Skip to Content

The 15 Best Zoos in the US for 2024

The 15 Best Zoos in the US for 2024

We love zoos! They serve as cutting-edge research centers, breeding facilities for endangered species, and educational institutions for a new generation of conservation-minded kids. So, which zoos are the best zoos in the US?

As a major fan of all things related to wildlife and conservation, I have been to dozens of zoos. I just can’t get enough! And Trekaroo users have reviewed over 100 zoos across the country. Using this info and experitse, I have put together a guide to the zoological institutions that are the best of the best.

The Best Zoos in the US for 2024

The Phoenix Zoo

Feeding the Giraffes at the Phoenix Zoo which is one of the best zoo in the us
Feeding the Giraffes at the Phoenix Zoo by Flickr/SeaTurtle

Make your way through one of the largest non-profit zoos in the country, the Phoenix Zoo, as you visit orangutans, ocelots, oryx, and otters. Highlights include Monkey Village where squirrel monkeys swing above guests’ heads and the Arizona Trail which provides a fantastic introduction to the animals of the Desert Southwest. 

Visitors can feed giraffes, ride camel, and touch stingrays at Stingray Bay. The children’s trail features a farm, petting zoo, and a playground with a saguaro cactus-shaped slide. If the kiddos are feeling the desert heat, just head over to the Leapin’ Lagoon Sprayground and cool off. There is also a carousel and a safari tram.

Their newest exhibit is Predator Passage where you can view African lions atop the 20-foot-tall Predator Passage Tower and wander the newly expanded Africa Trail which is home to Amur leopard, spotted hyenas, fennec foxes, meerkats, and red river hogs.

Spend more time in Phoenix? Here are the best Things to do in Phoenix with Kids as well as the best things to do in Phoeniz with teens and a guide to getting outside in Phoenix. Looking for a place to stay? Check out our guide to the best Phoenix Resorts for Families.

Woodland Park Zoo

The 15 Best Zoos in the US for 2024 1

The Woodland Park Zoo is among the nation’s finest. We love walking the trails through the heavily wooded property and meeting over 1,000 animals representing nearly 300 species.

At the African Savanna you will see giraffes, zebras, and other African wildlife roaming in a spacious habitat. Other favorites include the Tropical Rain Forest, Humboldt Penguin Exhibit, and Northern Trail showcasing animals from the Pacific Northwest.

The Habitat Discovery Loop and the Family Farm are geared towards the younger crowd. Both have playground equipment that also have educational value as your little one grows. Don’t miss the chance to ride on the historic carousel as well!

 Trekaroo Tip: If it begins to rain, the indoor Zoomazium is a lot of fun for kids.

Here are our favorite things to do in Seattle with kids and great weekend getaways from Seattle. Need a place to stay? Here are our favorite places to stay in Seattle.

ZooTampa at Lowry Park

ZooTampa Orangatan. ZooTampa is one of the best zoos in the US.
Mother Orangutan and Baby by Flickr/EricKilby

Whether your kids are enjoying a turtle-shaped fountain shooting water out its mouth, a riding tiger-themed coaster, or catching glimpses of the 1,500 exotic animals that call this zoo home, they are sure to have a memorable day at ZooTampa at Lowry Park.

The Florida Boardwalk takes visitors past local wildlife such as stingrays, crocodiles, and the elusive Florida panther. Everyone who visits will feel good knowing the zoo’s Florida Manatee and Aquatic Center is home to a hospital that has taken care of over 400 injured manatees to date.

There are several special animal encounters available. Get up close and personal with African penguins, an Aldabra tortoise, giraffes, or southern white rhinos. You can even feed an Indian rhino or take a photo with a koala. 

Their newest exhibit is Stingray Shores where families can feed and touch stingrays. You can even upgrade your experience and get in the water with the stingrays! The Australia area of the zoo is being completely redone with a new Aussie Trek safari ride, an expanded splash pods and play area, and a new wallaby encounter. It is scheduled to open the summer of 2024.

Here are some of the best Things to do in Tampa Bay with Kids.

Oregon Zoo

The 15 Best Zoos in the US for 2024 2
Photo via Flickr/brx0

The Oregon Zoo in Portland is another great zoo in the Pacific Northwest. It is nestled within lush greenery and surrounded by forested hills in Washington Park, just a few miles west of downtown Portland.

There are over 200 species of animals in this zoo living life in impressive exhibits such as the African Rainforest, Elephant Lands, Great Northwest, and Predators of the Serengeti. The Oregon Zoo also has a petting zoo, playgrounds, train rides, and educational programs designed for children of all ages.

Trekaroo Tip: Head to zoo website and download their scavenger hunt before you visit!

The National Zoo in Washington DC

Panda at the National Zoo
Panda at the National Zoo by Flickr/RickBerg

There are many fantastic and free educational attractions which make Washington DC an ideal family vacation destination, but none are better for teaching your kids about wildlife than Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Besides the free factor, families love the convenient metro access and impressive giant panda exhibit.

Bring your walking shoes as you climb the hill and discover lovable orangutans, Asian elephants, brightly-colored poison dart frogs, mysterious clouded leopards, and, of course, those majestic bald eaglesOther highlights include the Cheetah Conservation Station, Small Mammal House, and a big cat exhibit home to lions and tigers. 

Here are our favorite things to do in Washington DC with kids as well as a great guide to DC with toddlers. Need a place to stay? Here are our favorite hotels in Washington DC for families. Ready to explore more? Here are our favorite day trips from Washington DC.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs

The 15 Best Zoos in the US for 2024 3
Photo via Flickr/Goalij54

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is located on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain and the zoo’s elevated location provides wonderful views of the city below and the surrounding mountain landscape. Itis home to over 750 animals representing more than 170 species.

The zoo’s exhibits are desgined to replicate the natural environments of animals, providing them with spacious and enriching living spaces. Some of our favorites include Rocky Mountain Wild, African Rift Valley, and Encounter Africa, where you can see animals such as lions, giraffes, elephants, and grizzly bears.

Want more views? Head to the Mountaineer Sky Ride, a chairlift that transports visitors from the lower to upper levels of the zoo while providing stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

This zoo does a great job with creating special custom experiences including the opportunity to meet and feed a variety of critters as well as animal art experiences (who wouldn’t want a custom painting from an orangutan or elephant?).

Audubon Zoo in New Orleans

White alligator at the Audobon Zoo
White Alligator at the Audobon Zoo by Flickr/Praline3001

New Orleans may be known for its “adult” fun but this city has plenty of family-friendly offerings, including the city’s Audubon Zoo. While exhibits housing animals such as elephants, rhino, and tigers are perennial zoo favorites, but the archaeological dig are of the Jaguar Jungle shouldn’t be missed. 

The Louisiana Swamp Exhibit is a treasure. Besides housing the famous Louisiana gators, the exhibit also does a wonderful job showcasing the region’s rich Cajun culture. If the heat of the Deep South gets to be too much, take the kids over to Cool Zoo, and awesome splash park housed inside the zoo.

Anyone familiar with John James Audubon should not be surprised that his namesake zoo also has an impressive aviary filled with 60 different species of free-flying birds from around the world. This zoo also has a number of behind-the-scenes encounters, including the opportunity to feed orangutans fruits and vegetables on skewer sticks!

Don’t visit NOLA without first reading about the Best Things to do in New Orleans with KidsNeed a place to stay? Here are our picks for the best hotels in New Orleans for families.

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

At the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, children can watch cheetahs run at top speed, see the polar bears play in the water, feed giraffes, and pet the goats. This is one of the oldest zoos in the country, originally established way back in 1875.

Highlights include Gorilla World, Elephant Reserve, Hippo Cove, Africa, Cat Canyon, and Night Hunters, where you can observe animals in spacious and naturalistic habitats. Make time to go inside to check-out the adorable manatees as they float slowly by, and then learn where these peaceful animals have been successfully re-released on a map of Florida.

