The Downtown Aquarium, a public aquarium and restaurant in Houston, Texas, in the United States, was converted from the Central Waterworks Building and Fire Station No. 1. It is home to more than 200 species and 500,000 US gallons (1,900,000 L) of aquariums. It has two restaurants, a bar, and banquet facilities. Additionally, it provides overnight stays and programs like “Marine Biologist for a Day,” “Zoologist for a Day,” “Sea Safari Camp,” and more. The education section runs outreach activities and collaborates with student organizations. The education department engages in outreach activities and collaborates with school groups. Houston Downtown Aquarium is owned and run by Landry’s, Inc. and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
There are so many ways to have fun with the whole family at Downtown Aquarium in Houston. Here is the information you need to know about the aquarium to make the most out of your visit.
History Of Downtown Aquarium
The City of Houston released a request for bids for the renovation of Fire Station No. 1 in the 400 block of Bagby and the nearby Central Waterworks facility in 1999. In mid-2000, Landry’s plan was accepted over an alternate proposal by the Post/Cordish partnership. The Central Waterworks facility would serve as a habitat for shark and ray exhibits. The historic firehouse would still be intact while development going on around it, and the second floor would contain the main restaurant.
Downtown Aquarium first opened its doors in 2003.
Animal rights activists launched a campaign against the aquarium’s white tiger display in late 2015. In response to criticism of the exhibit, the Downtown Aquarium insisted that their “tigers get exceptional animal care” and that “our tiger exhibit has been accredited by AZA, and every year by the USDA.” However, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has vowed to file a lawsuit if the aquarium does not close the exhibit and relocate the tigers to a sanctuary.
Address: 410 Bagby St, Houston, TX 77002
Phone: (713) 223-3474
Hours: Exhibits Sunday to Thursday 10 am to 9 pm; Friday and Saturday 10 am to 11 pm; Restaurant opens at 11 am.
Parking: Valet parking costs $10; self-parking is $8. The parking lot is accessible from 9:30 am to midnight. There is no overnight parking. Remember that the lot only accepts cash.
Admission: 0 – 2 years is free, 65 years plus is $13.99, and Adults- $15.99
Tips for Visitors
- The aquarium upholds a strict policy about food and drink; food, glass containers, hard and soft coolers, bottled water, and food are not permitted in the entertainment area. Additionally, you are not permitted to take any alcohol supplied on the premises with you.
- See the aquarium’s website for a complete list of forbidden items, which also include bicycles, skateboards, and folding chairs.
- If you plan to visit several Houston attractions, it could be smart to get a CityPASS, which includes pre-paid admission to five of the city’s most popular ones. In addition to the Downtown Aquarium, you’ll also have entrance to the Space Center, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and your choice of either the Kemah Boardwalk All-Day Ride Pass or the Children’s Museum of Houston.
Tips for Families With Children
- The Aquarium Adventure and Stingray Floor is located on the first floor, and you should allocate at least an hour to exploring. Children may go close to all the fascinating aquatic creatures in the enormous floor-to-ceiling viewing tanks.
- Since the aquarium’s Games and Rides section functions as a mini-amusement park with a range of kid-friendly attractions and dining choices, you should devote plenty of time to it.
- Even though strollers are permitted, there is no designated space for them outside the stingray reef on the first floor.
- The least busy days to visit are weekdays, especially if you go early in the day.
20 Top Activities to Do In Houston Downtown Aquarium
Visit the Shipwreck to explore the buried hull of a Spanish galleon from the 17th century and take in the stunning variety of marine life it has to offer. In the shipwreck room, there are five wall tanks which is a replicas of the hull of an old wooden ship. The first is a rocky habitat for giant pacific octopuses. For sea anemones and sea stars, there is a smaller tank, and for black margate, black bar soldierfish, and sabre squirrelfish, there is a larger tank.
A fine long coral reef tank that is even bigger has a live leather finger, leather cup, and staghorn corals among other varieties. Clownfish, flame hawkfish, pajima cardinal fish, goby, pink skunk clownfish, yellow eye tang, yellow tang, anthias, bangaii cardinal fish, blue streak basslet, six line wrasse, and blue tang are some of the fish present. This excellent collection is completed by the enormous clam, bulb-tip anemone, brittle star, coral-banded shrimp, hermit crab, and turbo snail. The largest tank is in the picturesque bow of the ship and has four different types of grouper (Queensland, goliath, red, and black), as well as green moray eels and neon goby.
