During my decade living in the Pacific Northwest, I visited the Seattle Aquarium regularly. It is softly lit, cavernous and filled with giant tanks of saltwater and freshwater fish. In visiting there, I learned two things about myself: Few things leave me awed like a school of jellyfish, and nothing makes me smile like a nearby kid spotting a Blue Tang and exclaiming, “Mom, it’s Doooooory!”
Strictly speaking, SeaQuest Interactive Aquarium—now open in the east wing of Boulevard Mall, and fairly priced at $15 for adults, $10 from kids 2 to 11—isn’t that kind of aquarium. While it has undersea life in abundance—stingrays, eels, tortoises, sharks and, yes, jellyfish—it’s too modestly sized to inspire full adult awe. Instead, it does the next best thing: It puts all of its exhibits within the easy reach of kids, and encourages them to get hands-on. They can stand on built-in platforms to get a closer look at the fish, feed them and even reach a tentative hand into the tanks to touch them.
(The flipside of those low-walled tanks and open enclosures only manifested once, when my friend spotted a small turtle where a small turtle shouldn’t have been. A staffer collected him: “Oh, this is Rambo. He’s always trying to escape.” He was gently returned to his enclosure.)
For a city that has never really had anything like this—the occasional wildlife preserve and Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat notwithstanding—SeaQuest is kind of a revelation: It’s part aquarium, part science museum and part zoo. On the day of my visit there were dozens of kids at SeaQuest, petting lizards, sitting in aviaries full of colorful birds, staring slack-jawed at a Sulcata tortoise nearly the size of a Mini Cooper. Young awe was being cultivated in every direction.