Zoos are one of the most popular family-friendly attractions, with zoos and aquariums seeing an average of more than 195 million visitors every year. If going to the zoo is one of your favorite things to do, you’ll find many great options across the country. In fact, you might even plan your next vacation around one of these top zoos in the United States.
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Saint Louis Zoo - St. Louis, Missouri
The Saint Louis Zoo is often named among or at the top of lists of the country’s very best zoos and is one of the best attractions in St. Louis. There are over 600 different species housed here, including Kali the polar bear, a visitor favorite, who enjoys a 40,000-square-foot habitat from which he seems to enjoy staring back at those who come to see him. The African savanna is not to be missed with its giraffes, zebras and gazelles, and the sea lion shows are always a hit. The zoo is also renowned for its efforts in research, animal conservation, management and education.
Lincoln Park Zoo - Chicago, Illinois
One of the oldest zoos in North America, Lincoln Park Zoo was established in 1868 and is one of only a few in the country that doesn’t charge an admission fee. It houses more than 1,100 animals representing nearly 200 species, including everything from penguins and polar bears to gorillas and big cats. This family-friendly attraction in Chicago also boasts a popular children’s zoo, sea lion pool and birdhouse. And, at its center is a burr oak tree that’s older than the city of Chicago itself.
Denver Zoo - Denver, Colorado
Located in City Park, the Denver Zoo features over 4,000 animals from 750 different species. Not only does it offer a wide range of activities for the whole family (such as face paintings like animals), but it also stands out from the rest with eco-friendly operations and natural habitats. You’ll find everything from slithering reptiles and colorful butterflies to elephants. At Predator Ridge, listen to the roar of a lion, while Northern Shores offers the chance to watch polar bears play and Primate Panorama features the always curious orangutans. The zoo also includes the Pioneer Train for a fun ride around Flamingo Lake and Carousel Meadow.
San Francisco Zoo - San Francisco, California
California’s largest zoological park with 1,000 endangered and rescued animals representing 250 species across 100 acres of picturesque gardens, the San Francisco Zoo sits near the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It helps to advance conservation action and inspire caring for nature by connecting visitors with wildlife and features seven main sections, including the Primate Discovery Center, the African Region, Cat Kingdom, South America, Bear Country, Outback Trail and a great Children’s Zoo. There’s also a carousel and Little Puffer train that the little ones especially enjoy.
Minnesota Zoo - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minnesota Zoo houses a wide range of exotic animals in exhibits that are spread over six themed areas and include scenic walking trails that wind through. Some of the most popular are the Tropics Trail which takes visitors through an indoor exhibit to see creatures from the tropics, while the indoor/outdoor Russia’s Grizzly Coast features animals from Far East Russia. If you want to check out the state’s native wildlife, head to the Medtronic Minnesota Trail. There are also daily shows and feeds, including the Tropical Reef Dive Show and a Monk Seal Demo along with an IMAX Theater for watching wildlife films.
Oregon Zoo - Portland, Oregon
Oregon Zoo is the oldest zoo in the West having opened back in 1888. It’s home to 2,200 animals from over 260 species, with some of the most popular including its Asian elephants who enjoy mud wallows and water features, including a 160,000-gallon pool, allowing them to be active for the majority of the day as they would in their range countries. Visitors can get up close to all sorts of other creatures too, with everything from the African hedgehog and Visayan warty pigs to rhinos, monkeys, sea lions, polar bears, penguins and tigers. It’s Wildlife Live! program featured in the summer includes wildlife demonstrations at the amphitheater that are always popular to watch.
Woodland Park Zoo - Seattle, Washington
One of the most highly acclaimed zoos in the country, the Woodland Park Zoo is impeccable when it comes to recreating its natural habitats for animals. Its African savannah hosts giraffes, zebras and African lions, while gray wolves, snowy owls and brown bears, gray wolves can be found along the Northern Trail. The Temperate Forest is home to red pandas and Kunekune pigs, while the Adaptations Building features animals like sloths, Indian flying foxes and meerkats. There are plenty of immersive experiences and special events like Brew at the Zoo for enjoying the animals with beer tastings and behind-the-scenes tours to help support conservation efforts.
San Diego Zoo - San Diego, California
The world-famous San Diego Zoo features a vast collection of animal species and is especially renowned for its conservation efforts. Established over a century ago, it hosts some 3,700 animals with over 650 species and subspecies. That includes its beloved giant pandas as well as Asian and African elephants, gorillas, orangutans, polar bears, and tigers. Visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at zoo life with the “Keeper for the Day” program, and ride the Skyfari aerial tram for a birds-eye view of all the habitats too.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium - Columbus, Ohio
Zookeeper Jack Hanna, a frequent popular late-night TV guest, put the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in the spotlight, making this Midwest zoo one of the most popular in the country. It’s truly one of the best, not only featuring a highly-acclaimed aquarium that includes a 100,000-gallon coral reef tank with colorful tropical fish, but a Congo habitat housing gorillas, bonobos and mandrills as well as the Animal Encounter Village. One of the highlights of the zoo, zookeepers facilitate close encounters with some of the residents like wallabies and hedgehogs.
Living Desert Zoo - Palm Desert, California
This desert botanical garden and zoo offers a unique zoo experience, revealing how deserts aren’t just a lifeless expanse of dry sand but are home to all sorts of plants and animals. There are over 1,400 of them here, including cheetahs, leopards, camels, gazelles and giraffes, along with a wide array of flora, including baobab and elephant trees from Madagascar.