Kid-friendly highlights also include a petting zoo, playgrounds, train rides, and 4D theater. They also have a variety of special experiences you can book, including the red panda encounter (which sells out fast!), sloth feeding, and “Kickin’ it with the Kangaroos”.

In addition to an impressive collection of animals, the zoo also has awonderful array of plants in their botanical gardens which wind through the zoo. Explore themed gardens, including the Butterfly Garden, Rose Garden, and Children’s Garden, showcasing a variety of flowers, trees, and seasonal displays.

Philadelphia Zoo

Zoo 360 Tigers at the Philadelphia Zoo
Zoo 360 featuring the tigers

The oldest zoo in America is also one of the best! The Philadelphia Zoo has been entertaining and educating generations of families. It houses several critically endangered animals including the Amur leopard, Chinese alligator, Sumatran orangutan, and the western lowland gorilla.

They also have a train, carousel, bird feeding, giraffe feeding, and walk-through open air enclosure filled with lemurs.

Don’t miss Zoo360, a network of see-though mesh trails that all animal to roam above you! There are five different trails that link to existing animal habitats so that animals can time-share habitats and enjoy more room to explore. If your little animals are inspired to roam up above, they will love the Wild Works Ropes Course, which has courses for little ones and older kids (and adults).

Headed to Philly? We have you covered! Check out the Top 10 Things to do in Philadelphia with kids and Free Things to do in Philadelphia.

Zoo Miami

Zoo Miami giraffe feding
Photo via Zoo Miami

The Zoo Miami is the largest and oldest zoo in all of Florida. It has over 300 acres of animals, playgrounds, and splash pads for little (and big) ones to enjoy. Wear those walking shoes, put on the sunscreen, and be prepared to spend all day here!

Favorite habitats include African Plains, Amazon and Beyond, Asia, and the Everglades, which is must for those visiting Florida. The zoo offers family bike rentals which are fun and a great way to see the zoo. Or you can book a tram tourand take in the animals from the comfort of your seat.

Have lunch at the Oasis Grill, which is near two large play areas – Jungle Journey and Ocean Voyage. They are great pit stops the kids, especially on a hot day when the water at the splash pads will keep you cool. Don’t miss the giraffe feedings!

Here are favorite things to do in Miami with kids.

The Bronx Zoo

Bronx zoo is one the best zooz in America
Gorillas at the Bronx Zoo by Flickr/Tootsie’sDad

New York families have been coming to this urban zoo on the Bronx River for generations because it caters to kids. Children love playing spider on the giant web, climbing through a turtle shell, crawling through a prairie dog den, riding the bug carousel, and feeding farm animals.

The Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the United States. Visitors of all ages love taking the Wild Asia Monorail to view antelope, elephants, tigers, and more. Baboons, crocodiles, lemurs, king cobras, and a wide variety of birds are among the 4000 animals that call the zoo home.

Some of the biggest highlights are found via the zoo’s Wild Encounters program which offers a variety of behind-the-scenes tours, including opportunities to meet sloths, penguins, a Fennex fox, and even a cheetah!

Trekaroo knows NYC. We have articles covering where to eat, what to do with teens in NYC, and the top 10 things to do in NYC.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Tigers play in the snow at the Columbus Zoo
Tiger Cubs Playing in the Snow at the Columbus Zoo by Ucumari Photography

Jungle Jack Hanna made this zoo famous. He poured heart and soul into developing Columbus into a world-class zoo and his success has lead over two million visitors in to admire the arctic foxes, linger with the langurs, and pass some time watching the mysterious puma.

The Columbus Zoo’s Africa exhibit is one of the best in the United States. It’s set up with deep trenches instead of fences so that the lions can be seen in the foreground while the giraffes and other grazing animals are visible in the distance.

There are lots of behind-the-scenes experiences to book, including an up close and personal visit with a capybara, giving an elephant a bath, and feeding grapes to a kinkajou.

Be sure to stop by the Kangaroo Walkabout and walk a path where a “mob” of kangaroos is only a rope away. Don’t forget to see the manatees, living in one of only three places outside of Florida.

