10. New England Aquarium
The New England Aquarium in Boston is home to all kinds of marine life. There's a penguin colony, all types of exotic fish, moon jellies, and more! The Aquarium leads research and conservation efforts around the globe, so part of your ticket cost is going to a good cause. And the aquarium is located near the Sam Adams brewery, so if you want to tour their factory first and then come look at the fish while you're nice and relaxed, that's certainly an option.
9. Pier 39 and Aquarium of the Bay
Pier 39 has an enormous population of sea lions who enjoy life away from any natural predators. Staff from the nearby Aquarium of the Bay are on hand to educate and answer questions about what you're seeing. The aquarium itself focuses on inspiring conservation of the local marine life. Its exhibits include an underwater tunnel made of glass to give you some quality face time with the animals.
8. Galveston, Texas
The white sands of the Gulf of Mexico are beautiful enough on their own, but the town that surrounding town has even more charm to spare. Moreover, there's the nearby Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, whose events calendar includes "mass coral spawning" and "whale shark sightings." Researchers are on hand to study the wildlife, which means you'll get a better understanding of how ocean creatures fit into the environment than you would at a theme park.
7. Florida Keys
If you were willing to head out to Florida, anyway, you might as well go a little farther and get the real deal. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary encompasses many of the islands that make up the keys, most of the Dry Tortugas, and the surrounding waters. Whether you want to encounter sea turtles on a nature hike or swim the reefs, this is a great place to encounter nature on its own terms.
Like so many beach vacations, Hawai'i is what you make of it. It can be a place to relax in a resort, or it can be a place to get out and experience marine life firsthand. From rays and turtles to jellyfish and coral, Hawai'i has it all — and has it untamed, uncaged, and free.
5. Costa Rica
Costa Rica may be a little harder to reach than some places, but it's worth the experience. Treehouse resorts like Treehouse Lodge and sustainable communities like Finca Bellavista get you close to all kinds of natural beauty and exotic wildlife, and that's before you even reach the beaches. Once you take to the water, you're likely to encounter sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and more!
4. Whale Watching in the Wild
This is actually one of the activities offered by the New England Aquarium, but there are plenty of other places to go whale watching, as well. Seattle, San Diego, and Alaska on the West Coast, and Nantuckett, New York, and Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast are all homes to whale-watching tours. You'll have to plan your trip carefully — since whales migrate, you'll want to make sure you come at the right time of the year. That extra bit of research is worth it to know that you're seeing the whales in their natural habitat.
3. The Rest of San Diego
If you were heading to California for SeaWorld, there's still plenty else to do here, as well. For a more authentic marine experience, check out La Jolla Cove with its bountiful ocean life and an enormous colony of sea lions. Other big draws include the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, but odds are those might not exactly be your cup of tea if you're researching SeaWorld alternatives. San Diego is overrun with museums, making it a great educational destination. There's also the Birch Aquarium and the gardens at Balboa Park.
2. The Rest of Orlando
Not everyone who goes to SeaWorld is there for the wildlife. Some people may just want the "theme park" experience. If that's the case, why not just go all out and treat yourself to the granddaddy of them all? Disney World is right there in Orlando, next to the Sea World you were thinking about going to. There's also Universal Studios and a whole host of related parks. It's a different experience, but still a fun one that the kids will love.
1. The Rest of San Antonio
San Antonio is home to another big SeaWorld park, but there's a lot more that the city has to offer. There's a Six Flags if you want the theme park experience. There's also Natural Bridge Caverns. If you've never trekked into a cave system, you absolutely need to go. The encounter with a completely alien world just under your feet will change your perspective about the world around you. If you'd rather stay above ground, there's also a beautiful botanical garden in town. Honestly, though, the kids will probably get more out of the weirdness of the caves.