The Getaway
The Top Zoos to Visit in the United States

There are more than 2,400 zoos to visit in the U.S., each one packed with animals from near and far. Most major cities have a zoo or aquarium, making these fascinating venues a great day trip on any vacation. Zoos in the United States have the added benefit of contributing to research and conservation efforts. Many are working toward providing open-air, cageless enclosures for their animals, resulting in happier creatures in a natural environment. For frequent zoo-goers, memberships help support the care and maintenance of animals and their habitats.


01 The San Diego Zoo


The San Diego Zoo is the largest zoo in the United States, housing over 3,700 animals encompassing more than 650 species. This zoo is unique in that it led the charge of open-air, cageless enclosures for animals and is one of the only zoos in the world to successfully breed the giant panda. The newest exhibit, added in 2017, is called Africa Rocks and cost over $60 million to construct.

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02 Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Close up of a Grand Cayman (a.k.a. Blue, Cyclura lewisi) iguana resting on a rock at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology in Washington D.C. has led the way in mitigating animal extinction for over 100 years. Learn about the zoo's past in discovering diseases that threaten elephants in the Elephant Community Center or check out how scientists at the zoo work to safely and healthily breed cheetahs. Children will get a kick out of the Kid's Farm exhibit, home to a variety of farm animals just waiting to be fed tasty treats!


03 The Indianapolis Zoo


The Indianapolis Zoo wins the award for most creative activities! Not only can you view over 1,400 animals and 31,000 plants, but you can swim with dolphins, attend zoo camp, and obtain a personalized animal portrait from a zoos artist. Make sure you don't miss the new long-tailed macaques who love swimming in the water in the hot summer months.

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04 The Bronx Zoo

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It's hard to imagine a flourishing zoo filled with lush plants and vivacious animals in the middle of a metropolis like New York City, but the Bronx Zoo offers one of the neatest zoo experiences in the country. The Bronx Zoo is notable for its amazing attention to detail in creating natural habitats that make the animals happy year-round. Add a little adventure to your trip to the zoo: sail on a zipline at the new aerial adventure park.


05 Oakland Zoo

Eating at the Oakland Zoo ColletteDJohnson / Getty Images

The Oakland Zoo is known and loved around the world for its unparalleled native and exotic animal care, as managed by the Conservation Society of California. Here, you can traverse trails filled with wildlife from different parts of the world, including Africa, Australia, and The United States. You can also get your very own glimpse at conservation efforts in the zoo's 17,000 square foot veterinary museum.


06 The Alaska Zoo


Alaska has some of the most unique wildlife in the U.S., so it is no surprise that it has an impressive zoo to match. Because of the cold climate, the Alaska Zoo can house animals the southern states can't accommodate. At the Alaska Zoo, you will find snow leopards, Canadian lynx, and reindeer. One of the most beloved elements of this zoo is its efforts to rescue and care for injured and abandoned polar bear cubs.

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07 Fort Worth Zoo

Roseate Spoonbills are found mostly in Florida and coastal Texas. tmarvin / Getty Images

The Fort Worth Zoo in Texas is not only home to 7,000 exotic animals but also to many animal-focused events and activities. Highlights include Homework Help, Animal Outreach, and Parents Night Out, where kids have the evening to explore the park while parents get a night to themselves. You can also book yourself a VIP experience at the zoo with the opportunity to have a personal look at some of the zoo's most popular animals.


08 Woodland Park Zoo


Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, is a zoological garden that works hard to recreate the natural habitats of its more than 1,000 animals. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has honored Woodland Park Zoo with multiple awards for Best National Exhibit. Visitors enjoy watching Aibeck grow up. This snow leopard cub was born at the zoo in the summer of 2017.

JeannetteKatzir / Getty Images


09 St. Louis Zoo


The Saint Louis Zoological Park is recognized as a leading zoo in animal management, research, conservation, and education. Thanks to a public subsidy from a cultural tax district, entrance to the zoo is completely free. The biggest attraction at the St. Louis zoo is Kali, an 850-pound polar bear who lives in a brand new $16 million enclosure. The Africa exhibit is also a can't-miss spot.

