What’s not to love about aquariums? They not only give us a first-hand glimpse at some of the most colorful and eccentric animals on our planet, but they allow our kiddos the opportunity to experience life under the sea outside of The Little Mermaid. And guess what, Seattle parents? Seattle is home to the ninth largest aquarium in the US by attendance. If you’ve got a mini marine biologist on your hands or a tot who just can’t wait to find Nemo, then a day trip to the Seattle Aquarium will definitely float your boat. Dive in and read on to see why!

photo: Seattle Aquarium

Where to Submerge
Once you make your way to the Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59, wade on past the ticket counter and you will run smack dab into the first exhibit the Aquarium has to offer. It’s called Window on Washington Waters and it sets the stage for all the amazing things the Seattle Aquarium has for you and your mini oceanographers. The humongous 120,000-gallon tank is filled to the brim with more than 800 fish and invertebrates native to Pacific Northwest waters and will give the Littles the feeling of being right there inside this fishy world. And what’s more engaging is that three times every day (10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 12:15 p.m.), a diver will plunge right into the water with an underwater microphone to give you fun facts about our water-faring friends. There is plenty of bench seating, but encourage your kiddos to plop down on the floor in front for the best vantage point…and the ideal front-row position for asking questions!

photo: Seattle Aquarium

Float Further In
Wander through to the next section of the Aquarium by bobbing past the gift shop (or jet past it if you don’t want your little one sucked into the gift shop whirlpool just yet), to an awesome hands-on, interactive exhibit. Complete with touch pools, a moon jellyfish tunnel and the always crowd-pleasing Giant Pacific Octopus viewing area, it’s the place to get hands-on with sea creatures.

Palms in the Pool
Little buggers and enthusiastic grabbers who can’t wait to get their hands in the water will be thrilled with the Aquarium’s two large touch pools. Filled with some of the Puget Sound’s and coastal area’s funky plethora of sea creatures (think: sea cucumbers, urchins, sea stars and crabs), the touch pools are a great way for your kiddos to get a hands-on experience with these peculiar aquatic pals. (Psst…encourage your teeny deep sea fishers to gently put their fingers in between the spikes of a sea urchin. Its spikes will give their fingers a sweet little “hug.” It’s adorable and your nautical munchkins will eat it up!) And feel free to ask questions to any of the nearby and knowledgeable naturalists. They know a lot about these guys!

photo: Seattle Aquarium

Approaching Appendages
On your way through the Aquarium, you can’t miss the giant Pacific octopuses. (Yep, that’s right. Not Octopi, don’t let anyone tell you different!) These large eight-armed creatures are a glorious sight for your own handsy critters to see, whether suctioned to the glass or waving their limber arms as they swim through the tubes. Psst…if you happen to be there at either noon or 4 p.m., you can catch a daily octopus feeding!

photo: Seattle Aquarium

Further back in Aquarium (and past the cute sea life-themed felt sticky board and scuba costume dress-up area—perfect for your tiniest of wiggly worms to spend a few moments of imaginative play), you will encounter the tropical fish and coral reef area where your kiddos can discover many of the vivid swimmers that the deep ocean has to offer…and where parents can dream of carefree island snorkeling trips!

More Fishies, Feathers & Fur
After you have exhausted the first main floor area, paddle on through the side exit doors to enter the next section of the Aquarium. Upstairs, you will run into aquatic birds (tiny Puffin Rock fans, this means you!) as well as the cute-as-a-button seals and otters. Then, drift on downstairs to the one-of-a-kind Underwater Dome. This 360-degree, 400,000-gallon, overhead dome houses more Puget Sound fish for your minuscule sea captains to discover. Everything from our area’s important open-water salmon, to sharks, to huge green and white sturgeons (a fan favorite as they are the biggest dudes in there!). If you find yourself there after 12 p.m., stick around for the daily fish feeding at 1:30 p.m. Insider’s Tip: The upper level and the overhead seal viewing area is open-air. If it’s a cold day, keep your kiddo’s jacket with you, so you can slip it on when exploring this area. There can be quite a bite up there…from the air, not the animals, of course!

photo: Seattle Aquarium

What’s on the Horizon
If you plan on taking your wee water aficionados to the Seattle Aquarium in the next few months, the Aquarium has special events planned for both Mother’s and Father’s Day! The Mother’s Day event is scheduled for May 13 and will feature special talks, perfect for all the mamas and mamas-to-be out there. Activities start at 10 a.m. and a free four-hour parking voucher is included with your visit. For dads, June 17 will include special Father’s Day presentations, hands-on activities and fun for the whole family. The Aquarium will also be hosting Deaf Community Days with the next one coming up on May 19 from 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sign language interpreters will be on hand to guide you through.

If Your Kid Is a Big Mouth Bass or a Gift Shop Grouper
During or after your underwater experience, be sure to head to the gift shop for a souvenir. If you need a little pick-me-up, stop by the full cafe on the upper level above the lobby. It’s the perfect spot for lunch or when you need to fill tiny bellies to keep the momentum going. There are plenty of kid- and adult-friendly options, plus you get a fantastic view of the Sound (and the Seattle Great Wheel, Pier 57 and probably a seagull or two!).

Where to Park your Boat, Er, Car
Although there is no “on-site” parking, there are plenty of garage options within close walking distance. Recommended parking options include Pike Place Market Parking Garage or Republic Parking Hillclimb Garage. Check the aquarium’s website here for directions. Keep in mind, the garages are across the street from the aquarium, so there will be a short walk to the building and a busy road to cross before you get there. Parking estimates are about 3 bucks an hour (or $1 off if you present your parking ticket from Republic).

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Seattle Aquarium
1483 Alaskan Way, Pier 59
Seattle, Wa 98101
206-386-4300
Online: seattleaquarium.org

Hours: Daily, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; last entry at 5 p.m., all exhibits close at 6 p.m.
Admission: $29.95/Adults, $19.95/Youth (4-12), 3 & under Free. $2 off for Seniors (65 & older), persons with disabilities and active military.

Have you visited the Seattle Aquarium lately? What’s your family’s favorite exhibit? Tell us about your underwater adventures in the comments below!

—Alaina Weimer

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