The Zoo’s the Thing

10.  Audubon Zoo

Photo by Pandiyan on Flickr

New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo is the pride of the city. Located in the middle of Audubon Park, its charm comes from an exotic mix of animals. A favorite and much acclaimed exhibit is the Louisiana Swamp disguised as a circa 1930’s Cajun swamp village and containing rare white alligators. There’s also the Jaguar Jungle and an Austrailian exhibit among many others.

Find more information in National Geographic Traveler’s New Orleans and Lonely Planet’s New Orleans City Guide.

9.  Philadelphia Zoo

Photo by Dave Bluck on Flickr

The Philadelphia Zoo is the nation’s oldest, dating from 1874 and still has a Victorian décor. Highlights include the PECO Primate Reserve, a 2.5 acre expanse of indoor and outdoor exhibits as well as keeper talks and training demonstrations.  They also have the usual zoo animals from African animals to river otters to tortoises.

Check out Acess Philadelphia or Around Philadelphia With Kids for more information.

8.  Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom

Take lush, naturalized habitats, mix with an emphasis on conservation,  sprinkle with a few rides and you have Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Although the park is several times the size of any of Disney’s other parks, it’s broken down into several different areas such as Africa and Asia, each with their own charms. There’s also Dinoland U.S.A with re-created prehistoric animals.

Frommer’s Walt Disney World & Orlando With Kids and Fodor’s Walt Disney World 2011 are good sources of further details.

7.  Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

Photo by Kathy Weaver

The Cinncinati Zoo made Parents Magazine’s Top 10 list of best zoos for children. Also a botanical garden, it’s considered to be one of the finest landscaped zoos in the country. The second oldest zoo in the U.S., Cincinnati is also a leader in the field of breeding endangered species. And check out the Insect World!

6.  Houston Zoo

Photo by opencage.info

The Houston Zoo just opened a new African Forest exhibit (check out the live webcams on their website). Another entry in the Parents Magazine Top 10 list, Houston’s zoo has one of the most diverse collections in the country. One of the highlights is the Carruth Natural Encounters where you can get up close and personal with pirahnas, honey ants and naked mole-rats.

5.  Fort Worth Zoo

Photo by Jeremiah Blatz

The oldest zoo in Texas, the Fort Worth Zoo started with literally a handful of animals and has grown to hold over 5,000. It has been voted a top zoo by several sources and recently opened the Museum of Living Art, a multi-million dollar herpatorium. This exhibit features Komodo dragons, crocodiles, pythons and many, many more. Also of note is the Texas Wild! exhibit.

See Fodor’s Texas and Exploring Dallas With Children for more information.

4.  Phoenix Zoo

Photo by Frank Peters on Flickr

The Phoenix Zoo caters to animals who like a warm climate. Specializing in natural habitats, it has an impressive African Savannah exhibit and a new Giraffe Encounter observation deck. Phoenix was voted one of the nation’s top 5 zoos for children. The Discovery Trail, which includes a butterfly farm and farm area with hands-on exhibits is probably just one reason why.

More information is available in Frommer’s Arizona 2010 and Insider’s Guide to Phoenix (don’t miss the page on how the zoo acquired two of its white rhinos.)

3.  Lion Country Safari

Photo by Jeremiah Blatz

The Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach, Florida is billed as the nation’s first cageless drive-through safari. While most sources agree the park is pretty “touristy,” they also agree it’s a blast. There’s something scary and adventurous about navigating, guide-less, through land where lions, rhinos, zebras and the like roam free and anything can happen. There’s also a walk-through safari with birds, reptiles and smaller mammals.

Check out Frommer’s Florida 2010 and Lonely Planet’s Florida for more information.

2.  San Diego Zoo

Photo by autan on Flickr

The San Diego Zoo is one of the world’s best and most acclaimed zoos. Located in Balboa Park in an area with steep canyons, this zoo, like most of our entries, is big on natural habitats and the conservation of endangered species. One of their many success stories and most popular exhibits is the Giant Panda Research Station. There’s also the Polar Bear Plunge and Monkey Trails.

See Fodor’s California 2011 and Access San Diego for more information.

1.  Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Photo by rbleib on Flickr

While the Columbus Zoo may be best known for Director Emeritus Jack Hanna, all sources agree its world-class exhibits and animal conservation efforts are gaining fame in their own right. A wide variety of animals includes such rarities as white tigers and a red panda along with the first successful birth of a gorilla in captivity and one of a handful of manatee exhibits outside of Florida. The North America exhibit is an outstanding example of the variety of animals found on our continent.

An outstanding resource for these and other great zoos is America’s Best Zoos: a Travel Guide for Fans and Families.

Donna Casey

I work in Circulation as a senior library associate. I love mysteries, traveling, gardens and libraries. My favorite authors are Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell and Harlan Coben, but I enjoy any well-plotted mystery.

  • Carrie

    I love zoos! This is great!!! I’ve only been to one of these so far so I have some work to do.

  • Nate

    Thanks for the list, Donna! I agree with Carrie, zoos are a lot of fun. My favorite I’ve been to is the Doorly Zoo in Omaha, but several of these sound like fun. Especially the cageless safari in Florida!

  • Donna

    I’ve always loved zoos. It’s one of our favorite vacation things to do. Yes, Nate, I like the Omaha zoo a lot too. There are several great ones not on this list, like Brooklyn and Washington D.C.,and I still like to visit our own Topeka Zoo.

  • Kim

    I’m looking forward to riding the new African Sky Safari at the Kansas City Zoo when it gets a little cooler. And I agree with Nate–the zoo in Omaha is really fun and has some unique features. Thanks for the nice list Donna!

  • Brian

    I loved the Houston Zoo. It’s not huge (it’s located in the center of town), but very manageable if you have a short amount of time.

    I hope to visit the San Diego Zoo net summer!