Your guide to aquariums near Pinellas County
Looking for aquariums or places to see sea life in the Clearwater-St. Petersburg area? We’ve got you covered — here are all the aquariums near us, including under the radar options and big destination aquariums that you can visit in a day trip.
We’re two local Pinellas moms and write about all the family-friendly things to do in our area. We’re also annual passholders to most of the aquariums on this list.
Aquariums hold a special place for us because going to the National Aquarium with our baby was one of the things we were most excited about when I was pregnant. Unfortunately, a pandemic had other plans and had to wait years to take him to an aquarium.
We’re so happy now to be able to take him as a toddler. Needless to say, we are making up for lost time now and go to aquariums and manatee centers all. the. time now.
So let’s dive into the list and find your next aquarium visit!
1. Florida Aquarium
The primer aquarium in our area is the Florida Aquarium. It is a great aquarium with lots of different exhibits and a big tank windows that you can sit and watch endlessly. I’m pretty sure our toddler could have watched the parrotfish forever.
Plus, the aquarium has outdoor play spaces for kids. It has an amazing splash pad and a playground area so it can really be a full day activity for kids.
Read our full write-up of the Florida Aquarium
2. Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a rehabilitation and sanctuary aquarium. All the sea life are rescues and the aquarium focuses heavily on education. When I was growing up, it was a small aquarium but has grown a lot thanks to the popularity of Winter the dolphin and the movie Dolphin Tales.
The coolest part of the aquarium are the huge dolphin tanks in the center. They also have touch tanks of stingrays, sea turtles and cool big birds.
Don’t miss our full guide to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
3. Tarpon Aquarium
Tarpon Aquarium is a family-run small aquarium. It’s Malena’s family’s favorite aquarium in the area by far.
It is a very interactive aquarium — you can pet and hold lots of the animals, even baby alligators. Malena had to explain to her toddler how alligators she sees in the wild don’t actually like her the way the baby alligators do at the Tarpon Aquarium.
4. Mote Marine Aquarium
Mote Marine Aquarium is just over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Sarasota. I remember visiting Mote Marine was the big, exciting field trip in elementary school.
Mote Marine is an aquarium and also a research lab center. The aquarium is home to lots of kid favorites like otters, sharks and a manatee.
If you make a day trip to Mote Marine, here is a list of other kid-friendly things in Sarasota.
Manatee Viewing Centers
In addition to traditional aquariums in the area, there are a few manatee centers in the area that scratch a similar aquarium itch.
ZooTampa isn’t a traditional aquarium but it is home to one of only four manatee rehabilitation centers in Florida (source). The manatee exhibit is like a peaceful mini-aquarium in the middle of the zoo.
Watching the manatees float around eating lettuce is so transfixing and tranquil. Plus, in addition to the manatees, the building also is home to a handful of fish tanks which add to its mini-aquarium vibe.
Check out our full guide to ZooTampa before your visit.
6. Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center
Across the Tampa Bay, you’ll find a cool manatee viewing spot that is totally free. And they’re also home to the Tampa Bay Rays stingrays during the off-season that you can pet in a touch tank!
In the winter the manatees like the thermal effluence that comes out of the Tampa Electric plant. They like it so much that the area has been designated a federal manatee sanctuary and Tampa Electric built a viewing area for people to visit.
This is a seasonal spot, the manatees come when the water gets colder so its only open for about 5 months out of the year.
7. Bishop Museum of Science and Nature
The Bishop Museum is a science museum in Bradenton that is home to a manatee rehabilitation center. You can visit the manatee center along with other exhibits like a planetarium and interactive kids exploration spaces.
This museum is free for kids 4 and under, which is nice since most places start charging for kids when they hit 3.
Day Trip Aquariums
Pinellas is also within driving distance of two theme park based aquariums in Orlando. We added these to the list since many people in the Clearwater-St. Petersburg area hold annual passes to nearby theme parks.
Obviously, SeaWorld makes the list for day trip aquariums being an entirely marine-themed park. Of the aquariums on this list, SeaWorld has the biggest variety of sea animals such as beluga whales, walruses, and orcas.
SeaWorld has a preschooler pass deal for Florida residents. If your child is 5 or younger, you can register for them to receive free admission for the year, but the registration period is only opened for a short window at the beginning of the year.
It is easy to forget that Walt Disney World is home to a huge aquarium tucked inside Epcot’s Future World.
The SeaBase (previously called the Living Sea) is actually the biggest aquarium in Florida by tank gallon size, the second biggest in the U.S. and the 8th biggest in the world (source)!
We also love this aquarium because it is a great refuge from the long lines and crowds at Disney.
Check out some of our other aquarium posts: