The New York Aquarium, the oldest aquarium in the United States, is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), who is also responsible for the city's four major zoos. The conservationist philosophy of the WCS guides the work at the aquarium, which is as much about environmental education as displaying pretty fish. Hurricane Sandy devastated the beach-side Aquarium in 2012, though thanks to the efforts of staff over 90% of the specimen survived. The aquarium's infrastructure, however, is still in process of rebuilding. A major milestone in the aquarium's recovery was reached this summer with the opening of its epic new installation: Sharks. The aquarium may not be what it once was--or will soon again be--but it is still worth the trip out.

The cure for anything is salt water -- sweat, tears, or the sea.
- Isak Dinesen

What You Will See

Like the zoos of the WCS, the aquarium has several activities beyond just the animals on display. Interactive exhibits, films, and an impressive sea lion show are all available to visitors. But the real stars are found in the giant tanks, which recreate environments from saltwater coral reefs to African freshwater lakes, to the coastal environments of the Pacific. The aquarium continues to rebuild after the hurricane damage and many of the exhibit halls remain closed. But the new crown jewel of the aquarium opened to long lines and excited crowds in June of 2018. Sharks! presents exactly what it states: 18 species of sharks and rays in a massive 784,000-gallon tank. The beautiful new home also features rooftop views of the boardwalk and the shore.

Why You Should Go

The Central Park Zoo is easier to get to. The Bronx Zoo has more charismatic inhabitants. But the aquarium showcases those animals only seen otherwise through a dive mask. It is smaller than you might expect for the nation's oldest aquarium--mainly due to storm-related closures. But even with much of the collection still not on display, the old Coral Reef building and the stunning new Shark enclosure more than justify the long trip and otherwise steep admission price. Add in an entertaining sea lion show and the playful otters and it makes the perfect addition to a day out on Coney Island.