The 15 Best Zoos in the U.S. (2023)

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The 15 Best Zoos in the U.S. (1)

By Lindsay Cohn

Published Jul 13, 2021

Pretty much every big city in America has a zoo—there’s probably an awesome animal sanctuary within driving distance of where you live—but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re all comparable. Some seem to sprawl forever and have critters from all four corners of the globe, while others are smaller and more specialized. Zoos, like amusement parks, stand out as one of those great family-friendly attractions that aren’t just for kids. Who doesn’t love seeing a majestic tiger in the flesh or getting up close and personal with a giant anaconda from the safety of a plexiglass enclosure in the serpent house? Ready to take a walk on the wild side? (That’s far from the last animal pun in this piece.) Scroll on for the 15 best zoos in the U.S. to get your fix of furry, scaly and spiky creatures.

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1. San Diego Zoo (san Diego, California)

It would be criminal to put together a roundup of the best zoos and not feature the famous and widely popular San Diego Zoo. Founded in 1916 and located in Balboa Park, this world-leading institution protects and cares for more than 650 different species from across the globe—including the Amur leopard, the most critically endangered big cat on the planet. The massive 100-acre San Diego Zoo is split up into eight different geographic areas, so it really feels like you’re traversing the globe on each visit.

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2. Lincoln Park Zoo (chicago, Illinois)

One of the oldest and best zoos in the country, the free-to-the-public Lincoln Park Zoo dates all the way back to 1866. More than 200 species of animals—among them the vulnerable Asian small-clawed otter, endangered African penguin and the Guam Kingfisher, which is actually extinct in the wild—call this 35-acre Chicago icon home. Don’t leave without visiting the Helen Brach Primate House, where cute black-and-white colobus monkeys and Francois' langurs swing from hanging vines. Farm-in-the-Zoo as well as Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove are other popular exhibits.

3. St. Louis Zoo (st. Louis, Missouri)

Each year, more than 2.5 million people flock to the Saint Louis Zoo to see 12,000 animals representing over 500 species in a picturesque setting within Forest Park. We dig all six zones, but if you’re in a time crunch, definitely prioritize Judy and Jerry Kent Family Sea Lion Sound, an award-winning exhibit that boasts North America’s first walk-through underwater tunnel in a sea lion habitat. Did we mention admission to the St. Louis Zoo is free of charge?

4. Columbus Zoo And Aquarium (columbus, Ohio)

Covering a whopping 580 acres and with 10,000 animals, the non-profit Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where Jack Hannah serves as Director Emeritus, ranks among the top spots to admire amazing wildlife in the country. It’s divided into seven distinct sections—all of which are worth visiting. Go on the prowl for lions, zebras, gazelles and giraffes in Heart of Africa. Head to Asia Quest to peep pythons, elephants, red pandas and critically endangered rhinos. Kiddos will especially love the pony rides and train voyage around the North American part of the park.

5. Bronx Zoo (new York City)

The “concrete jungle” is home to a real-life jungle—plus African plains, gorilla forests, Himalayan highlands and butterfly gardens—full of incredible creatures. Yep, we’re talking about the Bronx Zoo. At 265 acres, it’s the largest metropolitan zoo in the country. So, yeah, there’s a lot of ground to cover and stuff to explore. Seek out cheetahs, crocodiles, porcupines, lemurs and sloths or listen to a zookeeper chat. And what kid wouldn't jump at the chance to sit atop a giant grasshopper on the Bug Carousel?

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6. Smithsonian National Zoological Park (washington, D.c.)

Not only is the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington D.C. one of the oldest and most beloved zoos in the country, but it provides free entry to the public (and, no, gratis admission doesn’t factor into why people dig this place so much). There are 2,700 animals across more than 390 species, so whatever animal you’re most obsessed with almost certainly lives at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Join fellow wildlife lovers in spying everything from zebras and leopards to critically endangered Chinese three-striped box turtles.

7. Brookfield Zoo (brookfield, Illinois)

Located in the Chicago suburbs, the 216-acre Brookfield Zoo is a wildly popular attraction that appeals to kids, parents and pretty much anyone who likes animals. On the agenda? Say hi to snapping turtles, alligators and river otters at The Swamp, then head to Desert’s Edge to glimpse meerkats and naked mole rats. And don’t forget to swing by the Great Bear Wilderness. One of the most epic activities at Brookfield Zoos? Feeding giraffes leafy greens out of the palm of your hand.

