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29 Best Zoos in the United States for a Day of Fun in the Sun

For most of us, visiting the zoo as a child brings up happy memories of adventures, melting ice cream, and childhood friends. Luckily, zoos aren’t just for kids; as a grown-up, you can go whenever you want — no need to wait for a school trip.

While zoos tend to be a hot topic of debate, many in the US are ethical and focus on conservation, education, and research. All the zoos on this list are AZA-accredited, meaning they meet the highest animal care and welfare standards. This earns them a place in this article on the best zoos in the United States.

So, for your next adventure in the United States, you can feel good about supporting these zoos without any worries regarding the ethical treatment of animals. Let’s get into it.

29 Best Zoos in the United States

In the mood for a fun day in the sun and seeing wildlife up close? Here are some top picks for the best zoos to visit in the US.

1. Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania


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Let’s start with the oldest zoo in America — Philadelphia Zoo, which opened its gates in 1874. Over the years, it has been at the forefront of zoological innovation and opened the first on-site animal care center at a zoo worldwide. 

More than 1,900 endangered and rare species are cared for and bred here, including critically endangered Brazilian golden lion tamarins and Sumatran orangutans.

Don’t miss the “Big Cat Falls” exhibit if you’re a cat person. It features five large habitats connected via an overhead passageway, giving the animals more space to explore. You’ll see pumas, African lions, snow leopards, tigers, and Amur leopards prowling about.

Top Tip: Grab your Philadelphia Go City All Inclusive Pass for free access to the zoo and more city-wide attractions.

2. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Ohio


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Cincinnati Zoo opened in 1875, making it the second oldest in America after the Philadelphia Zoo. It’s known for its many successful breeding programs and was even awarded National Historic Landmark status for its contributions to US heritage.

The zoo pays exceptional attention to detail — each pathway is marked with animal footprints that hint at what exhibit you’ll come across next. The “Lemur Lookout” is one of the zoo’s most popular exhibits. You can get up close and personal with Madagascar’s ring-tailed lemurs, and if you time your visit right, you may even see some baby lemurs.

3. Bronx Zoo, New York

aerial-view-bronx-zoo best zoos in the united states

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Visiting the Bronx Zoo is arguably one of the top things to do in New York. It is one of the largest metropolitan zoos in the world and one of the major players in the conservation game. The zoo participates in breeding and reintroducing several protected species internationally, including Tanzania’s Kihansi spray toads and American Bison in the country’s Western states.

The zoo stretches across 265 acres and houses over 10,000 animals, so exploring the entire place in one day is pretty impossible. If you’re in a time crunch, I’d say the “Congo Gorilla Forest” should be at the top of your list of unmissable exhibits.

Top Tip: Grab your Bronx Zoo admission ticket here.

4. San Diego Zoo, California


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San Diego Zoo is one of the most visited places in the US and with good reason. The zoo has many claims to fame, but the most noteworthy is its successful breeding of giant pandas, which prevented the species from going extinct. Needless to say, you’ll do yourself a disservice if you skip over the panda habitat.

The zoo opened in 1916 and was one of the first to implement open-air, cageless exhibits replicating the animals’ natural habits. It’s now home to over 650 species worldwide, including African animals like giraffes, elephants, and lions. In the “Australian Outback” exhibit, you can see lovable koalas and other animals from Down Under.

Top Tip: Get your San Diego Zoo ticket here.

5. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, California


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If you’re near Palm Springs and want to explore the desert landscape at its finest, you’ll definitely love visiting The Living Desert Zoo. This zoological and botanical park shows off the fauna and flora of the desert while educating the public on the importance of desert conservation.

At the desert-themed zoo in the park, you can see critically endangered black rhinos along with small desert carnivores like fennec foxes and sand cats. A popular attraction is the “Australian Adventures” exhibit that houses wallabies, emu, bearded dragons, and cockatiels.

6. Alaska Zoo, Anchorage

zoo polar bear

Alaska Zoo might not be as big or well-known as the other zoos on this list, but it is definitely an underrated gem to explore when you’re visiting Anchorage. The effects of climate change are limiting the amount of time we have left to see Alaska’s wildlife in their natural habitat, so I’d say this one is a must-see.

As you can imagine, the polar bear exhibit is a big drawing point for visitors. You can view these majestic creatures up close and even participate in cleaning and training other animals, like wolves, in their habitats along with the zookeeper. I loved my visit to this lovely zoo.

7. Indianapolis Zoo, Indiana


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Indianapolis Zoo is one of Indiana’s most popular attractions, with over a million annual visitors. The zoo has five ecosystems: Deserts, Oceans, Forests, Plains, and Flights of Fancy. Each biome is filled with plants and animals representing the habitat, so you’ll see over 1,200 animals from 230 different species and 47,000 plant species.

The “Flights of Fancy” biome is an aviary that’s home to bird species from warm climates, including South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa. You can see macaws, flamingos, hornbills, marabous, and other winged creatures.

8. Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri


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The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the most ethical and respected animal research institutions in America and the largest free zoo in the country. One of its current conservation efforts is participating in the Red Panda Species Survival Plan, as these cuties are at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

The zoo has six zones: River’s Edge, Red Rocks, Lakeside Crossing, The Wild, Discovery Corner, and Historic Hill, each with its attractions. 

Some highlights include the Insectarium in the “Discovery Corner,” which is dedicated to bugs. In the “Red Rocks” zone, you’ll meet powerful predators like lions and tigers living next door to their prey, including zebras and gazelles.

9. Memphis Zoo, Tennessee


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Memphis Zoo started out small when it opened in 1906, but since then, it has grown in size and now stretches across 70 acres in Overton Park. The zoo has created habitats for animals from across the globe and now has more than 3,500 inhabitants.

One of the zoo’s highlights is the “Zambezi River Hippo Camp,” where these creatures swim and lounge around in an accurate replica of their natural habitat. But you’ll see more than hippos in this four-acre exhibit. It’s a tribute to the Zambezi River Valley in Africa, so it also houses Nile crocodiles, flamingos, okapi, mandrills, and nyalas.

10. Woodland Park Zoo, Washington


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Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is known for its commitment to wildlife conservation and education about endangered species. The zoo is spread over 92 acres, divided by bioclimatic zones. You can visit the “African Savannah” exhibit to see lions and zebras. Or walk along the Northwest Trail to view brown bears, snowy owls, and grey wolves.

When you think of penguins, you’ll probably imagine a snowy winter wonderland. So, you might be surprised that one of the zoo’s main attractions is its “Humboldt Penguins” exhibit. These cuties hail from the hot coastal regions of Peru, so Seattle’s oceanic climate is perfect for them to waddle around in.

Top Tip: Get your Woodland Park Zoo ticket here.

11. Smithsonian National Zoo, Washington D.C.


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The Smithsonian National Zoo is situated in Rock Creek Park in downtown Washington and was opened in 1889. 

Over the years, the Smithsonian’s scientists and biologists have done some seriously impressive animal research and led many successful conservation programs. Thanks to them, you can see rare African elephants, giant pandas, and the near-extinct Scimitar-horned oryx, all in one place.

If you’re looking for some cuteness, be sure to visit the “Small Mammal House” — it’s home to adorable small critters like sand cats, fennec foxes, sloths, and wallabies. This is also where the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute keeps their black-footed ferrets, which their conservationists single-handedly saved from extinction.

12. Zoo Miami, Florida


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Zoo Miami is not only the largest in Florida but also the only tropical zoo in the continental United States. 

Florida’s balmy climate is perfect for all kinds of tropical fauna and flora, which is on full display in the zoo’s “Amazon & Beyond” exhibit. A river runs through the habitat, and you’ll see various South American animals, including crocodiles, anacondas, capybaras, jaguars, and other creatures of the tropics.

You can see more than 500 other species at the zoo, and there are over 100 exhibits to explore. The Asian habitat features tigers, Indian rhinoceroses, Komodo dragons, and various primate species. You can also see African wildlife, such as lions, giraffes, elephants, and meerkats.

Top Tip: Get your Zoo Miami ticket here.

13. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Nebraska


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The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is right up there amongst the best zoos in the US. It’s home to around 1,000 different species of animals. The zoo has many habitats and exhibits, including an aquarium, a butterfly and insect pavilion, and the famous Hubbard Gorilla Valley.

The main attraction at this zoo is its glazed geodesic dome filled with accurate recreations of global deserts. So, you can walk through southern Africa’s Namib Desert, Australia’s Red Center Desert, and the American southwest’s Sonoran Desert, all in one afternoon.

14. The NEW Zoo, Wisconsin


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The NEW Zoo in Suamico is the perfect choice for a short, family-friendly outing in Wisconsin. Its name is quite interesting — the zoo has existed since 1952, but after the county stopped funding, a nonprofit called the NEW Zoological Society took over the property. 

In 2014, the zoo expanded to include an adventure park, so you can zipline over the park for a bird’s eye view.

