From our landlocked Sonoran Desert spot, Phoenix still offers plenty of ways for kids to explore the oceans, from the new OdySea Aquarium that opened east of Scottsdale in August to an expansion at Sea Life Arizona Aquarium in Tempe. Here are four great places to explore under the sea this summer — no road trip required.
9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale
480-291-8000 • odyseaaquarium.com
With 200,000 square feet of watery wonderland to explore and 16 all-new exhibits, this aquarium is a massive desert oasis. The largest aquarium in the Southwest, OdySea offers a mini version of the Great Barrier Reef, a Penguin Point attraction and The Otter Banks, where otters frolic and play. It’s also the only place we can think of where you can watch sharks (and vice versa) from inside the restrooms.
The aquarium houses more than 30,000 animals and lots of interactive exhibits, such as the Stingray Bay Touch Pools and the SeaTREK Dive where (for an additional fee) participants in oxygenated helmets can walk into OdySea’s fish-filled tanks. “Mermaids” have also made appearances here!
OdySea has recently announced two summer specials: Steeply discounted annual passes and $25 admission after 4 p.m. that comes with a $10 coupon to restaurants in the OdySea in the Desert entertainment district. OdySea is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Regular prices: $34.95; $29.95 ages 13-17; $24.95 ages 3-12. Discounted combo tickets are available for Butterfly Wonderland and OdySea Mirror Maze next door.
Sea Life Arizona Aquarium
5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle #145, Tempe
877-526-3960 • visitsealife.com/arizona
This 26,000-square-foot aquarium located inside Arizona Mills mall was built for kids, with viewing bubbles at children’s eye level, letting them observe sea creatures up close. Sea Life recently unveiled a $1 million new Colorado River Adventure room that helps kids learn about water conservation and Arizona’s water supply. It includes a large-scale, interactive model of the Colorado River as it runs from the mountains through the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam all the way to the Sea of Cortez.
“The real hands-on part is that (visitors) get to twist, turn and manipulate the water on our interactive play table,” says Elizabeth Mathews, Sea Life’s marketing manager. “They’ll see the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam and how the water filters through all of that.”
Other Sea Life features include a 360-degree ocean tunnel, diggable marine fossils, a touch tide pool teeming with sea urchins and crabs, behind-the-scenes tours, talks and feeding times. Visitors also learn about local conservation efforts such as monthly cleanups of the Salt River and a successful breeding program for the endangered Desert Pupfish, which used to inhabit the Gila River basin. 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. $18; $13 ages 3-12; free for ages 2 and younger. Sea Life and Legoland Discovery Center (next door) are owned by Merlin Entertainments, so discounted combo tickets and passes are available.
455 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
602-914-4333 • phoenixzoo.org
You may not think “ocean” when contemplating a trip to the Phoenix Zoo, but don’t forget Stingray Bay, where kids can touch and even feed (for $2) cownose stingrays in a 15,000-gallon interactive pool. Then, little ones can cool off in the zoo’s Leapin’ Lagoon splash pad and enjoy other water features. Summer hours are 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. June through August. $28.95; $18.95 for ages 3-12; free for ages 2 and younger (includes general and Stingray Bay admission).
Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park
16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park
623-935-9543 • wildlifeworld.com
This west-side zoo’s aquarium boasts 180,000 gallons of freshwater and saltwater.The four-building aquarium is open until 9 p.m. daily and features hundreds of fish and amphibians. Two years ago, Wildlife World Zoo welcomed three gregarious sea lions. Guests can feed and interact with them and watch daily sea-lion shows at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. in Shipwreck Cove.
Kids can also feed penguins and explore marine life from the South Pacific, Caribbean and more. One of the popular aquarium attractions is the Predators exhibit featuring piranha and a rare albino alligator. The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; the aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Admission to both is $39.99; $19.99 for ages 3-12; free for ages 2 and younger. Aquarium-only admission from 5-9 p.m. is $16.99; $8.99 for ages 3-12. Onsite Dillon’s restaurant, featuring Kansas-City-style barbecue, offers tables with shark-tank views.