8. Como Park Zoo & Conservatory (saint Paul, Minnesota)

There’s an almost dizzying amount of stuff to do at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, which is managed by Saint Paul Parks & Recreation, free to enter (it’s a suggested donation situation) and open 365 days a year. On any given outing, you might see Arctic foxes, bison, cougars, Galapagos tortoises, giraffes, gorillas, orangutans, penguins and more. Don't forget to check out the gorgeous water garden, amusement park with rides galore and the pollinators exhibit inside a 2,500-square-foot greenhouse.

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9. Denver Zoo (denver, Colorado)

Always leading the pack in innovation, the Denver Zoo—which began with the gift of a black bear cub back to the mayor in 1918—was a pioneer in the introduction of naturalistic habitats to improve quality of life for critters big and small. It seems to be working, because all 3,500 inhabitants of this Mile High City institution seem pretty darn happy. BTW we hear that the newly opened sloth exhibit and animal hospital are not to be missed.

10. Houston Zoo (houston, Texas)

The Houston Zoo welcomes two million people each year, making it the second most visited zoological park in the country. What's cool is that ticket sales help fund 49 wildlife conservation projects around the world. Another way to support animals in need? Up-close encounters, like cooing over giant river otters from a birds-eye-view platform, tossing treats to native alligators, snapping selfies alongside slow-moving sloths and interacting with cuddly goats.

11. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (cincinnati, Ohio)

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! That’s not all you’ll find at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. In fact, this Ohio landmark protects a wide range of creatures—aardvarks, black rhinos, cheetahs, flamingos, lemurs, otters and snow leopards to name a few. On the top of the must-do list? It’s a tie between saying what’s up to the famous hippo named Fiona and beelining to the Gorilla World. If you have time (and a little extra spending money), definitely sign up for the Kangaroo Walkabout.

12. Pittsburgh Zoo & Ppg Aquarium (pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Situated in Pennsylvania's Highland Park, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium cares for 4,000 mammals, amphibians, fish, reptiles and birds, including many endangered and threatened species. With 77 acres to explore, you certainly won’t have any trouble filling a day. If you’re wondering what to prioritize, the underwater polar bear and sea lion exhibits are both fan favorites. It would be impossible to oversell the majesty of African lions. Did you know the king of the jungle is the only cat known to live in prides?

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13. Philadelphia Zoo (philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Amur leopards, gorillas, lions and Caribbean flamingos aren’t native to the City of Brotherly Love, but they do all live in specially designed habitats at the Philadelphia Zoo. This historic zoological park has 1,500 animals from all seven continents. So yes, there’s a lot to see and do. Wondering how to divide your time? Hit Big Cat Falls, followed by Bear Country and Bird Valley. Perhaps the coolest and most groundbreaking feature is Zoo360, which allows critters to roam around the park in a network of elevated mesh trails.

14. Dallas Zoo (dallas, Texas)

Spread across 106 acres, the Dallas Zoo proves yet again that everything is indeed bigger in the Lone Star State. This Texas-size zoological park offers a wildly impressive variety of exhibits and activities. Dollars to donuts (or, in this case, wild dogs), you can’t beat the unforgettable experience of a 90-minute backstage safari guided by a zoologist who will give you a behind-the-scenes look at how to care for animals. Did we mention that 100 percent of proceeds go towards the zoo’s conservation efforts?

15. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo And Aquarium (omaha, Nebraska)

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium promises to delight kids, adults and everyone in between. More than just a place to gawk at tigers, red pandas, Indian rhinos, porpoises and more, this world-class sanctuary is dedicated to conservation, research and education. So you can feel good that your fun-filled outing helped fund such worthwhile causes as the advancement of animal reproductive sciences and medicine.

FAQs

What is the #1 zoo in the USA? ›

1. San Diego Zoo | San Diego, CA. Renowned across the country, San Diego's zoo, founded in 1916, is home to over 12,000 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. Among them are red pandas; African elephants; and bonobo apes.

What is the# 1 zoo in 2022? ›

1. Audubon Zoo. The Audubon Nature Institute founded a zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1914. Since then, it has amassed over 2,000 animals and has multiple exhibits.

What are the top 5 zoos in USA? ›

14 of the Best Zoos in the U.S.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park — Bay Lake, Florida.
  • San Diego Zoo — San Diego, California.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo — Chicago, Illinois.
  • Saint Louis Zoo — St. ...
  • Houston Zoo — Houston, Texas.
  • Brookfield Zoo — Brookfield, Illinois.
  • Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium — Omaha, Nebraska.
8 Apr 2022

What is the oldest zoo in the US? ›

Philadelphia Zoo, America's first zoo, is renowned for innovation in animal care and unwavering commitment to wildlife. A zoo of firsts, Philadelphia Zoo has been a leader since opening its historic gates on July 1, 1874.

