Two hours south of Nashville in beautiful Chattanooga, TN is the Tennessee State Aquarium which is a great place to spend a day! We drove down on a Sunday and realized as we arrived that we had crossed into the Eastern time zone so it was an hour later. Make sure you factor the time difference into your trip!
Once in downtown Chattanooga there are lots of options for parking. We ended up in a covered garage about a block from the Aquarium.
Where to Purchase Tickets
To the right of the entrance sign you will find the building where you can purchase tickets. There are two options for ticketing – credit card machines and a line that leads to ticketing windows if you would rather pay cash or ask questions. Our group split up into two groups and in the end the ticketing window line moved faster.
Find the current ticket prices HERE. We have a great deal from Goldstar (we are affiliates) and you can save $5 on tickets. If you are a Nashville Zoo Member, you can get $4 off each aquarium ticket by presenting your membership card. There are also discounts for active military families and veterans.
Download the App
The Aquarium is comprised of two LARGE buildings – the River Journey for freshwater animals and the Ocean Journey for saltwater species. You can start in either building, but before you do, make sure to download the aquarium's free app. It has the daily schedule of shows, an exhibit checklist, and interactive activities to enjoy as you explore the exhibits. The app is available for both Droid and iPhones.
We were in the wrong part of the building a few different times when the animal presentations were scheduled. There is staff stationed throughout the exhibits and they gave us directions so we could go backwards on the tour to be able to see the River Otter show and the Alligator show.
The River Journey
We started our tour in the River Journey. When you first enter the building a guide will direct you to ride the escalator or the elevator up to the top floor to start your tour. You then work your way down.
The adventure starts in the Appalachian Cove Forest, which is a recreation of the source of the Tennessee River. Here you can see birds, reptiles, and fish that are native to Tennessee. This area is also home to the river otters, which are a LOT of fun to watch. Don't miss the daily presentation with the otters (the times can be found in the app).
There are ramps to change floors and it is all stroller and wheelchair friendly.
As you progress you will see alligators, turtles and HUGE fish. There is an area where you can pet sturgeon (Discovery Hall) and several tanks that kids can crawl into for a 360 degree view.
The Mississippi Delta is home to Alligator Alley where you can get up close and personal with the reptiles. There is an alligator presentation and we learned several new facts about the creatures.
The last sections of the River Journey are the River Giants and Rivers of the World. You can see several angles of the large tanks of giant fish though the exhibit halls and the ramps that transport you from floor to floor.
It took our family about two hours to walk through the River Journey building and see several of the animal presentations.
To continue your tour, exit the building into the courtyard, and then enter the Ocean Journey building.
Stop for Lunch
We took this opportunity to get some lunch. There are several options nearby including a food court with pizza and burgers and depending on the day, a few food trucks. Outside the courtyard but still within a block of the Aquarium are even more options. Downtown Chattanooga has a map with the restaurants marked.
The Ocean Journey
After our meal we headed back to start our tour of the Ocean Journey. The building has the same set up; you come in on the ground floor and then take an escalator or elevator up 4 floors to the top and then wind your way down as you see the exhibits. This building begins with a tour of the rain forest including a touch pond with stingrays.
Following that adventure you can spend some time in the butterfly area. There were hundreds of butterflies and some did land on us. There is also a display of caterpillars in various stages of transformation as well as new butterflies and moths.
Move from the tropics to the South Pole and visit the penguins. The birds were very active and would even interact with you through the glass.
The rest of the ocean building winds through many different aquatic ecosystems including jellyfish, a coral reef area and coastal regions. My children were fascinated with how close you could get to the animals.
We had planned to visit other Chattanooga attractions but the Aquarium turned into a full day on its own. You can purchase combination tickets and see an IMAX film at the theater across the street.
Do come prepared – there is a man-made creek that wanders through the aquarium courtyard and lots of kids were decked out in swim suits splashing around.
Of course, our kids wanted in on the fun so we held them off to the end. Their wading session turned into swimming so I was thankful I travel with full sets of clothes just in case!
Family Fun Facts
Hours: Open daily from 10 AM to 6 PM. (Remember this is Eastern time!) Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
Cost: Aquarium Only – Adults $34.95, Child (3 to 12 yrs) $21.95, Under 3 FREE
IMAX – Adult $11.95, Child (3 to 12 yrs) $9.95 Under 3 FREE
Discount combo tickets and memberships are available