No trip to Charleston, South Carolina, would be complete without visiting the South Carolina Aquarium. Opened in May of 2000, the South Carolina Aquarium inspires conservation with some pretty spectacular exhibits. It is home to more than 5000 animals. This unique facility is both educational and entertaining for at least a few hours (a lot more if you’ve got kids). Be sure to come see why the SC Aquarium has been consistently voted the best attraction in Charleston for families!
A Preview of Some of the 60 South Carolina Aquarium Exhibits
South Carolina has some of the most varied ecosystems in the United States, and visitors to Charleston’s Aquarium get to experience the majority of them, as well as some more exotic locales, in the various exhibitions on site. With a salt marsh aviary, two-story aquarium tank, touch tanks, and educational tours and programs surrounded by moving views of the Charleston harbor and the Ravenel Bridge, a visit to the South Carolina Aquarium is well-worth the price of admission. Sections of the Aquarium are divided into the major geographic regions of South Carolina: Mountain Forest, Piedmont, Coastal Plain, Atlantic Coast, and the Open Ocean off of South Carolina’s coast.
1. Shark Shallows
The Shark Shallows is one of the first exhibits visitors to the Aquarium see when they approach the entrance to the building on Liberty Square. The 20,000-gallon tank features a deep end and a shallow end, designed so that visitors can touch the sharks and rays as they pass. Be sure to swing-by the touch tank by the harbor before entering the Aquarium to touch the bonnethead sharks, stingrays, and cow nose rays.
2. Touch Tank
This exhibit allows visitors to touch a variety of crabs, whelk, and sea urchins. The professional staff is always on hand to answer any questions you may have.
3. Mountain Forest
The Mountain Forest exhibit displays the natural ecosystem of the Blue Ridge mountain region of South Carolina, around Greenville. This exhibit is as close as most visitors will come to visiting an old-growth forest. The Mountain Forest features a bald eagle, a variety of different birds from that area, freshwater fish found in the fast-moving streams of the mountains (including brook trout), and North American river otters. A major draw of the SC Aquarium, visitors watch in awe as river otters swirl through the cold waters of their habitat.
4. The Piedmont
The Piedmont region is the foothills in the middle of the state leading to the Blue Ridge mountains. This particular exhibit focuses on the fish and wildlife of that region of the state, as well as South Carolina during prehistoric times. Millions of years ago, the coast was at Columbia, while all of the Lowcountry was underwater. You can still find megalodon teeth fossils to this day in South Carolina.
5. Coastal Plain
The Coastal Plain exhibit showcases the fish and wildlife of the South Carolina Lowcountry. This exhibit is connected to the Piedmont section of the Aquarium and features fish, amphibians, and plants found along the Carolina coast and in its freshwater marsh and swamp habitats (including cypress trees downed by Hurricane Hugo). It also features such reptiles as Alabaster, the albino alligator resident at the SC Aquarium, and several venomous snakes found in the state, including the Eastern diamondback and copperhead snake. Visitors may even get to witness a Venus Flytrap in action.
With various microclimates even in the shallow waters along the coast of South Carolina, it can sometimes be a bit shocking how many different varieties of sealife are found in abundance on the coast of the Lowcountry. With shrimp, crabs, stingrays, lobster, flounder, sea turtles, seahorses, invasive species like lionfish and many more, this is a fairly extensive exhibit.
No matter how many attractions they add-on to the SC Aquarium, the two-story, 385,000 gallon Great Ocean Tank in the Ocean exhibit will likely always remain a major draw to this Charleston tourist attraction. Some of the species that may be encountered in the tank include: reef fish, sandtiger sharks, black tip reef sharks, barracuda, bass, red drum, a 220-pound loggerhead sea turtle named Caretta, and much more! Other tanks surrounding the Great Ocean Tank include such fish as scorpion fish, moon jellyfish, dog chain fish, eels, and black sea bass. The divers who clean and maintain the tank are known to entertain aquarium-goers while they’re in the tank. The diver will carry his trumpet around with him in the tank and play it during performances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, for example! The Weeki Wachee mermaids have also been known to make an appearance in this giant tank.
8. Saltmarsh Aviary
- blue crabs
- diamondback terrapins
9. Animal Care Exhibit
10. Madagascar Journey
- The red ruffed lemurs
- A Nile crocodile
- White-spotted bamboo sharks
- Tomato frogs
- Vasa parrots
- Hissing cockroaches (which are actually grosser than palmetto bugs, in this writer’s opinion)
- Mini-gascar, a play area for toddlers
11. 4-D Theater
12. Carolina Seas
13. Backyard Habitat
- native birds
- other pollinators
- and more
14. Sea Turtle Hospital
- $10 for adults
- $5 for children 3 to 12
- toddlers free
Visiting the South Carolina Aquarium
Getting South Carolina Aquarium Tickets
- Family Plus – two adults living at the same address as well as any children or grandchildren you list. You also get two guest privileges for a cost of $209.00
- Family – two adults living at the same address and all children listed under 18 years of age for an annual fee of $169.00
- Grandparent – two adults living at the same address and all listed grandchildren listed under 18 years old for $129.00
- Individual Plus – one adult and one guest pass for $109 per year.
- Dual – two adults for $109.00
- Individual – one adult for $79.00
Daily Rates for SC Aquarium Tickets
- Adult pass – $29.95
- Children (age 3-12) pass – $22.95
- Child aquarium only (age 3-12)- $17.95
South Carolina Aquarium Parking
South Carolina Aquarium Events
Hotels and Places to Stay Near the South Carolina Aquarium
The South Carolina Aquarium is within walking distance of most of the hotels and inns in historic downtown Charleston. A few of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are especially close:
Slightly farther away (though still close) include most of the best places to stay in Charleston, SC:
- The Francis Marion Hotel
- The Restoration on King
South Carolina Aquarium Jobs and Internships
Is There a South Carolina Zoo?
1. Riverbanks Zoo
2. Charles Towne Landing Zoo
- white-tailed deer
- mountain lions
- black bears
- more North American river otters!