What is America's biggest zoo? ›

The largest zoo in the United States is Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, measuring 406.30 acres for the zoo alone and 580 acres in total. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has more than 7,000 animals and over 800 species of animals living within its borders.

What is the most visited zoo? ›

San Diego Zoo, San Diego, USA

One of the best zoos in the US and possibly the world's best zoo, or at least the most famous, is the San Diego Zoo in California. Since opening in 1916 in Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo has grown to become the most visited zoo in the country and a main attraction of the city.

What is the 2 biggest zoo in the world? ›

A non-profit zoo located just north of Columbus, Ohio the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is the second largest zoological park in the world. Built-in 1905, with a total surface area of 2340000 square meters the zoo is home to over 900 animals representing over 793 species divided into geographic regions of the world.

Where is the biggest zoo in USA? ›

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is located in Liberty Township, Ohio, which is north of Columbus. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is known as the largest zoo in the United States for good reason: it covers a massive area of 582 acres.

Who has the best zoo in the US? ›

1. San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Safari Park, San Diego, California. Without a doubt, San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Safari Park is one of the best zoos anywhere in the world. My kids loved seeing the Giant Panda and gorilla exhibits, two highlights of the zoo.

What is the #3 zoo in the US? ›

3: Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, Illinois

The zoo has over 2,000 animals who live on over 200 acres of land. Exhibits at the zoo include big cats, African animals, and an indoor sea animal house.

Where is the smallest zoo in the United States? ›

The Charles Paddock Zoo is a small 5-acre (2.0 ha) community zoo located in San Luis Obispo County, California, in the City of Atascadero, California. It is the only zoo in the Central Coast area of that U.S. state.
...
Charles Paddock Zoo.
Charles Paddock Zoo logo
Meerkats at the zoo
MembershipsAZA
Websitewww.charlespaddockzoo.org
7 more rows

Which is the oldest zoo? ›

The Vienna zoo, however, is the one that endured—today, it's the world's oldest.

Where is the oldest zoo? ›

Tiergarten Schönbrunn – Schönbrunn Zoo – was established by the Habsburgs in the park of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna's 13th district of Hietzing in 1752 and is today the world's oldest zoo that is still in operation.

Where is the smallest zoo in the world? ›

The world's smallest zoo according to Tripadviser is probably Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, California. It is 5 acres.

What is the greenest zoo in America? ›

“Even though it is the second oldest zoo in the country, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is also the greenest – proving that old infrastructure, strong commitment, and practical innovation can lead a Zoo, or any institution, to a green, efficient, and sustainable operation,” says Sophia Cifuentes Sustainability ...

Who made the 1st zoo? ›

The first real zoo was established by Queen Hatshepsut in 1500 B.C. in Egypt by collecting animals from all over Africa. Later, Emperor Wen Wang of China built a zoo to show his wealth and power. Spread over 1,500 acres, it had animals from all over his empire and was named the Garden of Intelligence.

Which zoo has the most animals? ›

Berlin Zoological Garden[SEE MAP]

It covers 84 acres (34 ha) and is located in Berlin's Tiergarten. With more than 1,500 different species and around 17,000 animals the zoo presents the largest collection of species in the world.

Which president owned a zoo? ›

Calvin Coolidge (30th President, 1923-1929) had a small zoo at the White House, which included a bear cub, two lion cubs, a wallaby, an antelope, pekin ducks, and Billy the pygmy hippopotamus. He also received a raccoon as a gift to be served as part of Thanksgiving dinner.

When was the last human in a zoo? ›

The last was in Belgium in 1958. The organisers of Inventing the Savage claim that these "human zoos" were seen by 1.4 billion people overall - and that they therefore played an important, and so far unacknowledged, part in the development of modern racism.

What is the #2 zoo in the US? ›

2. San Diego Zoo (San Diego, California)

What is the #1 Aquarium in the US? ›

Georgia Aquarium | Atlanta, GA

Not only a top aquarium in the USA, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is also the largest in the country at an astounding 10 million gallons.

How many zoos are in the USA? ›

There are 368 Zoos & Aquariums businesses in the US as of 2022, an increase of 3.6% from 2021.

What is the largest free zoo in America? ›

1. Cape May County Park & Zoo, Cape May Court House, New Jersey. Located on a finger of New Jersey that points across the bay at Delaware, the Cape May County Zoo spreads across 200 acres within the Cape May County Park.

