When you’re picking your next travel destination, planning around the best zoos in the U.S. is a great place to start. We’ve rounded up each of these and listed their best sights. Be sure to read until the end!
The best zoos in the U.S. range from tiny city zoos to massive, multiple-acre safari experiences. There are almost 400 zoos in the United States alone, preserving and displaying exotic animal species. However, how do you know which ones are the best?
14 of the Best Zoos in America
The best zoos are easily accessible for families of all sizes, have an extensive range of animals, and are interactive for all ages. From California to New York, here are the 14 best zoos in America (in alphabetical order).
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. One of the most popular is a swamp exhibit featuring local animals from around the bayou area.
At Audubon, visitors can get closer to the animals than many other zoos allow (while staying safe, of course). The Audubon Aquarium is attached to the zoo and available as part of a ticket price. If you have kids, this is a great zoo – it doesn’t take too long to get through everything, and there are several activities and experiences to try!
The zoo costs $25 for adults and $20 for children but has free days throughout the year.
2. Bronx Zoo
The Bronx Zoo in New York City is one of the largest city zoos in the country. It sits on either side of the Bronx River and has over 4,000 animals within its walls. The Bronx Zoo is one of New York’s most beloved landmarks.
If you want to visit this zoo, keep in mind that it is enormous! The zoo is over 250 acres and can easily take more than a full day to get all the way through. If you’re traveling with kids or have limited time, you will want to plan for the exhibits you most want to see.
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).
3. Brookfield Zoo
In the suburbs of Chicago, the Brookfield Zoo is another sprawling metropolitan zoo. It’s known for multiple exhibits, especially the famous dinosaur exhibit with animatronic dinosaurs and activities for children.
The Brookfield Zoo is hard to complete in a day – you might want to plan to visit a few exhibits or spend a whole weekend exploring the zoo! Tickets cost $25 for adults (13+) and $18 for children 12 and under.
4. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
One of the premier zoos in the Northwest, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo showcases the animals of Western America. Located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Cheyenne Mountain has a special exhibit for animals of the Rocky Mountains.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo doesn’t only include local animals, however. The zoo also offers animal worlds from all of the major continents. They include a special primates section and a small aquarium in their ticket price.
Tickets for Cheyenne Mountain Zoo are $15 for children and $25 for adults.
5. Cincinnati Zoo
Ohio’s most popular zoo and the nation’s second-oldest, the Cincinnati Zoo, has entertained visitors since 1875. There are exhibits from all over the world, as well as a lovely botanical garden included in the ticket price.
The Cincinnati Zoo includes all of the classic zoo attractions in addition to an insect exhibit, a rarity among city zoos in America. Tickets cost $28 for adults and $22 for children. You also have to pay for parking when you arrive, which is $10 a vehicle. However, the zoo does allow outside food in small containers.
6. Columbus Zoo
Despite the popularity of the Cincinnati Zoo, the Columbus Zoo continues to impress visitors every year. With over 10,000 animals and dozens of exhibits and activities, this zoo is highly entertaining and interactive. They offer boat and train rides around the zoo as part of ticket packages.
Tickets for the Columbus Zoo cost $17 for children and $22 for adults, with a discount given to Franklin County, Ohio residents. The price does not include the aquarium, but you can purchase it at a discount with a ticket package.
7. Dallas Zoo
Although there are multiple zoos in Texas, the Dallas Zoo is the most visitor-friendly. It’s a smaller zoo than many others on this list but has a wide variety of animals. All of the paths are well shaded and cool, which is necessary for the Texas sun!
Dallas offers flexible pricing based on seasonal attendance. For adults, tickets are $8-21. Children’s tickets cost from $8-16, depending on the time of year. If you are in the area and interested in another zoo, the Fort Worth Zoo is also a fantastic experience and worth visiting!
8. Denver Zoo
The Denver Zoo is an amazing place to look at exotic animals from around the world. However, it’s also a great place to eat food, spend time with family, and learn about how these animals are cared for. The Denver Zoo is one of the most ethical zoos in the nation and one of the most popular.
