This entertaining, educational facility focusing on Virginia's marine environment is a wonderful place to take the kids. Its 45 acres are beside Owl Creek salt marsh, a wildlife habitat. You can easily spend half a day here, a full day to see -- and learn -- it all. Plan to spend at least half of your time in the main building, where touch tanks will fascinate you and the kids, who also will love playing with the switches and dials in a dark room designed like a submarine, complete with sonar "pings." The sub looks out into one of several room-size aquariums holding a myriad of sea turtles, sharks, rays, and other species found in Virginia waters. Movies in the center's 3-D IMAX theater feature animals leaping off the screen at you.

As you leave the main building, take a look at the salt marsh room, which will prepare you for a .3-mile nature hike along the creek, or to take an informative 35-minute cruise in a 50-passenger pontoon boat on Owl Creek and through Virginia Beach's last undeveloped salt marsh. There's an observation tower from which you might see some of the wild animals living on an island across the creek. The boardwalk nature trail leads to the smaller Owl Creek Marsh Pavilion, were river otters play in an outdoor tank and more than 50 species of birds fly about an aviary. It also houses the fascinating "Macro Marsh" display in which everything is enlarged 10 times normal size to give you a crab's eye view of the world.