What is the best zoo in the US in 2022? ›

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden was just named the best zoo in the U.S. The Queen City's zoo earned the No. 1 spot in the Best Zoo category of USA Today's 2022 10Best Readers' Choice poll, according to our news partners at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

What is the rarest animal in a zoo? ›

The Javan rhino is the rarest large mammal on the planet, and none are in captivity, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They're a shy species used to living in dense tropical forests, which are tough to replicate in captivity, Mizejewski says.

Which is the oldest zoo that can still be visited 1 point? ›

The oldest continuously operating zoo in the world – still open in the same place – is the Schönbrunn Zoo, which was built in Vienna in 1752. The zoo is famous for being the first to use many design innovations, such as keeping animals in naturalistic settings and putting several species together in one enclosure.

Which zoo has the most giraffes? ›

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Why is San Diego Zoo so famous? ›

The zoo is renowned for its endangered species breeding programs and conservation efforts; the department of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species conducts research with such animals as pandas, tree kangaroos, clouded leopards, gavials, meerkats, and Tasmanian devils.

Which country is famous for zoo? ›

South Africa is known for its rich wildlife and this is a world famous zoo located here. Located in a natural habitat, with a land area of about 210 acres in Pretoria, South Africa, this place is the national zoo of South Africa. Its uniqueness lie in the planning involved in the structure of the zoo.

What zoo in US has elephants? ›

The Indianapolis Zoo is well-known throughout the world for its cutting-edge elephant reproduction research. The first and second African elephants in the world to be conceived and successfully born through artificial insemination were at the Zoo.

What is the second oldest zoo in the United States? ›

The Zoological Society of Cincinnati was founded in 1873 and officially opened its doors in 1875, making the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden the second oldest Zoo in the United States.

Which zoo in USA has panda? ›

The National Zoo is one of three zoos in the United States that have pandas; the others are Zoo Atlanta and the Memphis Zoo.

Where is the biggest zoo? ›

The NC Zoo is nestled on 2,600 wooded acres centrally located in the heart of North Carolina, just south of Asheboro in Randolph County. With 500 developed acres, it is the world's largest natural habitat zoo.

Why zoos are prisons? ›

"Zoos are prisons for animals, camouflaging their cruelty with conservation claims," Mimi Bekhechi, director of international programmes at PETA, explains. "Animals in zoos suffer tremendously, both physically and mentally. They often display neurotic behaviour, like repetitive pacing, swaying, and bar biting.

What 3 zoos have pandas? ›

The National Zoo is one of three zoos in the United States that have pandas; the others are Zoo Atlanta and the Memphis Zoo.

What are the two largest zoos in the United States? ›

Biggest Zoos in The US
  • Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Located in Ohio, the United States of America Columbus zoo and aquarium near Powell has some of the best exhibits. ...
  • San Diego Zoo. ...
  • Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. ...
  • Bronx Zoo. ...
  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park. ...
  • Dallas Zoo. ...
  • Denver Zoo. ...
  • Saint Louis Zoo.
13 Sept 2022

What is a mini zoo called? ›

A petting zoo (also called a children's zoo, children's farm, or petting farm) features a combination of domesticated animals and some wild species that are docile enough to touch and feed. In addition to independent petting zoos, many general zoos contain a petting zoo.

Who has the best zoo in America? ›

San Diego Zoo is considered to be the top zoo in North America because it is one of the few zoos in the world that housed and bred giant pandas.

What is the #1 aquarium in the US? ›

Georgia Aquarium | Atlanta, GA

Not only a top aquarium in the USA, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is also the largest in the country at an astounding 10 million gallons.

What is the biggest zoo in the world 2022? ›

Zoologischer Garten, Berlin, Germany

But Berlin Zoo isn't just a heritage site, it's also the world's biggest zoo when measured by number of animals. There are a whopping 20,200 animals across 1,380 different species here at this city zoo, which also makes it a key player in many different breeding programs.

What is the 2 largest aquarium in the world? ›

Kuroshio Sea is the main tank at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

What aquarium has the most sharks? ›

The Oklahoma Aquarium is home to the world's largest collection of bull sharks. Ten of the “most dangerous sharks known to man” inhabit a 380,000-gallon saltwater tank and tunnel, along with three nurse sharks.

Where is the largest zoo? ›

Summary of the Largest Zoo in the World
RankZoo NameLocation
1The Wilds Safari ParkCumberland, Ohio
2Sri Venkateswara Zoological ParkIndia
3North Carolina ZooAsheboro, North Carolina
4San Diego Zoo SafariSan Diego, California
6 more rows
31 Oct 2022

What is the longest running zoo? ›

Tiergarten Schönbrunn – Schönbrunn Zoo – was established by the Habsburgs in the park of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna's 13th district of Hietzing in 1752 and is today the world's oldest zoo that is still in operation.

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