What are the best zoos in the US in 2024
The best zoos in the U.S. include the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, San Diego Zoo, Bronx Zoo, Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Cincinnati Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Denver Zoo, Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Zoo Miami, National Zoo in Washington D.C., Philadelphia Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs.
These top-rated zoos offer a diverse range of animals, immersive exhibits, and botanical gardens, providing both educational and fun experiences for visitors of all ages.
The 14 Best Zoos in America
The best zoos in the U.S. have something to offer for every visitor — interesting and rare wildlife, lush gardens with native and exotic plants, state of the art facilities, and captivating exhibits and activities that give you a peek into the natural world.
Whether you’re visiting a small zoo with a special collection of exotic wildlife or one featuring animals from around the world on a sprawling campus, one thing is certain: You’re about to be drawn into the riveting world of flora, fauna, and species that you might never get to see without traveling the world.
Grab your crew and head on “safari” by making your way to one of the best zoos in the nation!
1. Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, NE
It might surprise you that Omaha is hiding one of the best zoos not just in America, but in the world at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Sprawling over 130 acres with 17,000 animals, thrilling rides, a world-class aquarium, and the world’s biggest indoor deserts and rainforests, this is easily one of the best.
Henry Doorly Zoo is home to cool biome exhibits, like the Desert Dome (the biggest indoor desert inside an amazing dome), and the world’s largest indoor rainforest, Lied Jungle, where monkeys and pygmy hippos play among the leaves and real waterfalls.
You’ll be enveloped in exhibits taking you on safari through African grasslands, Asian highlands, and indoor swamps, teeming with creatures that lurk under Spanish moss and around the submerged trunks of Cypress trees.
The Suzanna and Walter Scott Aquarium, cool trails through sensory gardens, a tram and train to shuttle you around the property, an amazing Skyfari to see it all from above, and hands-on encounters, this zoo is a winner in every aspect.
- Adult admission: $19-$30
- Child admission: $13-$23
- Senior admission: $18-$29
2. San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA
As the most-visited zoo in the United States, the San Diego Zoo has earned its top-tier status with one of the nation’s biggest collections of endangered and rare wildlife from biomes around the globe.
Sitting in sunny Balboa Park, this 100-acre zoo and botanic garden will whisk you into the wild. There are over 4,000 animals here, from the giraffes and cheetahs in the Urban Jungle exhibit to reindeer, polar bears, and lynxes in the Polar Bear Plunge.
You’ll be able to marvel at Australia’s koalas gnawing eucalyptus tree leaves and spot giant anteaters and zebras in the Northwest Passage.
Tour biomes like the Desert Dunes, Marsh Meadows, Rainforest, and Wild Woods with interactive exhibits that put you closer to wildlife. Don’t miss the Reptile Walk and Komodo Kingdom!
Hippos play in the Lost Forest, and the grassy Elephant Odyssey is home to a herd of African elephants, lions, and two-toed sloths. You can take a guided bus tour to see it all, hop on the Kangaroo Bus or Miniature Train, or take a Skyfari gondola life.
- Adult admission: $69-$76 ($2 off on Value Days)
- Child admission: $59-$66 ($2 off on Value Days)
- Senior admission: Same as adults, free in February
Bronx Zoo, New York City, NY
The biggest urban zoo in the U.S. and one of the most extensive, the Bronx Zoo sits on 265 acres near Yankee Stadium and the Bronx River.
With 4,000+ animals and over 2,000,000 visitors each year, this is a favorite destination to get a glimpse of the wild and wondrous right in NYC. Jungleworld, an indoor Asian jungle, and slinky big cats on Tiger Mountain and lions on the African Plains are star exhibits.
The glass-enclosed Congo Gorilla Mountain is fascinating with western lowland gorillas. Madagascar! is a favorite for kids, and the Wild Asia monorail zips you past animals like red pandas, elephants, and rhinos.
Spy bison lumbering across the Western Plains and enter the hair-raising World of Reptiles for crocodiles, anacondas, poison dart frogs, and giant river turtles.
Nature trails, carousels, feeding penguins and sea lions, animal encounters, cafes, and a treetop zip lining adventure make trips to the Bronx Zoo nonstop fun. There’s a Zoo Shuttle from April to October to truck you from Wild Asia and Tiger Mountain to Zoo Park.
