See You by the Sea: A Guide to the Texas State Aquarium

Living in the great state of Texas affords us the chances to experience the great outdoors on any given weekend. For those of us here in San Antonio, it means we are a hop, skip, and a gull’s throw away from the coastline.

Whether you are heading to Port Aransas for the weekend or making Corpus Christi your home for a few days, one thing is for sure: a stop at the Texas State Aquarium is a must. This beautifully stated aquarium features the Corpus Christi Bay as its backdrop and the Lexington Aircraft Carrier as a neighbor. If you are in the mood to put a little salty sea air back into your regimen for a day or weekend, look no farther than our finned and feathered friends down at the Texas State Aquarium.

Know Before You Go

The Texas State Aquarium is open May 26–September 2, Monday–Saturday, 9:00 A.M.–6:00 P.M., and Sunday, 10:00 A.M.–6:00 P.M. The HEB Splash Park Hours are 10:00 A.M.–6:00 P.M. during the above summer dates. Check the website in the fall/winter/spring for updated seasonal hours.The aquarium’s website is packed full of helpful information for first-time and veteran visitors. They run online specials that vary by season—or month, for that matter—so it’s a good idea to check that tab of their website before purchasing tickets.

Discounts are available (with proper ID for proof) for the following:

Military personnel and students (high school or college) receive $2.00 off the price of an admission ticket.

You can score up to two admission tickets half price by showing your membership card to a reciprocal zoo. (Texas State Aquarium is a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, as is the San Antonio Zoo, so if you’re a member of the latter, you’ll receive 50% off two admission tickets to the Texas State Aquarium by showing your zoo membership card.)

  • Children two and under are FREE!
  • Admission includes entry to the aquarium, the H-E-B Splash Park, and the new Whataburger 4D Theater.

 

Other helpful tips:

  • Parking at the aquarium is FREE!
  • No outside food or drinks or allowed. However, a call prior to visiting to inquire about exceptions to this rule is always a good idea.
  • There is ample stroller parking throughout the aquarium.

While You’re There

The Aquarium boasts enough space for you to take your time there at your own pace and leisure. Since the Caribbean Journey exhibit is “new” as of 2017, my family headed there right out of the gates.

From chatting parrots and curious flamingos to slow-moving sloths and colorful coral fish, this exhibit does not disappoint! The ground floor and upper level views of the sandbar sharks are exhilarating, and you can challenge your kids to “I spy” for a barracuda or two!

If you grabbed a map at the entrance, then you will have the show times on hand. We headed down to the lower part of the exhibit for the “Dive Show” and “Feeding Frenzy” aspect of the live entertainment. The atmosphere cannot be beat when a human diver jumps into the tank, waves at the children, and immediately has an entourage of sea life behind him/her. The ever-so-knowledgeable staff narrates as the diver serves up a three-course meal for her underwater friends.

I noticed that children of all ages were completely engaged during the feeding portion. Older children (grades 3 and up) will be intrigued to know exactly what the diver is feeding the animals, while littles will be mesmerized with the colorful array of fish nibbling lettuce leaves and krill cakes.

Leaving the Carribbean Journey may be hard for your children due to the variety of animal and plant life to soak in, but you can always bring them back for the Keeper Chats that occur later in the day.

A friendly sloth to welcome you

Because we had quite a bit of time remaining until a dolphin show, we passed through the Dolphin Bay area on our way to the Boardwalk Gardens area of the aquarium. This particular outdoor section is home to alligators, otters, sea turtles, stingrays, and if you time it right, a live show about birds of prey. In addition to petting stingrays, you can also take part in the “Feed the Rays” presentation that occurs throughout the day. (Keep that map handy!)

Step inside a REAL shark tank! (Child not included.)

We were the only ones at the sea turtle tank at the time, so we felt as if we had a mini “Keeper Chat” with the caretaker of the turtles at Tortuga Cay. My five-year-old absorbed every word about those turtles, from how they were rescued, the injuries sustained, and the steps necessary to deem an animal “releasable” or not. (FYI, the sea turtles we met that day will live out their days in the warm waters of the aquarium.)

As lunchtime approached, we ducked into the Shoreline Grill to refuel before tackling the rest of the aquarium. The food at the Grill ranges from burgers and chicken fingers to a salad or wrap choice, along with various chips, fruit cups, and beverages to satisfy any appetite.

A quick trip up the stairs from the Shoreline Grill will lead you to the Gulf of Mexico exhibit. We choose to proceed through this after lunch due to the abounding species available for our viewing pleasure. The moon jellies and fiddler crabs were my favorites, but many children took pride in finding the resident octopus that likes to show off his camouflaging skills. The Gulf of Mexico exhibit allowed me to point out and have my children observe the jellyfish instead of the usual screaming and bolting to shore when encountering them in the actual Gulf of Mexico. Win, win.

When you think that your time at the aquarium is about over, you are warmly reminded by the staff and your bounding children that you haven’t made it to the Splash Park yet. If the idea of preparing your children for a period of time in any type of water leaves you wanting to make a beeline for your car, think again. The H-E-B Splash Park is user-friendly, complete with brightly colored changing cabanas, restrooms, tables with umbrellas, and ample seats and lounge chairs so you can wave at your little pirates as they squirt and try to drench their siblings, friends, strangers, etc. Water shoes are permitted but not mandatory, and adults are allowed on the splash pad—just beware of the buckets of water that like to tip over and drench you at any given minute! Personally, my family enjoyed ending the day at the H-E-B Splash Park, but I have friends who start the day by getting wet, changing clothes, and knowing they are over and done with water activities for the day. The order of operations for the Texas State Aquarium is entirely up to you and what suits your schedule. And no trip would be complete without at least one  visit to the gift shop, where members can enjoy a discount (because what kid doesn’t need ANOTHER stuffed dolphin or shark?!).

All in all, our day at the Texas State Aquarium filled our minds, hearts, and bodies with more than we thought possible. My children learned about the animals in each exhibit, as well as the proper way to respect them while in the wild. Our chats with the well-informed staff opened our eyes not only to the rescue and rehabilitation efforts made by the entire aquarium team, but the part we humans play in their future. Thanks to the H-E-B Splash Park, my husband and I were able to partake in adult conversation while our two little aquarium-goers snoozed all the way back to dear old San Antonio, stuffed sharks in hand.

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