Whether you prefer lush garden pathways meandering past exhibits of exotic creatures, safari-style sleepovers, or air-conditioned exhibits of fish and fowl, there is a zoo experience for you somewhere in the country. Probably more than one! Here’s our list of America’s top zoos state by state. Get your summer zoo-do on!
One of the rescued black bears at The Birmingham Zoo. (Photo: The Birmingham Zoo/Facebook)
The Birmingham Zoo not only has a bachelor herd of African elephants, mimicking the way they often live in the wild, but also it is building a new black bear exhibit featuring Sassy and Bety, rescued American black bears.
Alaska Zoo in Anchorage has everything you’d expect this far north: polar bears, bald eagles, snow leopards, and caribou. Try out its Keeper for a Day program for a close-up experience.
At Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, you can zipline above the animals, watch exciting raptor and tiger shows, or even camp inside the safari park.
Little Rock Zoo is home to Trudy, the second oldest gorilla living in human care. It also offers an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to feed lorikeets.
The San Diego Zoo is home to some of the most adorable animals in the country. (Photo: San Diego Zoo/Facebook)
No list of top zoos in the country would be complete without the San Diego Zoo. Plan to spend more than one day exploring both the zoo and the Safari Park. Two African penguins just arrived at the zoo and are settling into their new home, which includes underwater viewing.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs is among the elite class of the country’s midsize zoos, which exemplify what today’s zoos should be. Feed a giraffe, let the kids experience hands-on educational activities at The Loft, or cruise above it all on the Mountaineer Sky Ride.
The Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport caters to adults with events such as the upcoming Wild Wine, Beer and Food Safari.
Our favorite thing at Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington is Zoo Yoga, Saturdays at 9 a.m. for kids ages 4-7. How cool is that?
District of Columbia
Go visit all the creatures at the National Zoo. We’re pretty sure it’s part of your civic duty. (Photo: Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo)
The Smithsonian applies its usual attention to detail at the National Zoo. Expect to see creativity in exhibits and a wide variety of animals, both exotic and domestic.
Zoo Atlanta has a petting zoo, parakeet feeding, and interactive wildlife shows. And pandas. Need we say more?
You might not expect to find elephants and orangutans in Hawaii, but that just kinda makes them even more special. (Photo: Honolulu Zoo/Facebook)
The Honolulu Zoo helps you get your fix of exotic animals plus the lush plant life that thrives in the islands. It’s a surprise to find elephants, zebra, and even giraffes in Honolulu, but you can’t spend every day at the beach, can you?
Want to see grizzly bears? Pocatello Zoo is the place. Add other Native American animals like bison, eagles, and elk, and you have a truly Idahoan experience.
Rhinos galore at Lincoln Park Zoo! (Photo: Lincoln Park Zoo/Facebook)
Lincoln Park Zoo has a wonderful calendar of activities and events that support the zoo and make it an integral part of Chicago’s landscape. We especially liked Yoga at the Zoo and the Brew to Be Wild beer festival.
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is a prime example of a facility that offers exhibits and activities that teach children the importance of species diversity in a fun setting.
Blank Park Zoo proves that smaller zoos can be just as full of cuteness as the bigger ones. (Photo: Blank Park Zoo/Facebook)
Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines is small enough to explore with just a short visit, but it has plenty of diversity, including an Australia Adventure and a Kids’ Kingdom.
What’s happier than a polar bear in some fresh snow? Not much! (Photo: Louisville Zoo/Facebook)
Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans is much more than a zoo. It includes an aquarium, an IMAX, a park, and a butterfly garden. Experiences run the gamut from scuba diving in the aquarium to horseback riding in the park.
Animals and rides is a winning combo! (Photo: York’s Wild Kingdom/Facebook)
York’s Wild Kingdom is a combination zoo-amusement park. Hands-on activities include duck feeding and deer petting.
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has penguins. We love penguins. It also hosts evening events, so you can hang with the animals after dark.
There’s lots to see at the Franklin Park Zoo, but the adorable red pandas will always be a crowd-pleaser! (Photo: Franklin Park Zoo/Facebook)
Franklin Park Zoo in Boston has a baby gorilla, giraffe encounters, and camel rides. Plenty to keep you busy.
Potter Park Zoo in Lansing is another favorite small zoo. The size is just right for an afternoon of animal watching. Besides, it has meerkats — and we love meerkats.
Hang out with Chloe the sloth at Como Park! (Photo: Como Park Zoo & Conservatory/Facebook)
The architecture of the conservatory at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is enough to make you fall in love. Add the carousel and its polar bear exhibit, and you have the makings of a perfect day in Saint Paul.
Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo may change your mind about what a zoo should be. Ride a horse on a guided tour of the park, or hop on the Bison Bus. Either way, it’s a fun day.
ZooMontana in Billings uses the natural setting of a meandering river and dense forest interspersed with animal exhibits to bring together native and exotic animals.
These lion cubs look like they’re straight out of a Disney movie. (Photo: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium/Facebook)
The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha is one of the world’s finest animal facilities. The number of species totals more than 950, with a big cat complex that is the largest in North America.
There seems to be a lack of zoos in Nevada, but we found Animal Ark, where the animals are all rescues. Each animal has a story and a name. You cannot leave here unchanged.
Charmingfare Farm in Candia is part farm, part petting zoo, part stable. Take it all in.
Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange is a delightful, midsize zoo. We especially love the staff walk-and-talk programs. Take your binoculars as the zoo professionals lead you on an exploration of the nature around you that you may have been missing.
Albuquerque Bio Park includes a zoo, an aquarium, a botanic garden, and the Tingley Beach fishing ponds.
The Bronx Zoo is home to over 4,000 animals, including this beyond adorable fennec fox. (Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS)
Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the country. More than 4,000 animals representing 650 species call the zoo’s 265 acres home. We especially love its programs, which lead the country in educational programs for teenagers.
We would be remiss if we didn’t include the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro on this list; it’s an edutainment facility of the highest order. Having said that, we couldn’t resist mentioning the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, where the flight exhibitions will change the way you view birds of prey.
Snow leopards, Canada lynx, and river otters are just a few of the reasons we love the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck.
The Columbus Zoo has all of the koala-fications to be a must-stop animal stop. (Photo: The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium/Facebook)
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell sprawls across 580 acres and includes almost 800 species, totaling a whopping 9,000 animals. If there’s only one zoo you can do this summer, consider making it this one.
The sprawling Oklahoma City Zoo has enough to keep you and the gang busy for a couple of days, especially if you add a behind-the-scenes tour.
West Coast Game Park Safari in Bandon is a great example of a safari-style park where you can spend time getting up close and personal with a wide variety of animals.
The Philly Zoo recently celebrated the arrival of their first ever black-footed cats born at the zoo, and they are pretty much the cutest things ever. (Photo: Philadelphia Zoo/Facebook)
The intimate size of the Philadelphia Zoo makes it an experience that you can squeeze in between the city’s other attractions. Some of the coolest features at this 42-acre zoo are the elevated animal pathways, like the Big Cat Crossing and the new Gorilla Treeway.
Roger Williams Park Zoo is a small, 40-acre complex in Providence with a big-zoo feel. It includes giraffes, elephants, and a delightful farmyard.
Head down to South Carolina to get your gator fix. (Photo: Alligator Adventure/Facebook)
Predator lovers take note: Alligator Adventure in North Myrtle Beach has wolves and gators. And the second day is free.
Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown is all about education, but that doesn’t make it boring.
The Chattanooga Zoo has an impressive array of desert animals, including this adorable rock hyrax. (Photo: Chattanooga Zoo/Facebook)
In a state the size of Texas, it’s tough to narrow down the choices. There are fantastic small zoos in Waco and Abilene and a world-class zoo in San Antonio, but the leader of the pack is the Fort Worth Zoo. Plan to make it a two-day adventure.
The Hogle Zoo has rhinos, giraffes, and elephants, oh my! (Photo: Utah’s Hogle Zoo/Facebook)
Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City is the only zoo we found with rhino feedings. How cool is that?
It’s all about water at the educational Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center. We especially liked FrogWorld, a display of 15 different frog species from around the world.
Virginia Zoo has 400 animals living on 53 acres of lush landscape. It’s not hard to spend an entire day exploring this site.
See beautiful zebras frolic and so much more at the Woodland Park Zoo. (Photo: Woodland Park Zoo/Facebook)
Again, we have two zoos for you. For natural habitats and sheer beauty, go for the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. For a wilder experience, visit Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, which offers ziplines and camping opportunities.
West Virginia State Wildlife Center is operated by the state’s Division of Natural Resources. Native and introduced animals live in a prime example of hardwood forest, with a paved trail leading you through their native habitats.
Racine Zoo has an impressive collection of animals for a relatively small zoo, including big cats, African penguins, and alligators.
We wrap up our list with another rescue zoo. Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary is home to more than 350 animals that were formerly used in research. This is far from a typical zoo. You don’t pay admission, and you don’t just stop by to see the animals. There are cabins available for volunteers, who are always welcome.
Watch: A visit with baby cheetahs in South Africa