Living Planet Aquarium a must-visit Salt Lake Attraction for kids and parents

Draper, Utah, May 13, 2012—Kids. Fish. And lots of both.

Packed to the gills, so to speak, in more ways than one, the Living Planet Aquarium (LPA) in Draper, Utah, is the perfect getaway for families with children eager to experience wonders of life underwater.

While LPA boasts exhibits that would impress most adults, it is a place designed with young children in mind.

Just 20 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City, the aquarium is bursting at the seams with aquatic life. It is hard to imagine that so many displays with so many animals can fit in so few square feet—43,000, to be precise, about the size of an average grocery store.

But the layout facilitates large crowds (of mostly kids) to navigate the displays easily and orderly. Everything about the Living Planet Aquarium is well-planned and beautifully presented. A large staff and corps of volunteer experts are usually ready to offer insight and answer questions.

Passing the ticket counter, visitors are invited to enter the central exhibit: Ocean Explorer, where a large touch pool beckons. Kids will be naturally drawn to it if not for anything more than to splash a bit, but will soon find themselves petting the friendly sting rays.

Sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, an octopus, and various other ocean dwellers are on full display in the main exhibit, all accessible to youngsters. Even toddlers can get up close and personal with the aquarium’s residents since all displays have steps up to the glass.

If they feel the urge to act like fish, there is a small “coral” playground in which they can run around.

Not far away from the sharks and rays is an Amazon adventure in the Journey to South American exhibit. The sheer quantity of species almost overwhelms their impressiveness. Most popularly, the Gentoo penguins, don’t disappoint. Graceful and playful, streams of air bubbles trail off their sleek bodies as they dive and swim about.

South America has much more than penguins, though, and visitors can see such standard Amazon fare as an anaconda, tarantulas, various frogs and toads, caimans, piranhas. There is even an electric eel, whose voltage is run through nodes,  which kids can feel.

For the parent interested in providing young children with an engaging learning opportunity that is fun, LPA delivers.

In this regard the animals provide the best models. LPA features three male North American River Otters who play 24-4, according to the docents. The otters are part of the larger Discover Utah exhibit, the third main section of the aquarium. Otter were once known to be plentiful in Utah, but are now rare and protected.  Those at LPA were born in captivity and in New York.

Natives or not, the crowds love them, and again, kids can easily see them through the large glass panes or a “gopher hole” window designed especially for youngsters.

Besides the three main exhibits, LPA has a small section of “Animal Superheroes” that features smaller organisms with incredible abilities and characteristics, from glow in the dark scorpions to the spitting archer fish.

Calypso’s Café on site offers snacks suited to the young palette (pizza and hot dogs) and a place to sit for adults. Parents are welcome to bring in food, though there is no microwave.

LP also has a crack team of child rescuers. If a young person does the unimaginable and wanders off, staff have well-rehearsed procedures to find him or her immediately. (I provided a “test case” and they found my boy in 45 seconds. He couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about).

If one is interested in a leisurely and educational stroll though a world-class aquarium, one should visit after school hours.

Learn more about the author at 

Rich is the proprietor of the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities and the the author of Tunnel Club, an adolescent adventure for adults set in Salt Lake. His “Salt Lake City and the World” column is a guided tour of Utah’s capital city for parents with curious kids. 


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Rich Stowell

Rich Stowell has written about politics and travel for the Washington Times Communities since 2011. He is a soldier in the Utah National Guard and a fellow at the Center for Communication and Community at the University of Utah. Rich is the author of "Nine Weeks: A Teacher's Education in Army Basic Training"and continues to blog about military issues at “My Public Affairs.”

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