Because of their commitment to caring for the animals, the zookeepers don’t force them to be out in their enclosures all day. If you want to see more animals, we advise going to the zoo in the morning! General admission to the Denver Zoo is $14 for children and $20 for adults.
9. Henry Doorly Zoo
The Henry Doorly Zoo, located in Omaha, Nebraska, boasts a little under 1,000 different species of animals. The Zoo has an Asian exhibit, an African exhibit, and a South Pole exhibit, among many others. While you can bring food, Henry Doorly has reasonable prices for the food carts and vendors.
A ticket package for Henry Doorly includes the zoo and aquarium. Adult tickets are $19 each, and children’s tickets are $13 each, while seniors have a $2 discount. There are many free parking spots available, and the zoo is generally easy to navigate.
10. Zoo Miami
Zoo Miami is more than a zoo; technically, it’s a zoological park and garden. It has 500 species of animals and many more species of plants. Zoo Miami is the largest zoo in Florida and stretches over 300 acres. Their most unique exhibit is their Floridian animals in Animals of the Everglades.
The exhibits at Zoo Miami include Amazonian animals, Asian animals, African Animals, Australian animals, and a children’s zoo. If you are bringing small children, the children’s zoo is ideal; it includes some of the most popular zoo animals, numerous activities, and a playground and fountain to cool off in.
Tickets for Zoo Miami cost $23 for adults and $19 for children. Yearly Zoo members get in for free.
11. National Zoo
The Smithsonian National Zoo, commonly known as the National Zoo, is in Washington, D.C. It is famous for Tai Shan and Bei Bei, the giant pandas who have lived there since 2005. However, the zoo also hosts many other animals, including African, Asian, American, and Arctic natives.
The Smithsonian National Zoo is renowned for its animal research and conservation. As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the zoo doesn’t charge for entry. However, every guest has to have a pre-reserved ticket. If you are visiting the nation’s capital, don’t forget to visit our nation’s zoo!
12. Philadelphia Zoo
The Philadelphia Zoo holds the honor of being the oldest official zoo in America. Since it opened in 1874, it has showcased some of the world’s most interesting animal species and exhibits. This zoo is truly a family affair, with experiences for adults and children.
The Philadelphia Zoo is known for more than just the variety of animals, however. It also has a fantastic variety of food options, from fast food to wineries. The zoo has limited fall and winter hours and is much more open in the summer. Tickets cost $24 for adults and $19 for children.
13. Saint Louis Zoo
The Saint Louis Zoo is the largest free zoo in the nation. It’s also one of the most ethical and most respected animal research institutions in America. Functioning solely on donations, the Saint Louis Zoo has a mission to research and care for animals while educating and entertaining the public.
While some exhibits and experiences cost money, you can spend an entire day in the zoo without spending a penny! Bring snacks and water, and you can give your family the most exciting free experience they’ve had in a while.
14. San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo might be the most famous in the country. Any list of the best zoos in the US would be remiss if it didn’t include this zoo. Spanning 100 acres and housing 3,500 animals, this zoo offers live entertainment, rides, and experiences that you won’t find in other zoos.
Tickets to the San Diego Zoo cost $62 for adults and $52 for children. You will most likely also have to pay for parking, as free parking is scarce. However, once you’re in the zoo, you can spend the whole day marveling at the wonders of the magnificent nature housed here.
Things to Consider
If you’re planning on going to any of these zoos, there are some logistics you should keep in mind. Here are some of the most important things to consider before visiting any zoo.
- Look at COVID restrictions and added rules
- Ask whether the zoo allows outside food
- Find out the cost
- See what the special events are
- Find out whether any animals are unavailable
- Research parking and find out what that costs
- Teach children about the animals they will see
- Bring sunscreen
- Bring snacks and water
- Bring a stroller or wagon (especially if you have small children)
- Plan for breaks and rest times
- Enjoy yourself!
So, What Are the Best Zoos in the U.S.?
A zoo trip can make a kid’s (or adult’s) summer. There are amazing animals in the world, and we’re lucky to live in a country that takes care of them and makes them available for us to see! Whether you’re going to your local zoo or finding a zoo on a cross-country trip, you’ll love one of the zoos on this list.