Northwest waters exhibit at PDZA's new Pacific Seas Aquarium. Courtesy PDZA
South Sound families have long known that the very best place for kids to see incredible animals from the world's earth and ocean habitats is Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA). Last fall, PDZA opened its new 35,000-square-foot Pacific Seas Aquarium, showcasing marine life native to Puget Sound all the way down to Baja, California.
Now, with celebratory activities planned every day during the entire month of April, there’s more reason than ever for Northwest families to check out this family-friendly destination.
Special activities to celebrate the new aquarium will include watching divers care for animals, storytelling and a community art project. The events take place at the zoo and around downtown Tacoma; all are free or included with zoo admission or membership.
The Pacific Seas Aquarium, which opened in September 2018, replaced an aging building with a state-of-the-art home for green sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, eagle rays and more cool sea creatures.
Since the opening, the zoo has added even more animals to the exhibits. On our visit last fall, we loved all of the kid-friendly features, especially the big tidal touch zone and the scientifically accurate sea creature costumes by Baja Bay.
If your family has not yet visited — and even if you have — this month is a great time to visit the new aquarium. PDZA has planned a full month of special activities to entice not just Tacoma-area families, but those from around the region.
The Pacific Seas Aquarium's month-long celebration includes these special events:
Dives and feeds: Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m.
Watch divers care for animals inside the 100,000-gallon Northwest Waters exhibit and the 280,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit. You’ll see divers clean the windows and rocks, hunt for shark and eagle ray teeth, and feed anemones with a squirt bottle. This program takes place April 1, 3, 8, 10, 15, 17, 22, 24 and 29.
Ocean voices: Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Listen to scientists, filmmakers and environmentalists speak about how your family can protect the ocean. These free lectures are held 7–9 p.m. every Tuesday in April. Note: Talks take place in various locations around Tacoma, not at PDZA.
Speakers include Annie Crawley, who films humpback whales underwater (April 9); Alejandra Sandoval, who tags and tracks nesting green sea turtles in Mexico (April 23); and Detective Lauren Wendt and K9 Benny, who together sniff out illegal shark products (April 30). The Ocean Voices program takes place April 2 (ages 21+ only), 9, 16, 23 and 30.
Storytelling: Thursdays at 11 a.m.
Gather ’round for weekly story time at the Baja Bay exhibit. Children’s book author Ben Clanton reads his story about two friends, Narwhal and Jelly (April 11). Listen to Spanish stories read by high school students from Tacoma’s Math and Science Institute (April 25). And just for the Pacific Seas Aquarium celebration, PDZA’s Critter Club activities on April 4 and 18 are free (though pre-registration is required).
Art Fridays: Fridays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
When you walk through the Pacific Seas Aquarium, you’ll notice displays of beautiful public art throughout the building. Enormous glass jellyfish hang by the Baja Bay exhibit; visitors walk down a ramp with a shimmery light projection; and a beautiful seascape hangs behind the Tidal Touch Zone. Meet the artists behind these pieces and create your own ocean-inspired projects on Fridays in April. This program takes place April 5, 12 and 19. The final weekend in April culminates in a community art project (see below).
Weekend Wonders: Saturdays–Sundays
Weekends feature rotating special events, such as music performances, tours and film screenings. Families with kids ages 6 and older will be especially enticed by behind-the-scenes tours (April 20) that will provide a glimpse into how a state-of-the-art aquarium works and what it takes to keep it running.
Everyone is invited to fold origami turtles for a community art project called “Turtle Wave,” which will be hung in the aquarium near the Baja Bay exhibit. The sculpture will incorporate hundreds of origami turtles glued onto blue silk — each turtle raises $2 for ocean conservation.
Turtle-folding events are held at various Metro Parks Tacoma facilities on Saturdays, April 6–20. Pacific Seas Aquarium visitors can make turtles Friday–Sunday, April 26–28, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. You can also find a turtle pattern online, make one at home and bring it to the zoo.
If you go...
Find it: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is at 5400 N. Pearl St. in Tacoma, adjacent to the expansive Point Defiance Park. It's centrally located for Tacoma and greater South Sound residents and well worth the trip from points farther afield. It's about 40 miles from Seattle or Bellevue, an hour’s drive without traffic.
Hours: Hours change seasonally; be sure to check the schedule before visiting. April hours are 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. daily.
Admission: General admission at the front gate is $20 for adults (ages 13–64), $10 for seniors (age 65+), $16 for youth (ages 5–12), $12 for tots (ages 3–4) and free for kids ages 2 and under. Prices include admission to both the zoo and the aquarium. Parking is free.
Discounts: Save $2 when you buy your tickets online. Pierce County residents and military save $2 at the front gate. Or save $3 at the gate when you arrive by bike or bus.