2. Louisiana Swamp
This is a large, dark space with a roof made of branches and leaves, and to one side is a run-down cabin. The Wishing Pond, a tiny coin throw in a pond created by cypress knees, is located in the center. The biggest display consists of a long open-top tank with a rocky back ledge where little American alligators and turtles can be found. The alligator snapping turtle’s habitat is next to a smaller, comparable setup.
Two little wall displays, one for red swamp crayfish and the other for American bullfrogs are set into an exposed riverbank. In a box exhibit close to the cabin, there is another modest display for two kinds of tree frogs. The fish of the swamp, including spotted gar, black crappie, largemouth bass, blue catfish, bowfin, carp, and sunfish, are also housed in a lovely open-top tank.
Explore the tropical rainforests of the world and the wildlife that resides in their waterways. The Rainforest is a tiny, densely covered corridor with few displays. There are four wall tanks for archerfish, piranhas, South American rainforest fish (with a smaller selection of yellow belly cichlid, earth-eater, algae-eater, and Jack Dempsey), and a bigger assortment of rainforest fish (Niger catfish, redtail catfish, tiger shovelnose, peacock bass, and silver arowana).
Additionally, there is a tiny shelf tank for polka-dot stingrays at Downtown Aquarium Houston. There are also a few displays for non-fish species here, including a wall terrarium for a blue poison dart frog, a terrarium for an emerald tree boa, a terrarium for a prehensile tailed skink, and a small hardware enclosure for a bird perch that alternates between four parrot species.
4. Sunken Temple
Sunken Temple is a multi-chambered theme area that expertly portrays ancient cultures of Central and South America. It begins with the longest tank first, a long one with an upward curving panel forming a half-tunnel. The vibrant inhabitants contrast nicely with the intimate, temple-like interior. The occupants of this area include a nice variety of porkfish, emperor snapper, panther grouper, eyestripe surgeonfish, blue tang, unicorn tang, sailfin tang, clown trigger, creole fish, naso tang, golden puffer, French grunt, and Kemps Ridley sea turtles.
An aquarium for lionfish and foxface is located nearby in a small, semi-circular wall niche. The same area houses five additional little exhibits, including small tanks for Caribbean seahorses and axolotls as well as terrariums for spiny-tailed lizards, tarantulas, and milksnakes.
5. Tigers of the Maharaja’s Temple
A full-time team with over 40 years of zoo and aquarium expertise works in the Downtown Aquarium Tiger display, which is certified by Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Zoological Association of America (ZAA).
The staff members keep a close eye on the cats throughout the year. Four white Bengal tigers are rotated into this display, which is housed in a space that resembles a temple and is divided from viewers by floor-to-ceiling glass panels. The tiger habitat is made up of simulated brilliant stone walls and flooring, a raised formal stone swimming pool, a statue that resembles Buddha, and a tiny stone waterfall that cascades down in the back of the room.
6. Stingray Reef
Visit Stingray Reef to feel the thrill of being able to pet and feed live stingrays. Many people have the idea that stingrays are violent and will deliberately attempt to sting humans. They resemble miniature water puppies in that they are calm, hungry, and cute. You can feel the oddly textured skin of the stingrays in this touch tank, and observe their endearing behavior.
They provide a unique hands-on experience with their touch tanks that you won’t soon forget!
If it sounds unfamiliar from your previous visit, check it out because it is a new addition to the aquarium.
7. Shark Voyage
An open-air station for the Shark Cruise train ride serves as the focal point of the outdoor amusement area. The journey takes around 15 minutes and departs from the station beneath the nearby motorway overpasses. The aquarium site spans many acres at this location, with its shaded parking lot taking up the majority of the space. The train passes a beach scene with a sizable simulated shark that is caught and is hanging from a scaffold by its tail. The railway enters an older brick former industrial building after passing over the overpass, which has been renovated to house the Shark Journey. A vast, dark acrylic tunnel display with 200,000 gallons of water features rocky outcrops and a variety of enormous shark species, including the zebra, whitetip reef, blacktip reef, and great white.
Here you have the opportunity to see many different species of huge sharks, including zebra, whitetip, blacktip, sand tiger, and sawfish. Thankfully, the train stops in the tunnel for about four minutes, allowing passengers to enjoy views of some of the swimming sharks via the windows in the train carriages’ canopies.
