Despite all the exciting theme parks and other large attractions in the country, zoos continue to be a popular place for families to visit. For one thing, admission is usually less than that of major theme parks. In addition, you know that at least some of the admission price is going to care for the animals, not just into a corporation’s pocket.
Zoos are a great place for kids to see animals they may have seen on television. They are also the only place many will have to see endangered animals. Seeing these creatures in person often will instill an awareness of the need to protect these animals, not only in children but in adults as well.
Below are some of the best zoos in the U.S. Most have at least one distinct feature. We haven’t ranked them in any particular order, as each person will have his or her own favorite. Likely we may list a zoo or two you haven’t heard about.
This zoo has the distinction of being one of the oldest as well as one of the best zoos in the US. It was chartered in 1859 but didn’t actually open until 1874. Its 42 acres is home to almost 1,300 animals, including many endangered species such as giant otters, black and white ruffled lemurs and Amur tigers. It also offers a paddleboat lake and children’s petting zoo, among other attractions. Tickets are $24 for persons age 12 and above, with discounts available for younger children. A bonus is that the Go Philadelphia All-Inclusive Pass includes zoo admission, along with almost 30 other tours and attractions.
This New York City zoo is one of the largest city zoos in the country and is a city landmark. Be prepared to spend at least a day or two here, as the zoo covers over 250 acres and features over 6,000 residents. Popular exhibits include the World of Reptiles, JungleWorld, Tiger Mountain, Mouse House and the Congo Gorilla Forest. If you have small children, you may want to pick and choose the exhibits you visit to keep the kiddies from getting too tired and cranky. Tickets are $40 for adults and $30 for children, but there are free tickets available on Wednesdays. No wonder this is one of the best zoos in the U.S.
Located in a Chicago suburb, this is one of the best zoos in the U.S and was notable when it opened for its lack of cages. Many of the animals are housed in outdoor, more open settings. It’s also noted for being the first zoo featuring an indoor exhibit housing animals from three continents. Favorite spots are Tropic World and the Australia House. Other special offerings include places to feed the animals (including giraffes!) and sleepovers for kids. Tickets are $18 for children 12 and under and $25 for adults and older children.
San Diego Zoo
Anyone who regularly watched The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was at the helm has to be familiar with this zoo. The show regularly hosted animal visitors from this zoo. This zoo was chosen to be the home of a few Chinese pandas for almost 20 years and one of the best zoos in the U.S., but the pandas finally had to return to their homeland. However, visitors may still see the rare red panda. This zoo also favors open-air surroundings rather than cages when possible. This is the reason why it is one of the best Zoos in the U.S.
St. Louis Zoo
If your budget is strained, this is the largest free and best zoos in the U.S. It’s also one of the most ethical and is a respected animal research institution. The zoo operates solely on donations, which are much appreciated. This zoo is dedicated to research and caring for its animals while educating the public in an entertaining fashion. There are some special exhibits and activities which have a charge, but a family can spend a whole day here without pulling out the wallet, especially if they bring their own drinks and snacks.
If your interest is aquatic animals, you can’t go wrong at this zoo located in Powell, Ohio. The 588-acre zoo features a 100,000-gallon coral reef exhibit, a massive outdoor tank, and a 22-acre water park. One of the former zoo directors was Jack Hanna, who still provides educational programs. The zoo has a huge 11,000 animal population, representing over 600 species from around the world.
Some of the most interesting features are the Congo Expedition African Forest, Australia and the Islands, and Stingray Bay. Tickets are $21.99 for persons 10 and older, while discounts are available for younger children, seniors, and Franklin County residents. Children under 3 get in free. This is one of the reason why Columbus Zoo is part of the best zoos in the U.S.
Smithsonian National Zoo
This zoo, located in Washington, D.C., is part of the Smithsonian Institution. This is commonly known as the National Zoo and one of the best zoos in the U.S. One of the most famous attractions is the panda exhibit, featuring pandas who have called this place home since 2005. Other attractions include the Amazonia Exhibit, Great Ape House, and Reptile Discovery Center, among others. Of course, the zoo also houses animals from several continents, including Africa, Asia, America and the Arctic. There is no charge for tickets but they do have to be reserved ahead of time.
The Audubon Nature Institute
This zoo is located in New Orleans and has been in operation since 1914. It has several exhibits featuring over 2,000 animals. One of the more unusual aspects of this zoo is that visitors can get closer to the animals than at many other zoos. There is also a swamp exhibit, populated by local bayou species. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for children, but the zoo also offers free days throughout the year.
This is the only subtropical zoo in the country, while also boasting of being the largest zoo in Florida. If you are fascinated with tropical animals this zoo has many exotic species you may not see elsewhere, such as tree kangaroos. Komodo dragons and Malayan tapirs. Tickets start at $24.56.
Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
One of the best zoos in the US is right in the center of the country in Omaha, NE. Spread out over 170 acres, the zoo features trams and a railroad to enable visitors to get a good overview when deciding where to start. It houses a mind-boggling 17,000 animals representing over 950 species. Several unusual exhibits are here, including Desert Dome, the world’s largest indoor desert; Kingdoms of the Night, the world’s largest exhibit of nocturnal animals.
And the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, which allows visitors to walk on the ocean floor as sharks swim above. Tickets range from $16.95 to $25.95 for visitors age 12 and above, depending on the season. Discounts are available for smaller children, seniors, students and the military.
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens
This zoo opened in 1875, making it one of the oldest in the U.S. It now covers 75 acres and features over 500 animal and 3,000 plant species. Try starting out with a trip on the Safari Train. You’ll see many of the habitats on this ride, making it easy to decide what to see. You’ll have the chance to see animals from all over, from tropical Komodo dragons to polar bears.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
This is another zoo that opened in the late 1800s, and has grown to cover 183 acres. It features over 600 species and over 3,000 animals. The Rainforest is a popular attraction, where visitors can see endangered Bornean orangutans and two-toed sloths among other residents.
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
Located near Palm Springs, CA, this unusual zoo gives people an unusual look at desert-dwelling animals and plants. Most of the zoo’s property is left in its natural state, giving visitors a real taste of desert life. Animals from all over the world are featured here, including Mexican wolves from North America, African cheetahs, and Australian wallabies. There are also nature and hiking trails for the more adventurous.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
This is a great zoo for visitors and residents of the Northwest. It’s located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and houses animals from all the major continents in various animal worlds. There is also an aquarium and the popular primate section. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children.
While there is more than one zoo in the state of Texas, this one is considered to be the most visitor-friendly. It’s not as large as some others, but still offers a wide variety of animals. All of the walking paths are shaded and cool so visitors don’t get overheated in the Texas sun. Close by is the Fort Worth Zoo if you don’t get enough at the Dallas Zoo. Tickets are $8-$21 for adults, and $8-$16 for children, depending on the season.
Besides being one of the best zoos in the US, the Denver Zoo is considered to be one of the most ethical zoos in the country. It’s also one of the most popular. One tip for visitors is to try to visit in the morning. Because of the staff’s commitment to the well-being of the animals, they don’t force the residents to be out in the enclosures all the time. Tickets are $20 for adults and $14 for children.
Tips for visiting zoos
Check with the zoo to see what Covid restrictions, if any, are in place. Ask before planning to bring food from home. If you plan to see any certain animals or exhibits, it doesn’t hurt to check to make sure the animals are available. Find out specifics on ticket and parking prices. Sunscreen is a must, as is a stroller or wagon for small children. Look up info on your children’s favorite animals ahead of time so that you can answer at least some questions (and you know they’ll have them). Above all, take it easy, rest when you or the children need to, and have a grand time.