Tickets to the Bronx Zoo are $40 for adults and $30 for children. On Wednesdays, however, there are limited amounts of free tickets available (plan ahead if you want to take advantage of this).
- Adult admission: $28+
- Child admission: $20+
- Senior admission: $26+
- Special rates: $9.95 Wednesdays; Limited Admission free
4. Brookfield Zoo, Chicago, IL
Just outside of Chicago proper is an exhilarating journey into the wildest spaces of the world. Over 3,400 animals reside here in exhibits ranging from colorful species of the tropics and dolphin habitats to fascinating animals found Down Under and African safari wildlife.
Venture to the Arctic and South Pole to see polar bears and Humboldt penguins while majestic macaws and sea turtles will transport you to the tropics. Spot African lions and giraffes in the grassy savanna, while leopards and two-toed sloths will delight you in the Clouded Leopard Rain Forest.
There are 16 cool exhibits in total with extras like the Hamill Family Play Zoo and Wild Encounters for your little ones, Seven Seas Underwater Viewing and Dolphins in Action exhibits, and immersive encounters like feeding giraffes, penguins, and sharks.
This is a 216-acre zoo with an endless array of exhibits and activities for the whole family, so you may not be able to see it all in a single day. Still, prioritizing your favorite animals and planning an itinerary for your trip can make it possible!
- Adult admission: $30+
- Child admission: $21+
- Senior admission: $25+
- Special rates: Free on Mon, Tue. (Dec. 4-19); free on Sat., Sun, Tue., Thur. (Jan. 2-Feb. 28)
5. Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati, OH
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanic Garden is a hideaway of wildlife and adventure in Ohio’s capital, home to 400+ animal species and a stunning array of exotic plants and flowers. This zoo is famous for its growing collection of endangered and rare animals that are a real treat to see and encounter!
You’ll take a trip around the world while you’re here, from Africa’s plains featuring fearsome lions, cheetahs, hippos, and giraffes to Gorilla World and Jungle Trails with monkeys, adorable bushbabies, and colorful macaws. Manatee Springs gets you up-close and personal with the “mermaids” of the bay.
An immersive Discovery Forest leads you to encounters with two-toed sloths in the Latin American rainforest, while Roo Valley and Rhino Reserve captivate you with species you’d never see in the U.S.
Book amazing wildlife encounters with cheetahs, barnyard animals, and colorful birds, take the Safari Train, ride the carousel, or wander the exhibits and learn about the wildlife of the world in an impactful way. Save up to 40% by booking tickets online.
- Adult admission: $8-$26
- Child admission: $5-$20
- Senior admission: $5-$20
6. Columbus Zoo, Columbus, OH
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a little roomier than the Cincy Zoo, offering an even wider array of land and marine animals to see and encounter on its 580-acre park. Over 10,000 animals are here in dozens of themed exhibits that add a layer of adventure to your trip!
From Asia Quest to Congo Expedition, you’ll find every biome around the world represented at the Columbus Zoo with crowd favorites like western lowland gorillas, polar bears and brown bears, tigers, elephants, seals, and sea lions.
With thrilling glimpses of big cats and safari animals, you’ll feel like you’re on a true expedition at the zoo. You can tack on a train or boat ride to make your way across the sprawling property, seeing as many exhibits as you can squeeze into the day!
The Shores & Aquarium lets you watch manatees, zebra sharks, penguins, alligators, and tortoises play in the water with the Discovery Reef Aquarium offering a stunning show of colorful fish. The Reptile Room nearby houses slithery guys like pythons, cobras, and hognose snakes.
- Adult admission: $30+
- Child admission: $26+
- Senior admission: $28+
7. Dallas Zoo, Dallas, TX
Spanning 106 acres just south of downtown Dallas in Marsalis Park, the Dallas Zoo offers an exotic peek at the species around the globe, from wild African grasslands to the dense rainforests of Asia. It packs a lot into its smaller size with 4 major exhibit groups.
Wander shaded boardwalks, tunnels, and wooded paths through the Wilds of Africa, Giants of the Savanna, Zoo North, and the Children’s Zoo to explore Dallas Zoo and a menagerie of animals.