Jungle Jack’s Landing is an amusement park that is open seasonally. It features several rides and experiences including camel rides, pony rides, several rides, and multiple playgrounds. Jack Hanna’s African safari tent is a great place for kids to play.

Explore more of the state! Read our picks for the Top 10 Fun Things to do in Ohio.

Saint Louis Zoo

St Louis Zoo , one of the best zoos in the US
Lazy Grizzly Bear at the St. Louis Zoo

Did we mention we love free? The St. Louis Zoo offers free admission along with world-class exhibits. Highlights include River’s Edge, which is home to favorite such as cheetahs, rhinos, elephants, and mongoose, as well as the creatures of the Missouri wetlands.

A dozen special behind-the-scenes experiences are offered with a variety of animals including tigers, rhinos, sloths, sea lions, and giraffes. 

There are some attractions that do have a small fee. Kids won’t want to miss the sea lion show, speeding down a slide through the otter pool at the Children’s Zoo (which is free during the zoo’s opening hour), riding the Zooline Railroad, or petting the stingrays at Caribbean Cove. A discounted Adventure Pass will give you access to all of these as well as the sea lion show and 4D theater. 

Here are 10 (mostly free!) fun things to do in St. Louis with kids

Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha

Henry Doorly Zoo's Desert Dome
Henry Doorly Zoo’s Desert Dome by Flick/Bsmith4815

Home to the world’s largest indoor desert, world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, and America’s largest indoor rain forest, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is one of Nebraska’s premier attractions. The Desert Dome, the world’s largest geodesic dome at 13 stories high. It features plants and animals from the Namib Desert of southern Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest United States. 

Located below the Desert Dome is the Kingdoms of the Night, which transports families into a nocturnal wonderland. The zoo’s Lied Jungle completely immerses families in a natural rain forest environment with cliffs, caves, waterfalls, and bridges leading guests towards clouded leopards, pygmy hippos, and spider monkeys. 

Kids will love the Children’s Adventure Trails which focuses on interactive play. Kids are encourage to play in the water features which include a stream and fallen log crossings. The star attraction is a three story tall tree house. Small primates that play in elevated shoots nearby.

They have several Backstage Experiences where you can go behind-the-scenes with giraffes, birds of prey, elephants, sea lions, and a variety of reptiles. There is also a special cheetah training experience you can attend before the zoo opens to the public.

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

San Diego Safari Park is one ofBest Zoo in the US
Cheetah Run at San Diego Zoo Safari Park by Flickr/EricNeitzel

Visitors walk through time at Elephant Odyssey, riders cross high above monkeys and hippos on the Skyfari aerial tram, polar bears splash away the day at Polar Bear Plunge, and pandas delights onlookers while doing adorable panda things. In all, 4,000 animals live on the San Diego Zoo’s 100 exquisitely landscaped acres inside Balboa Park.

Head to The Outback to see koalas, laughing kookaburras, and even Tasmanian devils! Africa Rocks features a wide range of animals from this varied continent including leopards, penguins, lemurs, and the curious-looking fossa. My family often spends a good chunk of our time being endlessly entertained by the raucous troop of baboons that call the zoo home.

It takes a very full day to see all the zoo has to offer. We highly suggest. that first timers take the 35-minute Guided Bus Tour which gives a nice overview of the zoo and allows you to plot your plan of attack. For an amazing upgraded experience, check out the Animals in Action tour. You will see exotic cats in action and go behind the scenes to feed, touch, and train animals!

No trip to San Diego is complete with a trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. About 40 minutes from the main zoo, this incredible facility houses animals in expansive, multi-acre Asian and African Plains exhibits filled with animals, which visitors explore via tram.

There is also Walkabout Australia where visitors have a chance to pet wallabies and kangaroos hopping around them, a Lemur Walk where visitors can actually enter the lemur enclosure, a world-class tiger exhibit that immerses you in a jungle atmosphere, a fun ropes course, and a chance to watch cheetahs sprinting at full speed!

Discover the Best Things to do in San Diego with kids

Lead image by: Shutterstock