One of the best outings with the whole family, whether it’s a road trip or part of a city tour, is visiting a zoo. Bucket-listing some of the best zoos in the US is a must. It is the perfect way to spend the day together, learning about different animals and watching how they interact with each other and the people visiting them.
Zoos have certainly evolved over the years as the perception that animals are caged and isolated is no longer the reality. Many zoos have created an environment for animals that attempts to mimic their own natural habitats.
Here is a list of the best zoos in the US. Next time you need a day trip activity or are visiting a new city, consider going to the zoo! After all, where else can you see polar bears, pandas and lions all in one place?
Best Zoos in the US
1. San Diego Zoo
It’s not much a surprise that San Diego is at the top of the list. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, San Diego is the most popular zoo in America, with over 3 million visitors. This world renowned, 100-acre zoo was the pioneer in creating open-air, cageless exhibits featuring 3,00 animals and 650 species.
- Take the Skyfari – an overhead gondola ride that shows amazing views of the giant zoo.
- Exhibits are separated into eight sections so that animals can live in environments that mimic their own natural habitat.
- Four different play areas for kids
- 4-D theater show
- Check out the Australian Outback, Polar Bears at Northern Frontier and the Gorilla Forest
2. Denver Zoo
Operating for over 125 years, this 84-acre campus supports over 3,000 wild animals. To think this zoo began with a single bear.
- Crowd favorites include the Bear Mountain and The Edge where Amur tigers walk across overhead bridges from a viewing area.
- Special events to cater to all different people such as adult only days, bring a friend for free, and teddy bear clinics to name a few.
- Close Animal Encounters allows visitors to go backstage and meet animals like elephants, gorillas and birds.
- Feed four different species of sea life at the Stingray Cove.
3. The Bronx Zoo
The Bronx zoo in New York is one of the largest zoos in the US by area with 265 acres of park lands and naturalistic habitats separated by the Bronx River. The zoo is home to award-winning exhibits and diverse animals.
- Popular exhibits include Congo Gorilla Forest, Tiger mountain and Jungle World
- A separate children’s zoo where they can pet and feed gentle animals
- Ride the wild Asia monorail
- Tree top adventure – climb up trees and zip line over a river
4. Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha Nebraska
This zoo also houses a large aquarium. Consistently ranked as one of the world’s top five zoos, this zoo features the largest cat complex in North America, the world’s largest indoor swamp, indoor desert and glazed geodesic dome.
- The Desert Dome is the world’s largest indoor desert, showcasing plants and animals from Africa, Australia and the US. Also exhibits a 55-foot tall mountain and 35-foot tall sand dune
- The Lied Jungle is a giant indoor rainforest with lush plants and waterfalls and of course animals that typically live in rainforests of South America, Asia and Africa
5. Houston Zoo
Spread over 55-acres but still houses over 6,000 animals and has been ranked among the top 10 best zoos in the US.
- Interactive areas like the Giraffe Feeding platform and the children’s zoo.
- The new Galapagos Island exhibit with giant tortoise, the African forest and Kip Aquarium are exhibits to see
6. Lincoln Park Zoo
This 35-acre zoo is the fourth oldest zoo in North America. It’s also one of the few zoos in the US that don’t charge for admission. Two pairs of swans arrived at Lincoln Park in 1868, a gift from New York’s Central Park and the beginning of the free zoo in Lincoln Park.
- Different highlight tours available that are 2 hours in length including the Must-see highlights tour, Big & Fury tour, Weird & Wonderful tour and the Green & Leafy tour.
- The lion house has a state-of-the-art habitat focused on animal welfare that allows the carnivores to roam around as they choose, from warmer areas to cooling down areas or climbing trees.
7. Philadelphia Zoo
The Philly zoo has a 42-acre campus and it is also the first zoo in the US. Over 1,300 rare and endangered animals are currently housed in the zoo.
- KidZooU is an indoor and outdoor experience offering hands-on learning, cool displays and interactions with goats, sheep, chickens and ducks.
- Check out the Rare Animal Conservation Center
- WildWorks Ropes course for both adults and children
- The Nature Blazer Scavenger Hunt provides a smart compass and people can complete challenges and answer trivia questions at each stop through an interactive mobile app.
8. Saint Louis Zoo
This is another zoo where the admission is free, but you must reserve a spot to get in. The zoo is considered one of the best attractions in the city of Saint Louis.
Caribbean Cove is a shallow pool with different marine life like sharks and stingrays.
The Children’s Zoo offers play while educating kids about different animals. There’s a see-through slide through an otter pool and kangaroos play right beside an indoor play set
9. Audubon zoo
This New Orleans zoo has a 58-acre campus and is home to more than 2,000 animals. There are animals that are native to New Orleans such as black bears, river otters, raccoons, copperheads and alligators.
- Also home to an aquarium, butterfly garden, insectarium and a golf course.