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10 The Houston Zoo


The Houston Zoo is the second most visited zoo in the United States, with over 2.5 million visitors every year. Even if you can't make it to Texas, you can check in with the animals via the zoo's Rhino, Elephant Yard, and Leafcutter Ant online cams. The zoo is home to one of the largest collections of birds in the United States and you can even spend the night at a zoo sleepover.

geocwl / Getty Images


11 Busch Gardens Tampa

Closeup of a hippopotamus underwater as it swims at Busch Gardens Tampa Photo by Anthony Kind on Unsplash

Florida is already home to an abundance of wildlife, but none can match those found at the zoo in Busch Gardens Tampa. Given the Humane Certified animal welfare seal from American Humane, Busch Gardens Tampa provides protected areas for endangered species like Asian elephants. The Serengeti Plain is a can't-miss experience for any visitor here, where you can see animals up-close on an open-air touring vehicle.


12 The Columbus Zoo


Famous animal researcher and late-night TV guest Jack Hanna is the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo. Hanna's efforts and promotion have made this one of the top zoos in the United States. A unique aspect of the zoo is its 100,000-gallon coral reef tank teeming with bright tropical fish. Also, be sure to check out the Congo exhibit.


13 The Cincinnati Zoo


The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is the second oldest zoo in the United States, with a Reptile House dating back to 1875. Although the zoo has been in headlines in recent years for the unfortunate death of its gorilla Harambe, it works hard to save species by breeding animals in a safe and healthy environment. One of guests' favorite activities is getting to know Moe, the adorable two-toed sloth.



14 Henry Doorly Zoo


The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is located in Omaha, Nebraska, and is known for its glazed geodesic dome. Inside the dome, find an homage to the American Southwest, including dunes, desert, reptiles, and bobcats. Go one level lower to the dark, nocturnal exhibit where you can see naked mole rats and bats.

studebkr / Getty Images


15 Audubon Zoo New Orleans

Gone Fishing TerryJ / Getty Images

There are 58 acres of fun to be had at Audubon Zoo New Orleans, part of the Audubon Nature Institute. The wildlife at Audubon Zoo New Orleans is diverse, with animals ranging from white alligators to thorny devil stick insects. You can catch a number of daily animal presentations here, as well as plenty of animal feeds to the big cats like tigers and leopards.


16 Alaska SeaLife Center

Animals in the Sealife Center Jacob Boomsma /

Zoos are not just about displaying animals; they are pivotal in conserving them. The Alaska SeaLife Center, nestled in the picturesque town of Seward, Alaska, stands as a beacon of hope for marine wildlife. This facility combines public education with cutting-edge rehabilitation for marine mammals and birds, providing visitors with a unique glimpse into the efforts required to protect Alaska's diverse marine ecosystem. By supporting the Alaska SeaLife Center, guests contribute directly to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of stranded or injured marine life, making every visit impactful.


17 Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

Giant panda eating food (some fruit) in the middle of green meadow in Smithsonian's National Zoo sit side of the picture. Close up front view. MrNikolay /

The Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., offers an unparalleled learning experience. Free admission opens the door to a world where visitors can dive deep into the life sciences through interactive exhibits and engaging talks. The zoo’s behind-the-scenes tours are a testament to their commitment to education, offering insights into the daily care of animals and the ongoing conservation research that spans the globe. It’s an educational haven for curious minds of all ages, fostering a deeper understanding and respect for the natural world.


18 Brevard Zoo

A colorful king vulture in the Brevard zoo in Florida

Adventure awaits at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, where visitors can kayak past giraffes or zip-line through lush habitats. This zoo redefines the traditional zoo experience, inviting guests to embark on a journey through Expedition Africa by kayak or to soar above South America's rainforest canopy. These unique encounters are designed not only for thrill-seekers but for anyone looking to connect with wildlife in a more dynamic and exhilarating way.


19 Saint Louis Zoo

Polar Bear at St. Louis, USA.

The Saint Louis Zoo is at the forefront of reintroducing nearly extinct species back into their natural habitats. Their concerted efforts in breeding and releasing species like the hellbender salamander into the wild demonstrate the zoo's crucial role in conservation and biodiversity preservation. Visitors are often awed by the stories of survival and resilience, making the Saint Louis Zoo a place of hope and inspiration for the conservation of endangered species worldwide.


20 Oakland Zoo

California condor sitting in a tree and looking directly at the camera, zoo in Oakland

Oakland Zoo leads the way in employing innovative animal care technologies. The introduction of the "protected contact" method revolutionized the way zookeepers interact with elephants, emphasizing respect and safety for both animals and humans. This approach has set a new standard in zoo animal management, reflecting a shift towards more ethical and compassionate care practices. The zoo's commitment to animal welfare is evident in its spacious and naturalistic habitats, which aim to replicate the animals' environments in the wild as closely as possible.


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