You’ll meet big cats like tigers, clouded leopards, and African lions, spot a herd of elephants around their watering hole, visit the Gorilla Research Station, and head to the Hippo Outpost in the Wilds of Africa.
Slither over to the Herpetarium to see dangerous snakes, catch sight of the Nile crocodile lurking in the water, frolic with flamingos, and see amazing reticulated giraffes and striped zebra on your way through the park.
Feed the giraffes, head into the interactive aviary with colorful birds, chat with zookeepers, or head to the amphitheater for wildlife encounters with porcupines, snakes, parrots, and more!
- Adult admission: $18+
- Child admission: $15+
- Senior admission: $15+
8. Denver Zoo, Denver, CO
Sitting on an 84-acre park in Denver, the Denver Zoo houses 3,000+ animals in cool exhibits that focus on creating natural habitats and conserving endangered and rare species from all over the world. These exotic wild ones are even more thrilling to see in the Mile High City!
There are a range of encounters and exhibits to make your way through at the Denver Zoo, like the Toyota Elephant Passage where Asian elephants, rhinos, and tapirs (resembling a pig/elephant) all play, drink, and meander through their jungly habitat.
Head to the Benson Predator Ridge, where laughing hyenas run alongside prides of African lions just like a Disney movie.
Chill out at the Flamingo Habitat to catch the birds standing on one leg, see penguins dive and play at Penguin Point, and check out Tropical Discovery to see anacondas, sloths, and Komodo dragons roam.
There are virtual experiences with gorillas, up-close encounters with marine life at Stingray Cove, and a 4D theater for a truly immersive experience with wildlife you won’t get anywhere else.
This ethical zoo focuses on animal freedom and providing a natural environment, so visits are best scheduled in the morning when most animals are roaming their enclosures and easily visible.
- Adult admission: $16+
- Child admission: $11+
- Senior admission: $14+
- Special rates: Denver Zoo Free Days (Jan. 5 & 21, Feb. 11, Apr. 7, Nov. 1, 9, & 17)
9. Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, LA
The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is one of 10 Audubon Nature Institute venues with big, immersive habitats that mimic animals’ natural environments with 2,000 unique, must-see animals from big cats and elephants to swamp wildlife and gorillas.
Learn about New Orleans and the surrounding swamp areas with the Louisiana Swamp exhibit (complete with white alligators), get lost in the Mayan-themed Jaguar Jungle with spider monkeys, ocelots, macaws, and sneaky jaguars, and climb the Monkey Hill treehouse for some fun with slides, pools, and animal fountains.
You’ll marvel at Wings of the World with 60+ bird species free-flying around the aviary with huge exhibits showcasing wildlife in amazing Louisiana swamp, rainforest, jungle, and grassland habitats.
Feed giraffes, see monkeys, and meet African lions in the African Savanna exhibit, see Asian elephants, friendly orangutans, sun bears, and tigers in the Asia exhibit, and see a western lowland gorilla troop in the World of Primates.
An insectarium and aquarium are attached to the zoo and fun to make a full day or two of adventuring when you tack either (or both!) onto your zoo visit.
- Adult admission: $30-$35
- Child admission: $25-$30
- Senior admission: $25-$30
10. Zoo Miami, Miami, FL
On South Florida’s subtropical coast, adventure awaits at Zoo Miami with 2,500 animals living in exhibits spaced out over an impressive 750 acres of exhibits, gardens, and 4 miles of shaded boardwalk paths.
There are over 500 species living in the sunshine here. Get to know Florida’s wildlife at Florida: Mission Everglades, where 60 species like Florida panthers, black bears, bald eagles, crocodiles and gators, and white ibis frolic in their marshy habitats. There’s even a riverboat ride to take through the exhibit!
The Wings of Asia aviary lets you enter the wing-flapping, chirping world of birds from the Asian continent as 400 birds lift in flight overhead with the sound of trickling waterfalls as you wander tree-lined pathways.
Your favorite exhibit might be the 27-acre Amazon and Beyond, with 600+ animals hanging out in cloud forest, rainforest, and Atlantic forest habitats. See jaguars, anacondas, otters, and exotic fish swimming the Flooded Forest exhibit.
