Welcome to Key West’s first attraction. Meet stingrays and pet a shark! See them eat and watch in wonder as a variety of sea creatures swim around in their natural environment. Come to the Key West Aquarium for an encounter with some of the world’s most mysterious and beautiful marine animals. Since 1934, the aquarium has been wowing guests with its variety of sea species. Listen and learn as knowledgeable guides explain the underwater world that surrounds the Florida Keys.
The interactive Key West Aquarium is a great place to experience the indigenous marine life that inhabits the offshore ecosystem. This window of discovery enables visitors to interact with rays, sharks and other sea creatures while expert guides explain the hidden mysteries of the undersea world surrounding the Florida Keys. You can hold a starfish, pet a shark and get up close to numerous other aquatic species like moray eels, barracuda and sea turtles. The welcoming Key West Aquarium is a popular attraction where nature and animal lovers of all ages can learn about the marine inhabitants and their biodiverse habitats.
History of the Key West Aquarium
One of the oldest aquariums in the country, the Key West Aquarium was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Van Deusen, the superintendent of Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park Aquarium. Construction of the Key West attraction began in 1933 as a Depression-era Works Progress Administration project. The federal program also erected many other historic attractions on the island. After a two-year construction project, the facility opened in 1935. The first institution of its kind to use an open-air concept, the eco-friendly building used natural light to illuminate the exhibits and sea breezes to cool the building. During World War II, the building was leased to the U.S. government. The aquatic displays were removed and the structure was used as a firing range. When the war ended, the aquarium was returned to its former glory, including its historic paintings. A roof was added to slow the growth of algae in the tanks and artificial illumination was installed. Today, the aquarium is one of the most popular attractions in Key West. Featuring an assortment of tropical sea creatures, it is actively involved in conservation efforts designed to preserve the delicate Florida Keys ecosystem.
The Aquarium’s Exhibits
Highlighting the area’s natural undersea beauty, the magnificent displays of the aquarium draw attention to numerous marine species that reside in the Florida Keys. Replicating a shallow water environment, the Touch Tank enables you to pick up many of the aquarium’s harmless creatures like conchs, sea stars and hermit crabs. You can also touch rays and sharks. The 50,000-gallon Atlantic Shore Exhibit mimics the ecosystem of a backcountry mangrove forest. The exhibit contains a variety of tropical and game fish species. The aquarium is also home to exhibits that feature alligators, jellyfish and sea turtles. Learn the difference between alligators and crocodiles, how jellyfish live without a brain or heart and ways to protect sea turtles. You are encouraged to interact with the cownose rays that live in the Stingray Bay exhibit. Knowledgeable staff members present fascinating information about the animals’ behaviors, diets and biology as well as facts about their lives in the wild.
The aquarium is open every day of the year, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The facility offers discounted admission to students and senior citizens as well as active duty military and their families. You can also save money by purchasing tickets online. Guided tours start every half-hour throughout the day. The pet-friendly aquarium welcomes dogs on leashes. Food and drinks are allowed inside the facility. Some metered parking is available near the aquarium and there is a parking garage situated close by. The Key West Aquarium is located near Stop #1 of the Old Town Trolley tour route. Explore the aquarium and then hop aboard the trolley for a ride through Key West.
Things to Do Nearby
Home to a variety of shops, eateries and a sculpture garden, Mallory Square is a popular waterfront plaza that hosts the daily Sunset Celebration. Crowds of locals and visitors alike gather each evening to be entertained by street performers as they watch the sun dip below the horizon.
Housing a collection of artifacts salvaged from 17th-century shipwrecks, the Mel Fischer Maritime Museum enables you to step back in time and experience the Spanish Main. Learn about pirates, Spanish galleons and their treasure as you view historic objects like swords and cannons as well as emeralds and gold bars.
Originally built in 1890 as the Commander’s Quarters for the former naval base, the Truman Little White House was used by several presidents as a southern vacation retreat. Furnished with various period pieces and personal presidential mementos, the Historic Landmark is the place that President Truman worked on the Marshall Plan and developed the Truman Doctrine.