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Less than an hour’s drive from Port Aransas is the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, Texas. Close enough to spend the day, the Aquarium is an exciting day trip to enjoy sea life that the whole family will love.
We’ve been to the Aquarium multiple times since our three kids were young, and it’s a great day trip to take from Port Aransas. The drive takes about 50 minutes via Hwy. 361 (to Hwy. 358, then across Corpus Christi on SH-286 toward North Beach), or about 60 minutes if you take the ferry from Port Aransas (through Aransas Pass).
It’s an easy drive over to the North Beach area of Corpus Christi, and driving over the Corpus Christi Bay Bridge offers an awesome view of the bay area. North Beach is a popular beach for those who visit Corpus Christi, since it hosts a wide sandy beach, the Texas State Aquarium, and the USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier Museum.
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Know before you go
The Texas State Aquarium is open every day from 10:00am to 5:00pm. It takes about 4 hours to fully explore and enjoy the many exhibits of the Aquarium, not counting the outdoor Splash Park that’s open in the summer.
As of January 2020, admission at the ticket booth is $35.95 for adults, $33.95 for students, and $25.95 for children (ticket prices are subject to change). To save some money per person, buy your tickets online before you go. They also offer memberships, which are reciprocal with other aquariums and zoos across the country.
There are multiple levels to the Aquarium, with stairs and elevators available. If you’re visiting with small children, be prepared for a lot of walking. The exhibit areas are spacious and easy to navigate with large strollers.
The Texas State Aquarium is divided into 5 sections: Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Journey, Dolphin Bay, Boardwalk Gardens and the Splash Park. Each area features a wide variety of aquatic and coastal wildlife animal habitats to explore.
Gulf of Mexico
Dive into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico exhibit and explore all that lives under the sea.
This 360-degree aquarium offers a mesmerizing view of colorful fish and other sea life.
Inside the Caribbean Journey section of the Aquarium, you’ll find more fish but also lots of beautiful birds and the interactive stingray exhibit. Because of the glass ceiling, this area gets warm and quite humid especially in the summer.
The interactive touching exhibit with the stingrays gives kids and adults the chance to use two fingers to touch the back of a stingray as he swims by in the shallow pool. My kids were amazed at how smooth and slick they felt!
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The flamingo exhibit is certainly the one you’ll hear before you see it. Flamingos have an unexpectedly loud call they make and they WILL peck at you, so don’t get too close. But seeing their beautiful orangish-pink color and their incredible balance on one leg is well worth the squawks you’ll hear.
Fun fact: My husband and I owned two blue and gold macaws at one time, so seeing the macaws at the Aquarium is always a treat to me. And yes, they can repeat what they hear (but only if they’re interested).
Venture inside the Caribbean Journey to explore underwater all the marine life that swims around and above you. This is another great spot to escape the heat during the summer.
If you’re a shark fan, this is THE place to be to watch them endlessly circle the tank. When we visit, the kids like to give each of the sharks a name and even decide on their life story. Then we try to count how many fish swim by in a school. It’s a fun game to play with little ones.
The Caribbean Journey exhibit also features the Whataburger 4D Theater, showing SMALLFOOT 4D Experience and Planet Earth II (as of January 2020, shows are subject to change). The shows rotate about every 30 minutes, so it’s easy to find available seats whenever you’re ready.
The exciting dolphin show at Dolphin Bay is a fun family-friendly activity with seating stadium-style along concrete benches. Seating fills up fast for the two shows each day at 11:30am and 3:30pm. The shaded seats are always taken first, so arrive 30-45 minutes before show time for the best seats.
There’s also a splash zone for the kids that like to get wet, so I always bring a packable microfiber towel that’s lightweight for drying off the little kids (and big kids) that can’t resist getting wet. It gets very hot out here in the summer, so bring a water bottle and sunscreen.
While you’re waiting for the dolphin show to start, you’ll have a great view of the Corpus Christi Bay Bridge in the distance.
The underwater viewing area on the backside of the dolphin tank is a great place to get out of the sun and truly feel like you’re underwater with the dolphins. We most recently visited on a sunny day in January, and since the Aquarium was not that busy, we felt like we had the dolphin viewing area all to ourselves.
The truth is, a lot of people don’t even know the underwater dolphin area is there and open to the public for viewing. So it’s a nice quiet spot to break away from the crowd if you have a tired toddler or need a break from the sun.
Outside just beyond the dolphin pool is the Boardwalk Gardens. In this area, you’ll find playful otters in Otter Creek, sea turtles in Tortuga Cay (my favorites!), more stingrays in Stingray Lagoon, an alligator, a bald eagle and more coastal shore birds along the wooden observation deck.
From here you’ll have a great view of the bay and the USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier (which is open to the public as a museum). It can get windy out here on the waterfront and very hot in the summer, so plan to bring plenty of sunscreen.
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How amazing is this beautiful bald eagle in the Eagle Pass exhibit?! I had never seen one up close before visiting the Aquarium and she was mesmerizing to study. What a regal beauty!
The H-E-B Splash Park outside the Aquarium is a refreshing place for your kids to cool off and enjoy their own time in the water. The marine-themed water area is open to all guests at no extra charge. It’s open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00am to 5:00pm during the summer season, May to September. They do have changing rooms and lockers are available.
What to bring for the Splash Park
- Sunscreen: my favorite brand for the whole family is Sun Bum
- Lightweight towel: these microfiber towels are easy to pack in a tote bag
- Reusable water bottle: I like my Thermoflask for keeping my drink cold all day
- Water shoes (no street shoes are allowed on the splash pad)
The Aquarium requests that no outside food or drinks be brought in. There is a small snack area, called Cafe Aqua, available in the lobby area, which serves coffee, bottled drinks and packaged snacks. There’s also the Shoreline Grill outside in the Boardwalk Gardens, near the Splash Park, that offers a full menu every day.
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Aquarium Gift Shop
The Aquarium Gift Shop is always our final stop before calling it a day. There’s always ocean-themed books and stuffed marine animals for the kids, as well as t-shirts and jewelry for the teenagers.
And if you forget your kid’s sunglasses, swimsuit or hat, they’ve got those too.
Best exhibits for teenagers
When I asked my two teenagers what they enjoyed the most at the Aquarium, they agreed on seeing the flamingos (they were much brighter pink and louder than expected), touching the slick stingrays, watching the sharks swimming overhead, tracking the tagged sharks in the ocean with technology online, laughing at the energetic otters outside, and ending the day with watching the dolphin show (out of the sun is important, they say).
Best exhibits for young kids
If you ask my 7-year old, she’ll tell you what she enjoyed most at the Aquarium was seeing the seahorses, walking underneath water beside the sunken ship, waving at the playful otters, watching the sea turtles swim around and of course, the dolphin show.
All in all, the Texas State Aquarium offers a lot of hands-on exploration for the whole family and is a great day trip from Port Aransas. Located within an hour’s drive in Corpus Christi, the Aquarium is the perfect place to take a break from the beach and explore marine life from the Gulf of Mexico.
Plan your visit
Texas State Aquarium
2710 N. Shoreline Boulevard
Corpus Christi, TX 78402