You can wander the beautiful botanic gardens at the zoo, where you’ll see otherworldly plants and blooming flowers in every color in different sections of the garden (like Asia, butterfly garden, stinky corpse flowers, and native plant section).
- Adult admission: $23+
- Child admission: $19+
- Senior admission: 25% off regular admission
11. National Zoo, Washington, D.C.
You can’t leave out Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute when it comes to the best zoos in the U.S.! This nationally-renowned institute features the “greatest hits” of wildlife from around the world, including lions, tigers, elephants, zebras, bears, and even electric eels!
You’ll be able to tour the globe just 2 miles from downtown D.C. on trails that lead you through Asia, Africa, the Amazon, North and South America, and into majestic biomes like the rainforest, desert, grasslands, oceans, and rivers.
Over 2,100 examples of unique and rare wildlife are here, like sloth bears and red pandas, can be seen on the Asia Trail, while the Africa trail lets you glimpse cheetahs, ostriches, and mountain zebras. Spot dangerous piranha, electric eels, and stingrays in the Amazonian exhibit!
Wander the Claws and Paws pathway to find small predators, like bobcats and porcupines, and come play at the American Trail’s Tide Pool in the warm months. Hop on the carousel by Lemur Island or play at the bee-themed playground.
Tickets are free, but you’ll need to grab an entry pass in advance to get in and pay for parking ($30 if you’re not a member). Food and gift shops inside the zoo also cost money.
- Adult admission: Free
- Child admission: Free
- Senior admission: Free
12. Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, PA
America’s first and oldest zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, has a long tradition of providing family-friendly entertainment, amazing wildlife encounters, and educational adventure to American families in the City of Brotherly Love.
With 1,900 animals inside its pint-sized 42-acre park and 5 Zoo360 trails to wander, you’ll be able to walk the entire zoo without missing out on any of the great exhibits. The bigger zoos are great, but it’s hard to pack all the exhibits into a single-day visit!
At the Philadelphia Zoo, you’ll be able to venture over to Big Cat Falls, where tigers, lions, jaguars, and pumas stalk their habitat and watch visitors from their mesh bridge high over your head.
The PECO Primate Reserve is home to smiling orangutans, golden lion tamarins, and western lowland gorillas grooming their babies, while Humboldt penguins play without a care in the world at Penguin Point.
See Galapagos turtles older than you, spotted cheetahs darting about, and Andean bears that are as cute as they can be frightening. There’s an express train you can take around the zoo, fun scavenger hunts to earn badges, a rainforest carousel, and giraffe encounters, too!
- Adult admission: $18+
- Child admission: $18+
- Senior admission: $18+
13. Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO
We’ve shown you the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., but the Saint Louis Zoo is another free option that’s even bigger with more animals to encounter and spot!
With 16,000 animals in a range of cool habitats, you’ll love visiting this research- and conservation-focused zoo with your family. Everyone makes a beeline to see the big cats, like African lions, Amur leopards and tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, pumas, and snow leopards.
The primates, like gorillas, orangutans, white-faced sakis, cotton-top tamarins, and chimpanzees, are a highlight of the visit!
While you walk the zoo’s pathways through larger-than-life exhibits, you’ll see elephants, camels, Andean bears, polar bears, rhinos, sea lions, zebras, giant anteaters, kangaroos, and hippos from biomes all over the world.
With exhibits like the Discovery Corner, Lakeside Crossing, and River’s Edge, you’ll be able to get a close-up look at the different regions and habitats these animals live, hunt, and play in outside of the zoo’s protection. It’s an educational trip for all ages.
Donations fuel the zoo and its research, rehabilitation, and conservation efforts. It’s a good feeling to see the animals being treated well and kept in clean, spacious, natural habitats that mimic their own!
The zoo is free to visit year-round, but there are some paid attractions worth ponying up a few bucks for! The animatronic Dinoroarus park, carousel, 4D theater, sea lion show, and Zooline Railroad are all extras you can tack on.
- Adult admission: Free
- Child admission: Free
- Senior admission: Free
14. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs, CO
Situated on 146 acres in the foothills of the rugged Rocky Mountains, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is in a stunning location and home to amazingly diverse wildlife, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, in its scenic mountainside setting.