Note: You must pay for the train separately since it is not included with entrance to the main display.
8. Gulf of Mexico
This is the sole exhibit with the biggest tank along the display path (but not in the facility). It is a little tank compared to other major modern tanks. It is a lovely display that is dominated by simulated oil platform supports, the real version of which the aquarium defends as being advantageous to the environment because it has helped to expand the range of many fish and supported aquaculture research and recreational fishing activities. There are numerous enormous fish in this tank, including red snapper, cobia, black drum, tarpon, sheepshead, amberjack, horse-eye jack, and redfish.
9. Diving Bell Ferris Wheel
Go 100 feet in the air for breathtaking views of Houston’s downtown cityscape.
Minimum Height: Under 42 “must have an adult companion.
10. Aquatic Carousel Ride
Have you ever experienced riding an alligator or a dolphin’s back? Take a ride on this aquatic-themed carousel at the Downtown Aquarium Houston.
Minimum Height Requirement: 42 “must have an adult with them.
11. Frog Hopper Ride
Go on this crazy-fun attraction that bounces repeatedly from a height of 22 feet and plunge into adventure.
To ride, a person must be 36″ tall.
12. Aqua Wheel Ride
Take a spin on the Aqua Wheel! This miniature Ferris wheel lets kids see the world from above. Under 42″ tall guests must be accompanied by an adult.
13. Lighthouse Dive
Calling all adventurers! Dare to plunge 65 feet in the air while admiring the city skyline!
To ride, a person must be 42″ tall.
14. Discovery Zone
Enter Exploration Zone to encounter electric eels, seahorses, and a brilliant variety of vibrant species up close. You can further explore coral reefs, arctic seas, and the wonders of the deep ocean on interactive monitors. During the daily Animal Encounters, you might even get a close-up encounter with one of their Ambassador Animals!
15. Cool off at the splash pad
One of the aquarium’s best-kept secrets is that one of the most enjoyable activities is completely free. There is a splash area on the aquarium’s property that you can use without paying admission. On a hot day, cool yourself in the water and then use the public restrooms to change into dry clothing before leaving.
16. Find unique souvenirs in the Treasure Chest gift shop
Every route leads to the gift shop. You can find wonderful gifts and keepsakes among the aquatic-themed merchandise, whether you’re shopping for clothing, home decor, or stuffed animals.
19. Participate in educational programs
Children get the chance to learn more about the undersea world through camps, day programs, and overnight programs at Houston Downtown Aquarium. Children (ages 6–12) can, for instance, go behind the scenes, and have up-close interactions with exotic animals as part of the Marine Scientist for a Day program before dissecting a squid. A guided tour, a biologist diving presentation, a squid dissection, and animal feeding are all included in the program.
Aside from Working on the Wild Side, which takes teenagers behind the scenes to learn about animal care, conservation, and the aquarium business, other entertaining educational programs include Animal Meet and Greets, Zoologist for a Day, Wild Dreams Overnight (basically a sleepover), a weekly Sea Safari summer camp, and Animal Meet and Greets.
Each opportunity has a different price, and you have to make your reservations in advance. The aquarium also provides school and scout programs, like field excursions.
20. Enjoy delicious meals At The Aquarium Restaurant
Every table has a front-row view of the dining room’s 150,000-gallon aquarium, which is home to over 100 different species of aquatic life. The food is mostly seafood-inspired, but there are also steak and chicken meals, salads, pasta dishes, rich desserts, and many more options. Children’s menus are also available.
Plan your next banquet or meeting at the Downtown Aquarium
The 6,000-square-foot Nautilus Ballroom at the Houston Aquarium accommodates 50 to 450 guests and is perfect for business meetings, weddings, rehearsal dinners, quinceaneras, birthday celebrations, and more.
The ballroom features a private wrap-around balcony with stunning views of the Houston skyline. You can split the space into two halves for office use. It is equipped with the most advanced audio and video technology.
Special Programming and Guided Tours
Check the events calendar in advance for a complete listing of Downtown Aquarium’s monthly special programming so you can schedule your visit appropriately. There’s always something entertaining going on, like Latin Beats Night, which takes place every Friday night throughout the summer and allows guests to enjoy live music and salsa classes from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Live music is performed at Aquarium Live on Saturday nights at the Downtown Aquarium stage.