Located across the bay from Tampa, Florida, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is one of the area’s best attractions. Unlike other aquariums that focus on entertainment, this one focuses on education and serves as a hospital and sanctuary for sick and injured marine animals.
The aquarium is best known for its association with the film Dolphin Tale about Winter, a real dolphin who receives a prosthetic tail after an illness. Winter died in 2021, but other dolphins live at the aquarium and are the main draw.
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What to See at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Start your visit at Winter Zone, the tank where dolphins Winter and Hope from the films lived. This is the most popular spot at the aquarium. Check the schedule because feedings and other trainer events happen regularly throughout the day. Turtle Cove and Turtle Bayou are next door, where the aquarium’s sea turtles live.
The aquarium also performs scientific research to better understand dolphins and other creatures and then releases them when possible. You might see them working while you explore the facility.
Other exhibits to check out are Rufus Beach, where the famous pelican from the film lives, and Otter Oasis, home to some of the most beloved creatures.
Shipwreck Alley offers underwater viewing of the tanks while Shark Pass does the same for the nurse shark habitats. Hand feed the gentle creatures at Stingray Beach and check in on creatures who are receiving care at the surgical suite.
Experiences at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
In addition to standard admission, Clearwater Marine Aquarium offers a number of add-on experiences for animal lovers. You can purchase photo opportunities, behind-the-scenes tours, trainer-for-a-day programs, and a dolphin adventure tour, which takes you out into the open water to spot porpoises.
Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure is located a short trolley ride away, which you have access to with your ticket, and gives additional information on the filmmaking process at the aquarium. The aquarium also offers virtual reality diving and Wine and Winter, an adults-only after-hours event.
Tips for Visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is located at 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, Florida 33767. The aquarium is open from around 9 am to 6 pm, depending on the season. A trip to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is best started early, as the parking lot fills up quickly.
Tickets start at $32.95 for general admission adults with add-on experiences available for an additional fee. Purchase your ticket before you go. Parking is free at both aquarium locations. You can also purchase a ticket through combination packages like the Tampa Bay CityPASS. Parking is an additional fee and you can pay in advance.
Where to Eat Near the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
If you aren’t ready to leave, Shark Bites Cafe is the aquarium’s onsite restaurant. It has burgers, flatbreads, and vegetarian options.
Next door, visitors can dine at Island Way Grill, an Asian-inspired seafood restaurant that is open for dinner as well as lunch on weekends. It was also used as a filming location in Dolphin Tale 2.
Where to Stay Near the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Fans of Dolphin Tale should book their stay at Winter the Dolphin’s Beach Club, which is located two miles from the aquarium. Guests enjoy beach cabanas, the outdoor pool, free WiFi, and an onsite restaurant.
Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa is another great option for its beachfront locale. The resort has an outdoor pool, a tiki bar, onsite restaurants, a spa, fitness center, and Starbucks outpost. Rooms have harbor or gulf views.
Clearwater Beach also has rentals on sites like Booking and VRBO like this Hyatt-affiliated modern condo and this stylish apartment near the beach. We also recommend Inn on the Beach, located in Pass-A-Grille Beach in St. Petersburg, about an hour’s drive south.
My visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was hosted by Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater.