by Jill “mamabug” Frier

Water is a scarce resource in the desert, so we don’t typically imagine Arizona to be a place where you can find high-quality aquariums. Fortunately for Sonoran Desert dwellers, that perception is wrong. Arizona is home to a number of world-class aquariums, including the largest in the southwest. Summer is a perfect time to escape the desert heat and find an oasis of water and sea life in one of the many aquariums in our state. Here is a list of aquariums you can visit in the Sonoran Desert.

OdySea Aquarium

The state of the art OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale opened its doors in 2016. As the largest aquarium in the southwest, it boasts two million gallons of water, 60 exhibits, and over 30,000 sea creatures. OdySea also has separate tours and encounters available to learn more about sea life and provide visitors with additional aquatic adventures. Some of the extra highlights at OdySea Aquarium include a Behind the Scenes tour, an underwater SeaTrek, and a special Penguin Interaction Program. It’s best to buy your tickets online in advance, to get discounts and avoid waiting in long lines. OdySea is worth the trip and a great place to escape the heat of summer – and a membership pays for itself in just a few visits.

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park

The Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park, located off the Loop 303 highway in Litchfield Park, is another awesome aquatic adventure. The aquarium portion of the zoo gets you up close and personal to sea life and lets you see everything from penguin feedings to sharks. The South Pacific Reef tunnel tank features the longest acrylic tunnel in Arizona, and the aquarium is home to the only sea lions in our state. The Aquarium’s sea lion facility and programs offer educational demonstrations, sea lion shows and feedings at their specially constructed Shipwreck Cove area. The Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park is always worth a visit and the aquarium is a special treat for desert dwellers trying to beat the heat of summer.

SeaLife Arizona Aquarium

The SeaLife Arizona Aquarium, located in the Arizona Mills shopping center in Tempe, is a part of a larger SeaLife Aquarium group that has locations throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. The SeaLife Trust works to promote conservation efforts through education, breeding, rescuing and protecting aquatic animals all over the world. Some of the highlights of the SeaLife Arizona Aquarium include fresh water and salt water exhibits, Critter Canyon, an interactive tide pool, a Bay of Rays, and an ocean view. The kids will love the educational challenges and treasure hunts provided by the aquarium, as well as the fun play area! Buy your tickets online and in advance to get the best rates, and consider opting for combo packages with the Legoland Discovery Center if you plan to spend the day.

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum – Warden Aquarium

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson is natural park that is completely unique to Arizona and the Sonoran Desert. It’s a zoo, plus a botanic garden, plus a natural history museum, plus a conservation, research and educational center. It also hosts a great aquarium for summer visitors to the museum. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s Warden Aquarium opened in 2013 and welcomes Tucson residents and visitors with its unexpected exhibit of massive rivers with six-foot minnows, and oceans teeming with whales, stingrays, eels, and thousands of invertebrates found in the Sonoran Desert. As the museum explains, “A full understanding of the Sonoran Desert region isn’t possible without recognizing the importance of the freshwater rivers that flow through it and the Sea of Cortez, which are critical to this desert’s status as the lushest desert on earth.” Plan to stop at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum the next time you visit Tucson – it’s one you shouldn’t miss.

Cabela’s in Glendale and Bass Pro Shop in Mesa

A free and fun way to see aquatic wildlife native to Arizona is to visit one of the huge freshwater Aquariums in one of our local outdoor outfitter stores, Cabela’s in Glendale or Bass Pro Shop in Mesa. Both stores house giant freshwater aquariums that offer up-close viewing of trophy-sized catfish, bass, striper, trout and blue gill, among other fish. Check out their websites for special events and activities and to learn more about the aquariums – each of these stores is a tourist attraction and a fun day trip in and of itself!

Take some time this summer to get out of the heat and visit an aquarium near your part of the Valley of the Sun. There are some fantastic options available, and it’s a great opportunity to keep cool and continue encouraging your kids’ interest in science and the world outside. Be sure to check Ladybug’s Blog for a more ideas for great places to get your kids out of the house and interested places to see around the great state of Arizona.