Honestly, if you’ve been to the more expansive Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA  or New England Aquarium in Boston, MA , you might be disappointed at the breadth of offerings at the South Carolina Aquarium (100 Aquarium Wharf, 843/720-1990, www.scaquarium.org , March–Aug. daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sept.–Feb. daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m., $17.95 adults, $10.95 kids, combo tickets with Fort Sumter tour available).
But nonetheless, it’s clean and well done and is a great place for the whole family to have some fun while educating themselves on the rich aquatic life not only off the coast, but throughout this small but ecologically diverse state.
When you enter the South Carolina Aquarium you’re greeted with the 15,000-gallon Carolina Seas tank, with placid nurse sharks and vicious-looking moray eels. Other exhibits highlight the five key South Carolina ecosystems: beach, salt marsh, coastal plain, piedmont, and mountain forest.
Another neat display is the Touch Tank, a hands-on collection of invertebrates found along the coast, such as sea urchins and horseshoe crabs. The pièce de résistance, however, is certainly the three-story Great Ocean Tank with literally hundreds of deeper-water marine creatures, including sharks, pufferfish, and sea turtles.
Speaking of sea turtles: A key part of the South Carolina Aquarium’s research and outreach efforts is the Turtle Hospital, which attempts to rehabilitate and save sick and injured specimens. The hospital has so far saved 20 sea turtles, the first one being a 270-pound female affectionately known as “Edisto Mama.”
Keep in mind that on weekdays during the school year the place is often chockablock with local schoolchildren on field trips. Also note that you might run across some information about an IMAX movie theater near the South Carolina Aquarium when researching your trip. No matter what you read or hear elsewhere, this IMAX location is now closed.