The Top 10 Best Zoos in the US for Families

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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? We scanned hundreds of Trekaroo reviews and these are the 10 best zoos in America according to our users. 

The Best Zoos in the US

10. Phoenix Zoo

Feeding the Giraffes at the Phoenix Zoo
Feeding the Giraffes at the Phoenix Zoo | Photo 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.

Spend more time in Phoenix! Here are the Top 10 Fun Things to do in Phoenix with Kids

Look for current hotel deals nearby Phoenix Zoo

9. ZooTampa at Lowry Park

ZooTampa Orangatan
Mother Orangutan and Baby | Photo 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. 

Here are 10 Fun Things to do in Tampa Bay with Kids.

8.  National Zoo (Washington DC)

Panda at the National Zoo
Panda at the National Zoo | Photo 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. 

7. Audubon Zoo (New Orleans, LA)

White alligator at the Audobon Zoo
White Alligator at the Audobon Zoo | Photo 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.

Don’t visit NOLA without first reading about the Top 10 Things to do in New Orleans with Kids

6. Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo Entrance
Philadelphia Zoo is America’s First Zoo | Photo by Bigstock

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.

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.

5.  The Bronx Zoo 

Bronx zoo is one the best zooz in America
Gorillas at the Bronx Zoo | Photo 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.

4. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Tigers play in the snow at the Columbus Zoo
Tiger Cubs Playing in the Snow at the Columbus Zoo | Photo 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. Jack Hanna’s African safari tent is a great place for kids to play.

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. 

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

3.  Saint Louis Zoo

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

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 $13.95 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

2. Henry Doorly Zoo (Omaha, NE)

Henry Doorly Zoo's Desert Dome
Henry Doorly Zoo’s Desert Dome | Photo 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.

1. San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Safari Park is one ofBest Zoo in the US
Cheetah Run at San Diego Zoo Safari Park | Photo 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.  

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 10 Best Things to do in San Diego with kids

Lead image by: Shutterstock

About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 13-year-old son and daughter (twins!). She is a self-proclaimed National Park junkie and has the goal of visiting each and every one with her kids. When she isn't traveling to places like Norway, Peru, Disney World, and Hawaii with her family, she enjoys hiking, beach days, obsessively rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, and planning her brood's next trip.

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