Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

A large shark lies on the sand while a child watches closely. (Photos by Ellie White)

Tropical Reef Aquarium Re-Opens at PDZA

Find bright-colored fish, sea stars and an immersive experience

After a few years of closure, due to renovation and upgrades, the Tropical Reef Aquarium (previously known as the South Pacific Aquarium) at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) has reopened.

PDZA Deputy Director Sarah Oliver notes that the Tropical Reef Aquarium is meant to be an immersive experience designed for guests to feel close to marine life.

Tropical Shallows

The Tropical Reef Aquarium opens with the Tropical Shallows, a space with tons of light, brightly-colored artwork and a touch zone. The touch zone allows community members to observe (and touch!) blue and tan sea stars, cleaner shrimp, snails, and urchins.

Knowledgeable staff are on hand to answer questions about the animals. We learned that the cleaner shrimp diet consists primarily of dead skin (try it out for yourself – they’ll come to nibble on your hand if you put it in the touch zone).

Note: The height of the touch zone may make it challenging for young kiddos to enjoy independently. Caregivers may need to lift the child to access the animals in the touch zone. About 12 community members can enjoy the touch zone at a time.

Tropical Reef Aquarium: Lagoon

The renovated Lagoon area features more brightly colored artificial corals than the original exhibit and a refreshed mural. With a viewing area that goes from the floor to about four or five feet high, visitors can get a close-up view of the fish (and two small sharks—though we didn’t see them during our visit) in the Lagoon aquarium.

Note: This space is not accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Two sets of stairs lead up and down from the viewing area. However, patrons can see the exhibit from the top of the stairs.

Tropical Reef Aquarium: Outer Reef

Five species of sharks and a variety of other sea life fill the aquarium in the Outer Reef exhibit. This space offers a floor-to-ceiling observation of the animals. With muted lighting, this exhibit is incredibly immersive. You feel as if you’re underwater, with just a thick piece of glass separating you from the animals. If the sharks are lying on the ground near the glass, you’re just inches away from them.

Multiple screens identify the animals in the exhibit, offer information about shark conservation, and tips on how visitors can make an impact.

Note: The primary path to this exhibit is a set of stairs. There is elevator access for strollers and wheelchairs.

Know before you go:

• Keep your eyes on your little ones. The muted lighting in the Outer Reef exhibit makes it tricky to keep track of them as they enjoy viewing the animals.
• There are rocky structures around the exhibit. My kids were in a very climby mood during our visit, and I had to make sure that they were safe and not climbing too high.

• PDZA is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
• Ticket information can be found here. You save a couple of dollars if you purchase tickets online instead of at the front gate.

Read more

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About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.