The zoo covers 43 acres and cares for 200 animals from around the world. It might be small, but it’s big on close-up, educational animal encounters. The giraffe feeding tower lets you get face-to-face with these elegant creatures and give them a snack.

You might enjoy reading my article on best unknown vacation spots in the United States.

15. Dallas Zoo, Texas


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Dallas Zoo started with two deer and two mountain lions in 1888 and is now one of Texas’s largest and oldest zoos. It stretches across 106 acres and houses 2,000 animals from 406 different species. The zoo’s mission is to educate and inspire a passion for nature and wildlife, which it achieves with successful conservation programs.

The zoo is renowned for its Gorilla Research Center in the “Wilds of Africa” area. The center supports several African conservation organisations by providing funding and research findings to take steps against poaching and animal trafficking. Around the Gorilla Research Centre, you can also see hippos, cheetahs, vultures, crocodiles, and other animals from Africa.

Top Tip: Get your Dallas Zoo ticket included in the Dallas City Pass.

16. Brevard Zoo, Florida


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Brevard Zoo is a Floridian paradise where you can observe local and exotic species, including flamingos, alligators, Florida black bears, spider monkeys, giant otters, and more. The zoo’s conservation programs focus on protecting the local ecosystem, and they have an excellent sea turtle healing center where you can interact with these graceful creatures.

Visitors rave about “Expedition Africa,” an open-air exhibit with a stream running through it. You can kayak down the creek and see rhinos, lemurs, camels, African cattle, and antelope. If you’re not up for kayaking, you can also board their safari train, which will take you on a scenic ride around the exhibit.

17. Brookfield Zoo, Illinois


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Brookfield Zoo is more than just a zoo — it’s an informative experience that focuses on educational and interactive encounters. The animals roam free in open-air, unbarred enclosures where you can attend demonstrations and chats led by animal care specialists. 

There are many interesting exhibits to see at the zoo, including “Australia House,” “The Swamp,” and “Feathers and Scales.” At the “Habitat Africa” exhibit, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the Savannah. 

The enclosures are meticulously curated with the animals’ natural environments in mind, and you’ll see African species like lions, giraffes, antelope, and crocodiles.

18. Houston Zoo, Texas


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Houston Zoo is big, yet not so big that you can’t explore the entire place in one day. The zoo is also extremely visitor-friendly, with wide, shaded paths throughout, which you’ll definitely appreciate when the blazing Texas sun comes out.

The zoo’s aviary is a highlight — it houses one of the largest bird collections in the country, with over 200 species spread across three exhibits. You’ll see all kinds of winged creatures, from majestic bald eagles to colourful macaws and Chilean flamingos.

19. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado


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Less than seven miles from downtown Colorado Springs, on a mountainside with an elevation of 6,714 feet, lies Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. This facility is home to around 750 animals from Western America and some exotic species from Africa and Australia.

At the zoo’s “Rocky Mountain Wild” area, you can see wildlife commonly found in the area, like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, coyotes, grizzly bears, and bald eagles. You can also participate in interactive experiences, including meet and greets with opossums, sloths, barn owls, goats, and giraffes.

20. Lincoln Park Zoo, Illinois


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Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo rose to fame in the early 1900s when it was one of the first institutions to purchase animals from circuses and rehabilitate them in suitable settings.

One of the main attractions is the Helen Brach Primate House, which has eight natural habitats with murals, vines, trees, and a forest atmosphere for its residents. It’s home to various lovable primates, including pied tamarins, white-cheeked gibbons, howler monkeys, and Allen’s swamp monkeys.

Top Tip: Add the Lincoln Park Zoo ticket to your Go City Pass.

21. Roger Williams Park Zoo, Rhode Island


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Roger Williams Park Zoo is nestled within 40 acres of lush woodlands in Providence, providing a home to more than 100 animal species. Their conservationists put effort into breeding and reintroducing vulnerable local species, like New England cottontail rabbis and timber rattlesnakes, to their natural environments.

A few highlights include the “Fabric of Africa” exhibit, where you can see zebras, African elephants, Aldabra tortoises, and more. At the “Faces of the Rainforest” exhibit, you’ll find tropical animals like macaws, poisonous frog species, anacondas, and giant anteaters.

22. Fort Worth Zoo, Texas


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Texas has many great zoos, and Fort Worth Zoo is no exception. What sets it apart from the others is that it features a 14,000 square-foot water playground, “Safari Splash,” where you can cool off after exploring the zoo. We all know Texas can get mighty hot, so this may be a deciding factor when you’re planning which zoo to visit.

