Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.
While we love hitting the beach, spending a morning or afternoon at the aquarium is a great way to break up the days of lounging by the water.
We created this guide to share why the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores ranks high on our list for hands-on ocean life education and family adventures! Keep reading, and you’ll also find our tips for enjoying this wonderful place in Eastern NC!
Here’s how we’ve organized things:
- Where is the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores?
- NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores Ticket Info
- Special Discount Days
- Important Tips
- Exhibits (Freshwater, Saltwater, and Outdoor)
- Virtual Programs, Education, and Community Outreach
- More Things to Do Nearby (NC Travel Guides)
Skip ahead to any of the above sections, or keep reading about directions to this incredible aquarium and its history!
Where is the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores?
Address: 1 Roosevelt Blvd, Pine Knoll Shores, NC
Phone Number: 910-772-0500
At 35,000 square feet with 298 acres of maritime forest, the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is the largest of our four North Carolina Aquarium units.
The other three include:
All NC Aquariums are part of the North Carolina Aquariums Division—a Department of Natural and Cultural Resources subdivision.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is on the Bogue Banks barrier island, part of Carteret County. The Banks are part of a collection of destinations known as the Crystal Coast, from Cape Lookout National Seashore to Emerald Isle.
Five towns are on the Bogue Banks, including:
The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is reachable via the Atlantic Beach Bridge from Morehead City and the B. Cameron Langston Bridge from Swansboro.
You can visually travel to the Aquarium using the following maps:
History of the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
This aquarium has a fascinating history to go with its exhibits and outdoor area. Here are some critical points along the way:
- Originally a Marine Science Center, the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores opened its doors in 1976.
- At the end of 2003, Pine Knoll closed for renovations but returned to the public in 2006. With that renovation, Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium tripled its capacity with 35,000 square feet and 298 acres of Maritime Forest.
- Overall, tens of millions of visitors have visited the nearly 50-year-old facility to learn about the marine life that inhabits NC’s Crystal Coast!
With the various education about our ecosystem within the native regions of the NC, and beyond, we can see why tons of people revisit.
NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores Ticket Info
Before you enter the Aquarium, you must purchase a ticket in advance. Please note that the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores requires visitors to reserve a spot for their day and time before their initial visit.
Sellouts do happen, so please don’t wait until the last minute if you plan to visit on a weekend or holiday.
Here’s a quick breakdown of admission prices:
- Adults (Ages 13-61): $12.95
- Seniors (Ages 62 and Older): $11.95
- Military: $11.95
- Children (Ages 3-12): $10.95
- Ages 2 and Younger and NC Aquarium Society Members: FREE
- N.C. Homeschool Families: One FREE Visit between June 1 and September 15, Monday through Friday. N.C. Homeschool ID Required.
Prices do not include sales tax.
If you plan on visiting this aquarium and the other three frequently, we highly recommend opting for a membership instead of single-use tickets.
Purchasing and re-purchasing one-day visits adds up, and a membership costs about 4 visits for an individual adult ($59) and 2 visits for a family of 4 ($89).
Reciprocity with AZA Zoos and Aquariums
Not to mention, with the memberships (individual, couple, family, curator), you gain more benefits, too! Family and Curator memberships gain free or discounted access to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums nationwide.
If you have a membership at any of these NC Zoos and Museums, you’ll get free or discounted admission:
- Greensboro Science Center: 50% off
- Museum of Life and Science in Durham: 50% off
- NC Zoo in Asheboro: Free Admission
- Sylvan Heights Bird Park: 50% off
- WNC Nature Center in Asheville: 50% off
Please let us know if any agreements change. We visit these places as often as possible and have discovered agreement changes on the spot.
Please call ahead if you have any questions.
Special Discount Days
There are some special discount days where a membership or reciprocity agreement may not be needed.
For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. Day gives half off the ticket price to honor the civil rights activist, and Veterans Day gives no-cost admission to military members.
Read More: 20+ Fun Things to Do in Manteo and Nearby!
