and urchins while observing otters, dolphins, hawks, owls, parrots and coatimundis.
    Photo courtesy of The McGee / Flickr

  • Newport Aquarium
    Newport, Ky.

    Encompassing a million gallons of water and thousands of animals from around the world, the Newport Aquarium operates the first shark ray breeding program in the world. The Amazon Tunnel allows visitors to walk along the floor of the Amazon River during its flooded season, while the Dangerous & Deadly exhibit showcases some of the world’s most lethal aquatic creatures. Eight species of crocodiles from four different continents can be seen at Gator Alley – one of the most diverse crocodilian collections in the country.
    Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA

  • Tennessee Aquarium
    Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga trace the journey of water from the mountains through the Appalachian Cove Forest, into the Ohio River where it joins with the Mississippi that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A broad array of wildlife highlights ecosystems along the way, including alligators, otters, snapping turtles, catfish and sunfish. Featured habitats – delta swamp, tropical rain forest, spiny forest and reefs – provide homes for frogs, penguins, sharks, jellyfish, cuttlefish and lemurs, while professional keepers and divers happily share their expertise with visiting guests.
    Photo courtesy of Michael A. Schwarz, USA TODAY

  • Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
    New Orleans

    The aquarium displays and animal interactions available at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans take guests along the Mississippi River, below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and deep into the Amazon rain forest. The sizable Gulf of Mexico exhibit features sharks, rays and tarpons in a stunning setting; other guest favorites include sea otters, penguins, sea turtles and even owls.
    Photo courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute

  • Dallas World Aquarium
    Dallas

    The large, diverse collection at the Dallas World Aquarium occupies a series of naturalistic exhibits, including kelp beds and coral displays. A tunnel links the two original buildings to the seven-story Orinoco Secrets of the River – an exhibit highlighting the habitats of the South American rain forest, from the canopy to the riverbed. Guests can spot toucans, tamarins, tree boas, teals and free frogs, along with sloths, stingrays, sakis and swans.
    Photo courtesy of oddharmonic / Flickr

  • Georgia Aquarium
    Atlanta

    The crown jewel at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is the Ocean Voyager exhibit, where guests can watch whale sharks, manta rays and giant schooling fish swim past 22- to 33-foot tall viewing windows within the same exhibit. Other guest favorites include a stellar penguin exhibit, as well as many marine mammals – beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, sea otters and California sea lions.
    Photo courtesy of Georgia Aquarium

  • Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
    Gatlinburg,Tenn.

    The stunning scope of life living in our seas is on colorful display at the Gallery of the Seas inside Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in downtown Gatlinburg. Piranhas and poisonous dart frogs dwell within the Tropical Rainforest, while guests can come nose to beak with penguins in Penguin Playhouse, a massive indoor/outdoor habitat where the birds can be spotted from above and below the water.
    Photo courtesy of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

These 10 aquariums, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and voted to the top by 10Best readers, represent the best in the U.S. for their high quality exhibits and visitor interactions.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Aquarium are as follows:

  1. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tenn.
  2. Georgia Aquarium - Atlanta
  3. Dallas World Aquarium - Dallas
  4. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas - New Orleans
  5. Tennessee Aquarium - Chattanooga, Tenn.
  6. Newport Aquarium - Newport, Ky.
  7. Texas State Aquarium - Corpus Christi, Texas
  8. Adventure Aquarium - Camden, N.J.
  9. Monterey Bay Aquarium - Monterey, Calif.
  10. Aquarium of the Pacific - Long Beach, Calif.

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Debra Erickson (International Zoo Educators Association), Kyle McCarthy (Family Travel Forum), Eileen Ogintz (Taking the Kids) and Alan Sironen (Zoo Consultants International) were chosen based on their knowledge and experience of American aquariums and family travel.

Other aquariums nominated in this category included the Alaska SeaLife Center, Aquarium of the Bay, Florida Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, National Aquarium, New England Aquarium, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Seattle Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium an Steinhart Aquarium.

Congratulations to all these wonderful winning facilities!

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Debra Erickson

Debra Erickson

Kyle McCarthy

Kyle McCarthy

Eileen Ogintz

Eileen Ogintz

Alan Sironen

Alan Sironen