The zoo has four main exhibits — “African Savanna,” “Predators of Asia & Africa,” “Elephant Springs,” and “Forests & Jungles of the World.” All the exhibits are outstanding, but you simply cannot miss the black rhinos and greater one-horned rhinos in “Elephant Springs.” These species are both critically endangered, and you might not have a chance to see them in person again.

23. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio


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Besides Ohio’s remarkable castles, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is probably the most popular attraction in the state. The zoo’s property is absolutely massive. It stretches across 588 acres and features many fun attractions alongside the animals, including a theme park, golf course, summer campgrounds, and the Zoombezi Bay Water Park.

There are so many unique exhibits and encounters at the zoo that it’s difficult for me to pick a highlight. You can see alligators and tigers at “Asia Quest,” polar and brown bears at “Polar Frontier,” and manatees and sharks at “Shores and Aquarium.”

24. Denver Zoo, Colorado


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We all know that the Mile High City is a ton of fun, and Denver Zoo is one of the top attractions you definitely need to add to your itinerary.  If you’d like to see an extremely rare animal, head to the “Central Ranges” to meet some eastern bongos, a critically endangered antelope from Central Africa.

Another unmissable encounter is the “Stingray Cove Experience,” an open-air, interactive exhibit where you can get up close and personal with cownose and southern stingrays and peaceful leopard and bonnethead sharks.

25. Oakland Zoo, Florida


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Oakland Zoo is known for its leadership in animal welfare programs locally and globally. It’s home to more than 850 animals in state-of-the-art enclosures.

Two of the zoo’s most popular habitats are the “African Savanna” and the “Tropical Rainforest.” You can see zebras, elephants, giraffes, and other African animals roaming together, then stroll through the simulated, misty tropical forest. Here, you’ll see white-handed gibbons, chimpanzees, tigers, and squirrel monkeys, to name a few.

26. Minnesota Zoo, Minnesota


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Minnesota Zoo is a 500-acre woodland park that houses over 500 species of local and exotic wildlife. The zoo puts a lot of effort into protecting and conserving local species, including American bison and the endangered prairie butterfly.

I highly recommend taking the Treetop Trail if you’re up for the walk. The trail is just over a mile and takes you 32 feet up the zoo’s repurposed monorail track. Believe me when I say the views and animal sightings there are fantastic.

27. Audubon Zoo, Louisiana


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The historic city of New Orleans has been home to the Audobon Zoo since 1914 and has since become one of the city’s favourite landmarks. The zoo prides itself on its engaging educational programs and hands-on animal encounters with wildlife from around the world.

The “Louisiana Swamp” and “Jaguar Jungle” exhibits are definitely zoo highlights. As you probably guessed, the swamp habitat showcases alligators, river otters, black bears, blue crabs, and other swamp critters. In the Jaguar Jungle, you’ll see jaguars, spider monkeys, Brazilian ocelots, and other South American wildlife.

28. Zoo Atlanta, Georgia


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Zoo Atlanta has been one of Georgia’s most beloved attractions since 1889. Zoogoers praise the wide variety of local and exotic animals, representing over 220 species. What also makes the zoo appealing is that its size is manageable (40 acres), so you can easily explore everything in one afternoon.

The “Living Treehouse” is one of the zoo’s unmissable attractions. Although the exhibit is technically a lush, rainforest-inspired, free-flying aviary, it also houses endangered crowned lemurs. You’ll see many different types of birds, including blue cranes, laughing kookaburras, yellow-crested cockatoos, scarlet ibis, and more.

Top Tip: Grab your Zoo Atlanta ticket here.

29. Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium, Missouri


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Last but not least, we have the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium. It’s sprawled across 202 acres in the iconic Swope Park in downtown Kansas City. You can see over 1,700 animals representing seven continents,  all in one place. 

An absolute favourite of zoogoers is the free-roaming kangaroo habitat. Here, you can come face-to-face with a mob of red kangaroos. But don’t worry, zookeepers promise they won’t get violent. You can also have a personal encounter with primates in the chimpanzee exhibit, so if you’ve always wanted to bond with monkeys, this is the place for you.

29 Best Zoos in the United States। Wrapped Up

So, there you have it — the best zoos in the United States that you can visit without worrying about ethics or animals being mistreated. Which one would you like to see the most? 

If you’d like to explore America’s wildlife more extensively, check out my guide on the most popular national parks in the United States for your next adventure.

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