The zoo started from a private exotic animal collector and has since grown into a full-blown menagerie with animals from different continents and varied habitats. Water’s Edge: Africa features hippos in water environments with playful penguins.
The Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit includes local wildlife, like grizzly bears and Alaskan moose, while you can venture further out to Encounter Africa for elephants, black rhinos, and meerkats.
Explore the Asian highlands with cunning tigers and leopards amid Himalayan-style architecture and waterfall ponds. Go on an Australia Walkabout with tree kangaroos, emus, free-roaming wallabies, and a budgie aviary to visit.
Primate World lets you peek in at western lowland gorillas in a mountain valley habitat with orangutans swinging in the trees.
Feed giraffes, colorful budgie birds, chickens, and goats with fun animal encounters you can add onto your ticket. There’s even a grizzly bear encounter for the fearless!
- Adult admission: $30+ ($5 off on Value Days)
- Child admission: $20+ ($5 off on Value Days)
- Senior admission: $28+ ($5 off on Value Days)
Frequently Asked Questions
Speaking of the best zoos in the U.S., what about the biggest zoo in the country? The most humane zoos worldwide? The #1 visited zoo? We highlight answers to the most frequently asked questions about zoos around the world below.
What is the #1 zoo in the USA?
The San Diego Zoo and Botanic Garden in San Diego, CA ranks as the #1 zoo in the USA in terms of annual visitors (over 4 million), but the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE is #1 in terms of visitor reviews, area, and animal numbers (over 17,000)!
The Henry Doorly Zoo spans 130+ acres in Omaha with exhibits that include visitor favorites like African lions, elephants, hippos, and kangaroos in the world’s largest indoor deserts and rainforests. It’s the best zoo to visit with your family in the nation.
Where is the biggest zoo in the US?
The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE is the biggest zoo in the U.S. in terms of total area (130 acres). It also features the largest indoor rainforest, indoor desert, and geodesic dome in the world!
This large-scale park is packed with rare and unique animals, rides and attractions, gift shops, restaurants, and a full aquarium, making it a lot of fun to visit for kids and adults alike.
What are the most humane zoos in the world?
The Denver Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, and Zurich Zoo are often recognized as being three of the most humane zoos in the world. The Saint Louis Zoo is part research center and biology facility with free admission for visitors. It runs on donations alone!
These zoos prioritize conservation and preserving natural habitats for their animal residents, breeding and releasing endangered and rare species, and providing ethical enclosures with room to roam and get away from the buzz of visitors for their animals.
What is the most visited zoo in the world?
Visitor data isn’t always available for each zoo, but San Diego Zoo in San Diego, CA is currently the most visited zoo in the U.S. and possibly the world with 5.6 million annual visitors. The zoo features a wide array of exotic animals from all over the world and a lush, botanic garden.
With millions visiting the San Diego Zoo every year, we’ve ranked it as the #2 best zoo in the U.S. (it’s smaller and has fewer animals than the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha).
What is the most visited zoo in America?
The San Diego Zoo and Botanic Garden is the #1 most visited zoo in America. Seeing 5.6 million-plus visitors each year (growing by over a million visitors per year!), it’s the most popular zoo for families to check out in the United States and offers great exhibits, an immersive atmosphere, and fun attractions.
So, What Are the Best Zoos in the U.S.?
|🦒 Best Overall
|Henry Doorly Zoo
|🗽 Best on the East Coast
|🏙️ Best Big-City Zoo
|⛰️ Best Mountain Zoo
|Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
The best zoos across the nation span all the way from sunny San Diego to brisk Bronx, New York and encompass just about every walk of life and biome habitat you can imagine.
If you’re looking for a way to expand your horizons and feel like you’ve traveled the world in just a day or two, a trip to the zoo is just what you need! It’s equally as fun and educational for kids as it is for adults, and compared to other vacations, you’ll find a trip to the zoo to be nice and affordable.
Make a list of the zoos you don’t want to miss and start planning a road trip or booking flights to see the wildlife, immersive exhibits, and fun rides and attractions at the best zoos in the U.S.!