Dive into the Big Blue Beyond at SEA LIFE

Mall of America lays claim to the state's largest aquarium

A day at the Minnesota Zoo isn’t the only way to encounter live animals here. Just ask Minnevangelist co-founder Andrew Parks, who recently wrote up some of the state’s more unique meet-and-greet opportunities for Explore Minnesota. Among the highlights: brushing, feeding, and walking the camelids at Carlson’s Llovable Llamas in Waconia; mushing with Chilly Dogs Sled Dog Trips in Ely; learning about birds of prey at the International Owl Center in Houston and the National Eagle Center in Wabasha; and swimming with the fishes at SEA LIFE in Bloomington.

Our favorite feature at Minnesota’s largest aquarium is its 300-foot-long underwater tunnel, which is divided into four areas: two for saltwater species and two for freshwater. Rainbow Reef is teeming with tropical fish and a green sea turtle, while Shark Cove has nine-foot sand tiger sharks, guitar sharks, and rescued loggerhead sea turtles. Sturgeon Lake is chockfull of its namesake fish as well as alligator gar, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. The last sub-section cruises through the Amazon, with freshwater stingrays and golden Midas Cichlids gliding over your head.

There’s an interactive area for visitors to (gently!) touch a sea anemone and a two-story, 15,000-gallon “lagoon,” complete with a faux shipwreck, where rays of all sizes perform their majestic water ballet. Julian was equally enchanted by the trippy jellyfish tanks and the orange-and-white clownfish darting in and out of coral caves. The thing that made him the most giddy, however, was popping up inside the aquarium’s bubble-like observation nooks. (Not gonna lie—these are fun for adults, too.)

SEA LIFE admission for Minnesota and Wisconsin residents starts at $23.99 or you can purchase an annual membership — something we’re considering for our thalassophile child.

Mall of America, 120 E. Broadway, Bloomington, MN; 952-883-0202.