The Best Zoos in the West

For as long as I can remember, I have been enamored with wildlife. My love affair with all things animal related has been passed down to my three year old daughter who recently told me she would rather go to the zoo than Disneyland!  I couldn’t agree with her more.  A visit to the zoo is a great way to spend the day outside as a family while educating children on the wonders of the wild kingdom.

Since I love zoos so much, I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our country’s finest. Our first stop is my home turf, the West Coast. Here are five zoos that you don’t want to miss:

San Francisco Zoo:

NYCmama loves this zoo “for its manageable size, wonderful collection of animal life and proximity to the ocean!” I do too.  It isn’t the largest zoo but it is certainly big enough to spend a few leisurely hours admiring the leaping lemurs and gasping at the grace of the long and lovely giraffes. With Ocean Beach literally across the street, you can always rely on this zoo to be a nice escape from the heat during those scorching Northern California summers. Be sure to catch a penguin feeding and don’t forget to take the little ones on the Little Puffer Miniature Steam Train.

Check out more reviews by Trekaroo families of the San Francisco Zoo here.

Phoenix Zoo:

We recently paid this zoo a visit for the very first time and had an absolute blast. The Arizona Trail section provided a fantastic introduction to the animals of the desert southwest and the camel rides were an absolute hit with my kids. Explore this large zoo on one of their four person bike rentals or cruise on a paddle boat around the main lake. Definitely be sure to visit the Monkey Village where there are no cages separating you from the squirrel monkeys swinging from the trees above. Looking for a break from the animal action? Check out one of the many unique and fun playgrounds dispersed throughout the park. Where else can you slide through a Saguaro Cactus?

Check out more reviews by Trekaroo families of the Phoenix Zoo here.

Oregon Zoo:

Photo courtesy of Trekaroo member LivingBeaverton

Started  in 1887 by a pharmacist who collected animals, the Oregon Zoo is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi. It is also one of the best. With exhibits such as the Great Northwest, a wonderful collection of animals indigenous to Oregon, and the newly opened Predators of the Serengeti, its no wonder that families return to this zoo again and again. Pitstopsforkids offers this great tip: “You can picnic with a lunch on the wide lawn by the Africa section (where the main food venues are located).” Like trains? Be sure to check out the Washington Park and Zoo Railway during your visit.

Check out more reviews by Trekaroo families of the Oregon Zoo here.

Woodland Park Zoo:

Photo courtesy of

I remember visiting this zoo as a kid and loving every minute of it. Here you can explore Alaskan tundra on the Northern Trail, dream of cuddling with a red panda in the Temperate Forest Zone, and wander amongst the wallaroos in the Australia Zone. If you have children aged 8 and younger, be sure to check out the Zoomazium. Perfect for those drizzly Seattle days, this indoor nature-themed play area has everything from a mountain cave to explore to a rope bridge in a tree canopy to cross to a 20 foot tree to climb. Feeling hungry after all that exploring? Mary C. Brady reassures us that the Woodland Park Zoo “ has a food court that features a wide variety of lunch choices beyond just pizza and soda.” Personally, the next time I am in town I will try the clam chowder at the Pacific Blue Chowder House on site. Sounds like the perfect compliment to a day exploring in the Pacific Northwest.

Check out more reviews by Trekaroo famlies of the Woodland Park Zoo here.

San Diego Zoo:

We are proud annual pass holders to this incredible zoo. Its certainly one of the world’s finest with over 4,000 animals on 100 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. First timers will benefit from the 35 minute Guided Bus Tour which gives a nice overview of the zoo and allows you to plot your plan of attack. Some of my family’s favorite exhibits include the newly reopened Polar Bear Plunge, an incredible walk through time at Elephant Odyssey, and of course those cuddly looking endangered giant pandas. It takes a very full day (and alot of walking up and down hills) to see it all, so plan accordingly. Or better yet, schedule two days at this amazing zoo into your calendar and make a weekend out of it. Either way, its impossible to walk away disappointed.

Check out more reviews by Trekaroo families of the San Diego Zoo here.

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Sharlene Earnshaw (aka doubleadventure) is Blogger-in-chief for Trekaroo – a reviews site dedicated to exploring and traveling with kids and the woman behind Double the Adventure.

Travel with kids to: CA | CO | DC | FL | HI | IL | MA | NC  | NY | PA | TN | TX | VA | WA

About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 10-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.
4 Responses
  1. debi9kids

    Wonderful post! …. maybe just maybe you can convince me to travel to the west coast some day….

  2. Robert Dahl

    I’m amazed that you left out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum featured in the BBC’s “Great Zoos of the World”

    The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon is also well worth a visit.

  3. doubleadventure

    Robert- I guess I always thought of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum as more of a museum that featured some live animals than a zoo. It is definnitely an incredible place and I will be sure to give it the attention in deserves in a future post. Thanks for the feedback!

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