Photos courtesy of Shedd Aquarium
A trip to the Shedd Aquarium every June marks the beginning of my summer. And while the sea animals rarely change, my Shedd experience is different every time. Guide map in hand, camera at the ready (with the flash turned off, of course), I pass through the colossal pillars of the historic 1930 landmark ready for a day of exploring the creatures of the deep. Oh, did I mention I am 23 years old?
After waiting to buy an entrance ticket in what can be a 10 to 20 minute line at peak hours, aquarium visitors flow into the first section of exhibits, a collection of six small branches of fish habitats stemming out from the central Caribbean Reef tank. The reef tank is worth admiring, if for nothing else than the giant—and I mean giant—sea turtle calling it home. The fish located here are not why I love the Shedd, but you may have a particular interest in very exotic fish from all over the world. Seeing that tank of tambaqui fish may bring back fond memories from your trip to the Amazon, but if you’re here for the big stuff, it’s best to mosey through this part at a steady pace.
One of my favorite places is the Wild Reef, located downstairs and showcasing sharks and other Indo-Pacific sea life. Don’t expect any rogue great whites ala Jaws 3 to try breaking the glass to get lunch, but the blacktip reef sharks and sandbar sharks do swim right up to you, extremely curious and watchful.
Another popular section is the Oceanarium. Meticulously set-up to look like you just stepped into the Pacific Northwest, this amphitheater is where the beluga whales, dolphins, and sea lions do tricks while you learn fun facts about their species. Where else in Chicago can you watch three dolphins perform flips in perfect harmony? The view of Lake Michigan from the Oceanarium is also one of the best in the city. Seating fills quickly, so it’s best to check the show times on your visit day and plan to get to the Oceanarium at least a half hour beforehand.
A third well-liked section, the Polar Play Zone, offers views of what happens underwater at the Oceanarium. Two species of penguins, Alaskan Sea Otters, and other arctic animals play and loll in this area. It was here, at the Tide Pool, where I touched a starfish (it’s OK, a worker said I could).
Speaking of the Shedd employees, everyone is very helpful and knowledgeable about the animals. There are “chats” every few hours at designated locations, where visitors can gather to hear lesser-known facts about the exhibits from a marine biologist. If passing by a chat, you can stop, listen for as long as you like, then continue on your way.
The Shedd Aquarium offers enough to see for hours of marveling, and since it’s open year-round, seven days a week, there’s a lot of leeway for planning a trip. A café gives visitors a well-appreciated place to rest and buy a snack, and there is even an outdoor café terrace open in good weather. The Shedd offers something for everyone, and the best part is the discounts offered. With valid ID, Chicago residents receive $3 off the $24.95 entry fee, as do teachers, active-duty military personnel, Chicago police officers and firefighters, children, and senior citizens. General admission is free to everyone on Community Discount Days, which are listed on the Shedd’s Web site.
Address: 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive
Driving: From Lake Shore Drive, exit at 18th Street. Follow Museum Campus Drive around Soldier Field. Cash only parking.
For more detailed directions, click here.
Admission Hours & Prices:
Weekdays 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Weekends 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Children (ages 3-11): $17.95