Before You Visit (Important Tips)
While all of them focus on aquatic life, you’ll find that each NC Aquarium unit (including Pine Knoll Shores) is unique and worthy of an individual visit!
Before visiting the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, we highly recommend following these tips.
We’ve mentioned this multiple times and want to reiterate the importance of calling if you’re concerned about reciprocity, discounts, or anything else before you visit the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
The AZA even recommends always calling ahead to validate the latest information before visiting.
Start with the Indoor Exhibits
After entering the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium, we recommend you start with the inside exhibits. Here’s a breakdown of the ones we love:
- Living Shipwreck: The “Living Shipwreck” is the largest man-made ocean habitat in NC, with over 306,000 gallons of saltwater. It’s also home to many aquatic invertebrates, including a green sea turtle, a Goliath Grouper, and various fish.
- The U-352: There is a replica of the U-352, the German submarine that sunk in 1942 off the East Coast, at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The U-352 was the first U-boat ever to be sunk by the U.S Coast Guard, now rests 115 feet below sea level, only accessible by professional sports divers and fish longing for cover.
- Loggerhead Odyssey Exhibit: Another indoor exhibit is the Loggerhead Odyssey Exhibit. From shell to sand, follow the life of loggerhead turtles with this immersive exhibit. This program allows viewing the turtle’s natural lifecycle, from breaking their eggshells to crawling freely into the ocean tides.
You can also meet loggerheads that have been rehabilitated at the aquarium and learn about their day-to-day life, ecological threats, and personalities.
NC Aquarium Art
Not only do sea animals inhabit the aquarium, but art also does.
The Spadefish Gallery exhibits fascinating paintings and drawings that line the aquarium’s hallways. The art pieces rotate quarterly, with the style and ocean life varying.
Enjoy These Outdoor Activities
As you imagine, all the activities are not bound to the facility’s walls. Outdoor activities include the play area with slides, a net, a children’s playset, and more.
Find this playground at the beginning of the Alice Hoffman Nature Trail and right off the Marsh Boardwalk.
NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores Educational Programs
As we all know, aquariums, zoos, and science centers are filled with education for kids and adults.
Since Pine Knoll Shores is the largest aquarium on the NC Coast, it makes sense that they would offer a diverse educational experience.
Here are some examples:
- Virtual Learning: Teachers and students can schedule a virtual learning program for all ages.
- Camps: For entertainment, the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores offers summer, spring, and winter camps. Campers dive into nature with outdoor programs like nature walks, hiking trails, kayaking, and beachcombing for seashells. But it doesn’t stop there! Campers can also go inside the aquarium with behind-the-scenes tours for up-close animal encounters like feeding and professionally guided animal care.
Special Events at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
If the regular day-to-day of this aquarium wasn’t enough, they also offer special events.
- Weddings: Getting married? Guests can schedule a unique wedding ceremony with romantic and fascinating ocean life backdrops. Whether the guests want picture backgrounds for their rehearsal, ceremony, reception, or all of the above, the aquarium offers specialized event planners for the momentous occasion.
- Children’s Birthday Parties: The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores also throws birthday parties. Recommended for children aged 3-12, guests can enjoy classic birthday parties thrown by the aquarium staff. With a classroom for a two-hour party, live animal encounters, a supply of reusable eco-friendly water bottles, and a self-guided tour, the party hosts can purchase this package for $225 with a minimum of 20 participants.
- Sleepovers: Guests can also sleep within the aquarium. With the 306,000-gallon tank, sleepover participants can roll out sleeping bags and enjoy the views of fish, replicas, and much more underwater fun. The sleepover prices are $50 per person and $45 for members. Sleepovers are scheduled in the fall, spring, and winter, with a minimum group of 15 and a maximum group of 30.
Ready to Visit the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores?
Like the other aquariums and museums in this beautiful state, there’s something unique about the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. We’ll keep visiting to figure out just what that is, and until then, we hope you enjoy this place, too.
Are you planning on visiting the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores? Or, have you already gone in the past and looking to go again?
Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to share your Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium adventures in our NC Travel Facebook Group!
Things to Do Near the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
The Aquarium is surrounded by tons of wonderful places on Bogue Banks and nearby mainland places. If you’re a day trip-lover like us, Wilmington is about 2 hours away, and New Bern and Jacksonville are within an hour’s drive.
Here are some places that are closer to the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, though:
6 miles away from the Aquarium (12 minutes)
You’ll most likely be visiting the Aquarium from Atlantic Beach or Emerald Isle and we start with our family getaway. At least once or twice a year, you can find us parked at Atlantis Lodge in Atlantic Beach, just near the boundary with Pine Knoll Shores.
We usually hang out on the beach for most of our days here, but we also drive up to Fort Macon State Park after visiting the Aquarium.
Some great restaurants up and down NC-58 (Fort Macon Rd.), including:
- Amos Mosquitos is a solid dinner spot, but get there as early as possible. We arrived at 5:00 pm on the dot and found a completely full parking lot.
- The Crab Shack in Salter Path has huge seafood portions and tons of hush puppies ready to fill you up.
- Crystal Coast Brewing is a great brewery with taps and cans for you to take home.
- Shark Shack is our go-to for takeout!
8 miles away from the Aquarium (15 minutes)
Among the most popular summer destinations, EI can get very busy and you’ll see why.
The town’s shops and restaurants are ready to handle the traffic. Cap’n Willis Seafood Market has all you need to cook at home, too.
And while in Emerald Isle, ensure you’re on the beach when the sun goes down. You’ll enjoy some of the best sunset views in all of North Carolina.
Fort Macon State Park
8 miles away from the Aquarium (15 minutes)
Fort Macon is a wonderful day trip whether you’re staying in Atlantic Beach or Emerald Isle, or if you’re coming from Morehead City and Beaufort.
This historic fort was built by North Carolina’s leaders to defend the two major Confederate seaports from the Union during the Civil War. Fort Macon saw action during the war and was under Union control after 1862.
When visiting Fort Macon State Park, walk around the fully restored fort and the nature trails. There is also excellent fishing and a protected swim area.
8 miles away from the Aquarium (20 minutes)
Morehead City is just over the Atlantic Beach Bridge and is another popular summer spot, especially in June during the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. That massive event brings people from all over to participate, including the greatest basketball player who ever lived (Michael Jordan).
Throughout the year, the Morehead City Waterfront is a great place to go for a stroll and check out the water and boats passing by.
You may have it to yourself during colder months, but during the summer, people are coming from far and wide to grab a bite at one of Morehead’s awesome restaurants.
Our favorites include:
- Sanitary Fish Market
- Southern Salt Seafood Company
- El’s Drive-in might be the most famous place to eat in Morehead City, and you probably know it if you’re from the area.
12 miles away from the Aquarium (25 minutes)
Beaufort is a lovely place with quite a bit to do, so don’t get any ideas about being bored.
Stroll along Main Street and discover great local restaurants and chic boutiques along the water.
Also, don’t forget to grab some grub at Beaufort Grocery CO and Moonrakers. The latter will give you a nice view of boats, Taylor Creek, and Carrot Island.
The wild horses of the Rachel Carson Reserve were the main reason we first stopped by Beaufort, and we were hooked on the town. You don’t need a lot of luck to see the horses from the waterfront, but you can get a closer look by hiring a boat to the Reserve (try Crystal Coast Ecotours).
Don’t forget about the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort either! They have some cool things to see throughout the year, but watch for special events.
20 miles away from the Aquarium (35 minutes)
We love walking around Front St browsing in shops, and finding a great place to eat in Swansboro.
You can also take a boat from Swansboro (also, from Hammocks Beach State Park) to reach Bear Island, just across the inlet. It’s one of the best places to go shelling and enjoy some isolation along North Carolina’s coast.
More Things to Do Nearby (NC Travel Guides)
We’ve featured the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and these nearby places in many of our North Carolina travel guides. Here are a few of them.