- The Louisiana Swamp exhibit is popular as it has many animals native to New Orleans.
- Check out the endangered whooping cranes, Amur leopards and white alligators.
10. Zoo Miami
The 750-acre Zoo Miami is the largest zoo in Florida and the fifth largest in the US. It’s also the only subtropical zoo in the continental US, allowing the zoo to care for a wider variety of animals from Asia, Australia and Africa. The zoo tries to match their foliage, trees and soil as close as possible to the native habitats of the animals.
- Animals of the Everglades has animals native to Florida.
- Includes a splash pad and a playground.
- Feed the giraffes, camels, rhino and parrots.
11. Brookfield zoo
The 216-acre campus zoo in Illinois is famous for using ditches and moats instead of cages to protect both animals and visitors.
- Famous dinosaur exhibit with animatronic dinosaurs
- Check out the Australia House, Feathers and Scales and Clouded Leopard Rainforest
12. San Antonio
The 50 plus acre zoo is home to over 750 species, some of which are endangered or extinct. The San Antonio Zoo in Texas lets visitors get up close and feed some unique animals such as the flamingo and okapi.
- One of the main exhibits is Africa Live! Which includes hippos, okapi, crocodiles and many others.
- Cat Grotto is a cave-like area with clouded leopards, black-footed cats and more.
13. Cincinnati zoo
Cincinnati zoo in Ohio state is the nations’ second-oldest zoo and also includes a botanical garden and an insect exhibit.
- Komodo dragons, Bat-eared Fox and Meerkats are just some of the unique animals to see
- The Children’s zoo has a petting zoo, playground and close ups of animals like alpacas and llama and baby miniature cows.
14. The Smithsonian National Zoo
This 163-acre zoo in Washington D.C. doesn’t charge for entry but guests must reserve their tickets. The National is home to giant pandas and about 25% of the zoo’s animals are endangered.
- The pandas are the headline makers – adults Tian Tian and Mei Xiang and baby Xiao Qi Ji attract many visitors
- Kids’ farm allows people to pet many types of farm animals including alpacas, donkeys, goats and more.
15. Oregon zoo
Oregon zoo is 64-acres and home to 1,800 animals. There are also over 1,000 exotic plants.
- The Great Northwest exhibit has animals from the Pacific Northwest including Black Bear Ridge, Cougar Crossing and Eagle Canyon.
- Check out the African Savanna Exhibit, the Pacific Shores Exhibit and the Elephant Lands exhibit.
16. Dallas zoo
This 106-acres zoo is the oldest and largest zoological park in Texas and started with only two mountain lions and two deer.
- An interactive aviary with nearly a dozen species of birds from around the globe.
- Wild Encounters stage with a variety of animals to get up close with.
- There is a 2 acre habitat that looks like a logged forest.
- Some of the main attractions are the Gorilla research center, Chimpanzee Forest, Koala Walkabout and the Penguin cove.
17. Pittsburgh zoo
This 77-acre zoo and aquarium combo is home to over 4,000 animals. 20 of the 475 species are endangered.
- Kids’ Kingdom has interactive exhibits and activities such as crawling through tunnels like meerkats do.
- The indoor Tropical Forest is an indoor rainforest housing primates, different species of monkeys, lemurs and more.
- The Asian Forest’s residents include red pandas, Komodo dragons, Amur leopards and more.
18. Memphis Zoo
This 76-acre zoo is divided into three zones and has 19 main exhibits. The Memphis zoo also doubles as an arboretum, with more than 40 labeled specimens of trees.
- The China exhibit displays the pagoda-style architecture and giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le.
- Memphis zoo is only one of 3 zoos that has pandas.
- The AquiFur splash pad featuring slides, dump buckets and water toys in an Egyptian theme.
The Phoenix zoo is the largest, non-profit privately owned zoo in the US. They also have 2.5 miles of walking trails that stretch over several areas including the Arizona Trail, Africa Trail and Tropics Trail.
- One of the most unique activities available are camel rides for a reasonable cost.
- The Children’s Trail has an animal petting area.
- There are four water play areas for children, including water play.
20. Columbus zoo
The Columbus zoo and aquarium is over 234 acres and is home to over 7,000 animals. The exhibits are organized by eight world regions including the Safari Golf club, Zoombezi Bay and Jungle Jack’s Landing.
- Columbus is one of seven zoos in North America with Tasmanian Devils.
- The Manatee Coast Boat lets people see how the animals are living underwater.
- The Australia and Islands exhibit allows people to get quite close to kangaroos and koalas.
This concludes the list of the best zoos in the US. Zoos have evolved over the years to be more educational and interactive so people can learn more and better observe how animals live in their natural habitats. Zoos also host many special events, and people can also consider zoos as a venue for birthday parties and even weddings! Make sure you put these best zoos in the US on your travel bucket list.