Be Amazed at Stingrays, Sea Turtles, & Bald Eagle at the South Carolina Aquarium: Charleston, SC

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Thinking about making a trip to Charleston, SC to visit the South Carolina Aquarium? We were able to experience all the SC Aquarium has to offer and we’re ready to share it with you! If you’re looking for South Carolina Aquarium reviews or information on how to plan your visit, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got all the info you need to plan your trip and have a blast with your family at the aquarium.

A visit to the aquarium is a fabulous day trip or an awesome part of an educational trip to Charleston.

Thank you to the South Carolina Aquarium for providing media tickets for our review. All opinions are genuine and those of our team member. 

SC Aquarium
Scenes from the South Carolina Aquarium

About the South Carolina Aquarium

In 2019, the SC Aquarium was one of ten recipients of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor for an aquarium to receive. They received it “not for having a massive living collection of exotic species from around the world, but for keeping its collection’s focus local.” This focus is entirely evident as soon as you step foot into the Aquarium.

If someone asked me what the focus of the Aquarium is, I’d tell them conservation and education. It is easy to see how dedicated this nonprofit is to educating the public on the local species right there in Charleston and throughout the state as well as ways to conserve the beautiful animals you’ll see.

Bald eagle at the SC Aquarium
Bald eagle at the SC Aquarium

My favorite parts of the Aquarium were the two interactive talks given by the volunteers and staff at the Aquarium, which I’ll tell you about shortly. When you visit the beautiful Aquarium, you will no doubt walk away with a greater appreciation for the different climates and environments of South Carolina as well as the incredible work being done by the Aquarium in areas of conservation and the treatment and rehabilitation of sea turtles.

The Exhibits at the SC Aquarium

The South Carolina Aquarium is the perfect sized-aquarium for really getting to understand the different exhibits and spending time learning about sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, river otters, and even the resident bald eagle, Liberty. My daughters and I took our time going through the exhibits and attending the two educational talks and in total, spent about two hours there. We probably could have stayed longer if we had a snack at the Sea Turtle Snack Bar or fed the stingrays!

Spoonbill at the SC Aquarium
Spoonbill at the SC Aquarium

There are two public floors to the aquarium: the first floor houses the sea turtle hospital, the stingray touch tank, the gorgeous balcony overlooking the USS Yorktown and the Ravenel Bridge, and the bottom level of the Great Ocean Tank. The upper level has the kids play area, the salt marsh exhibit, the jelly fish, the mountains to Piedmont exhibits, and the upper viewing area of the giant tank.

There are many hands-on exhibits all throughout the Aquarium, which really any kid will find entertaining and fun. When you enter the Aquarium, you can scan the QR code located at the visitor stand or if you would prefer to print out a copy for your visit, here is a map of the South Carolina Aquarium Exhibits.

The Educational Programs at the SC Aquarium

At the advice of the Aquarium’s public relations staff member, we timed our visit so we could see the Dive Into the G.O.T and Turtle Talk programs.

The Dive Into the G.O.T. was phenomenal! The G.O.T. stands for the Great Ocean Tank, which holds more than 350,000 gallons of water and is 42 feet deep. There is a diver inside the tank who does a question-and-answer session with an Aquarium staff member and then takes questions from the audience.

Diver at the SC Aquarium
Diver at the SC Aquarium

We learned all kinds of cool things about how the volunteers and staff feed the animals in the tank, how they clean the tank, and ways to practice conservation on our own. The Turtle Talk was also amazing. The sea turtle care center is really neat and an active place where the sea turtles are taken when they are stranded or injured. Many are cared for and rehabilitated and then released back into the wild.

Sea turtle hospital at the SC Aquarium
Sea turtle hospital at the SC Aquarium

There are also animal encounters throughout the day. We saw a couple of volunteers and staff offering guests the opportunity to pet a snake. My kids passed on that one unfortunately.

The staff we met were all so, so kind and helpful. They all seemed to really love their jobs and were happy to be working at the Aquarium. The passion they had for the animals and education about them was easy to see.

Also, to add on some more educational fun to your visit, consider doing one of these onsite activities at the Aquarium, which include scavenger hunts, discovery bins, and deeper dives into the exhibits that are grade-level appropriate – looking at you, homeschoolers.

Interacting with the Stingrays

I personally think stingrays are pretty cool and just beautiful to watch, although I’m terrified of accidentally stepping on one while wading on the shore. Yet, seeing them up close and learning about them is fascinating. All of the times I’ve ever seen them in touch tanks and aquariums, they have been very playful and fun.

Stingrays at the SC Aquarium
Stingrays at the SC Aquarium

The ones at the SC Aquarium are no different. They have a huge tank to swim and play that overlooks the Charleston Harbor and it’s just gorgeous. The stingrays will come right up to the edge of the tank like puppies and basically beg for pets. It’s really adorable. They are a little slimy but once I got over that, I was all about it.

You can feed the ocean puppies for $5. I didn’t do that but I saw others who did and they looked like they were really enjoying the experience.

Trading Post at the SC Aquarium

I was really excited to see that the Aquarium has something called “The Trading Post”. If you’re familiar with the Nature Exchange at all at the Roper Mountain Science Center, this is a similar concept. You can bring in up to two natural items found in nature and earn points, which are redeemable for other cool things that the Aquarium has like shark teeth and pretty shells.

There are a few items that the Trading Post will not accept. This includes bird items (nest, egg, feathers), live animals, sea turtle bones, or anything else from an endangered species. 

A great opportunity to find shells and fossils can be found with the Sandlapper Water Tours that launch right around the corner at the maritime center. You can go on a morning eco-tour and then head to the aquarium. 

The trading post at the SC Aquarium

Visiting the South Carolina Aquarium

The Aquarium is located just minutes from downtown Charleston and right next to one of the places you can take a boat tour to Fort Sumter. The view from the deck is worth the experience alone!

You can purchase tickets in advance using the Aquarium’s dynamic ticketing system. Admission is determined by day of the week, school calendars, local events, weather, and holidays. You can see what the prices are for different days and purchase up to 60 days in advance.

There is an on-site gift shop as well as a snack bar, which is open 11 am – 3 pm daily. Parking is easy at the nearby Aquarium parking garage, which is $2/hour.

The Aquarium is open daily 9 am – last ticket sold at 3:30 pm and the building closes at 5 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Day, closes at 1 pm on Christmas Eve.

South Carolina Aquarium
100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston
843.577.FISH (3474)

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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