Downtown Aquarium in Houston: The Complete Guide

Frontage of Houston downtown aquarium
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Teeming with hundreds of creatures and plants from the deep blue sea, the Houston Downtown Aquarium is a marvel. Tour exciting exhibits, go on thrilling aquatic-themed rides, eat at an undersea restaurant, and more at one of Houston’s most popular tourist attractions. Here’s everything you need to know before you visit, including parking info, what to see, how to get there, and some general tips for visitors with children.

The Downtown Aquarium was borne out of a redevelopment project including Fire Station No. 1 and the Central Waterworks Building. The result is a 6-acre complex with a 500,000-gallon aquarium housing 300 different species of fish and sea life, a restaurant and bar, eight interactive exhibits, and a collection of six amusement park rides including a Ferris wheel and a train ride through the shark tank.

Downtown Aquarium Highlights

Exhibits

The Houston Downtown Aquarium has eight exciting exhibits, each of which has its own special theme. Some standouts include:

  • The Rainforest offers a look at the world’s tropical rainforests and life inside their rivers; there are red-bellied piranhas, freshwater stingrays, colorful rainforest frogs, and even an emerald tree boa.
  • Step inside the Shipwreck, a sunken hull of a 17th-century Spanish galleon, and explore diverse oceanic life ranging from living coral reefs to moray eels to a giant Pacific octopus.
  • The Sunken Temple features lionfish, pufferfish, tarantulas, an electric eel, and a Tiger Reticulated Python that’s well over 20 feet long.
  • Younger kiddos especially will love checking out the Discovery Zone, a hands-on encounter area with snakes, bearded dragons, and more. 

Games and Rides

You’ll likely want to reserve a full afternoon for the outdoor Games and Rides area, which features fun carnival-style games and amusement rides for all ages. Rides include the Diving Bell Ferris Wheel, an aquatic-themed carousel, and the Shark Voyage, a train that takes you through the center of a 200,000-gallon shark tank. 

Events, Special Programming, and Guided Tours

Before you go, be sure to check the (always packed) events calendar for a full list of the aquarium’s special programming each month, to plan your visit accordingly. There’s always something fun going on—for instance, every Friday night during the summer is Latin Beats Night, when visitors can enjoy live music and salsa lessons from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. On Saturday nights, live bands perform from the Downtown Aquarium stage for Aquarium Live. The aquarium also hosts summer camps, educational classes, and career programs for teens, among other events.

Tips for Families With Children

The aquarium is the perfect place to take children, of course. Before you go, check out the following tips and information:

  • Plan to spend at least an hour exploring the first floor, which is the Aquarium Adventure and Stingray Floor. There are huge floor-to-ceiling viewing tanks, which allow kids to get up-close-and-personal with all the exciting marine life.
  • The Games and Rides area of the aquarium (which is all outdoors) is essentially a mini-amusement park (with an array of age-appropriate attractions, as well as concessions), so you’ll want to reserve plenty of time for this as well. 
  • Children under the age of 2 are granted free admission to everything, including the Games and Rides area.
  • Note that strollers are welcome but there is no designated stroller parking outside of the stingray reef on the first floor.
  • Weekdays are the least crowded time to visit, especially if you go during the morning.  

How to Get There

If you’re coming from North Houston, take I-35 South and exit McKinney; turn left on Bagby. If you’re coming from North Houston, take I-10 East to Smith exit and turn right on Franklin, then turn left on Bagby. And from South Houston, take Highway 288 to I-45 North, then exit Houston Ave/Memorial Drive. Make a right at Memorial; go to Bagby and make a left at the light. The Downtown Aquarium will be on your left. 

Note: Most downtown Houston hotels provide shuttle service to and from the aquarium.

Parking Information

Self-parking and valet are both options at the Houston Aquarium. Self-parking is $8; valet is $10. The parking lot is open from 9:30 a.m. until midnight, and vehicles may not be left overnight. Do keep in mind that the lot only takes cash. 

Tips for Visitors

  • The aquarium maintains a strict food and beverage policy; hard and soft coolers, bottled water, glass containers, and food are not allowed in the amusement area. Also, you can’t leave with alcohol that was served on the premises.
  • There are several items that are prohibited, including lawn chairs or folding chairs, bikes, skateboards, etc.; for the full list, see the aquarium's website
  • For those who will be touring multiple Houston attractions, it may be worth it to get a CityPASS, which includes prepaid admission to five of the biggest attractions; apart from the Downtown Aquarium, you’ll gain access to the Space Center, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and your choice of either the Houston Zoo or the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and your choice of either the Kemah Boardwalk All-Day Ride Pass or the Children’s Museum of Houston. 
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