12 Best Zoos In The USA To Explore For Wildlife Enthusiasts

Are you an animal lover searching for a new adventure? Let me ask you a question then. Have you ever visited zoos in the USA with your kid? What did you like the most? In winter the USA looks amazingly beautiful and you should not miss out!

For me, narrating to my kid about the animals, getting up close to the animals, petting them, every time learning new things about them, and in the end, enjoying time with the kids.

best zoos in the usa

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Whatever your answer, I’m sure you’ll love the zoos in the USA. There are over 200 accredited zoos in America, so narrowing down the list is overwhelming.

But, you do not have to worry because I can save you from that! I’m presenting you with a list of my favorites and a collection of the best zoos in the USA.

So, let’s get started with the journey of exploring zoos in the USA.

Best Zoos in the USA to Visit

1. San Diego Zoo, California

Set amidst 100 acres of lush greenery, picturesque settings, happy animals, blooming plants, and pleasant staff, San Diego Zoo is the best zoo in California, USA.

I have been to this place countless times with my brother. While my friends were learning the names of animals from books, we learned by observing them in front of us.

San Diego Zoo is home to more than 3,500 animals with a lot of endangered species like the Sumatran tiger, California condor, Amur leopard, and the giant panda.

It sits in Balboa Park, founded in 1916. It is known as the biggest zoo in the USA and is an open-air cage that creates a natural environment for animals.

Also, it is a certified botanical garden with a collection of more than 13,000 plants. Please, check the San Diego Zoo tips before coming here. It would be helpful!

Must-see exhibits 

Polar Bear Plunge in Northern Frontier, Otters in Lost Forest, and Penguins at Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks, Elephant Odyssey, and Animal and Action tour.

San Diego Zoo, best zoos in the USA
San Diego Zoo

2. Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois

I was fortunate to spend an entire day at Lincoln Park Zoo, the oldest zoo in the USA with my niece. Entry to this park is free and open.

I never thought to see such playful meerkats, friendly gorillas, red wolves, Guam Kingfisher, wild dogs, rhinos, pygmy hippos, African penguins, and chimpanzees. 

Lincoln Park Zoo sits on 49 acres of land and was founded in 1898. Since then it is home to over 1,100 animals’ representing more than 250 species. 

My niece loved the Helen Branch Primate House. Here you can spot Columbus monkeys and Francois langurs swinging from one vine to another.

The reason I rated Lincoln Park Zoo among the top zoos in the USA is that here you’ll find an oak tree that is older than Chicago itself. Can you imagine, how old this place is?

Must-see exhibits

Farm in the Zoo, Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove, Kovler Lion House, Nature Boardwalk, Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, Regenstein Centre for African Apes, and Regenstein Small Mammal Reptile House. Go to see Grevy’s Zebra too.

Note: Lincoln Park Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and helps with zoos-based conservation and science programs in America.

 Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo

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3. Zoo Miami, Florida

Zoo Miami is rated as the best zoo in America by every Floridian and traveler. You will love the view of Malayan sun bears, zebras, clouded leopards, and Komodo dragons. 

Also, a reviewer, Taty stated that – “Zoo Miami is amazing for its fantastic exhibits and hands-on learning experiences”. The experience here is unforgettable!

This subtropical zoo in the United States thrives on many tropical species and also camels, Indian rhinos, Matschie’s tree- kangaroos, giraffes, lions, and gorillas. 

You’ll find animals from Australia, Africa, and Asia. Zoo Miami is also called Miami Dade Zoological Park. It sits on 700 acres – one of the largest zoos in the USA.

Must-see exhibits

Mission Everglades, Asian Riverlife Experience, and Amazon and Beyond

Note: In 1948Zoo Miami sat in Key Biscayne, and later in 1980, it got relocated to the former Richmond Naval Air Station in South Miami.

Zoo Miami, Miami, best zoo in USA
Zoo Miami

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4. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Tami Mittan, a famous blogger of Colorado recommended every traveler coming to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the highest altitude zoo in the USA, at least once in their lifetime.

It sits at 6,800 feet above sea level in Colorado Springs. I recommend taking the Mountaineer Sky Ride to get an aerial view of lar gibbons, black rhinos, and other species.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the best USA zoos to take close-up photos of giraffes, Western American animals, and animals of the Rocky Mountains. It holds over 800 animals.

They also have a small aquarium. The view of grizzlies swimming with trout is so funny! Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is the best family-friendly zoo in the USA.

Must-see exhibits 

A ski lift to get close looks at Amur tiger and grizzly bear, ride on an antique carousel and visit to watch red-necked wallabies, African penguins, and the largest reticulated giraffe herds.

Note: Tickets for adults are $25 and for children, it is $15

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

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5. Houston Zoo, Texas

It would be a crime not to mention Houston Zoo in Texas when discussing the best petting zoos in the USA. With over two million visitors each year, it’s a must-see destination for animal lovers.

The best thing about the Houston Zoo is that the money collected through tickets is used to fund 49 different wildlife conservation projects around the world.

The park sits on 55 acres of Hermann Park, home to anteaters from South America, gorillas, zebras from Africa, and over 6,000 animals from 900 species.

You can enjoy offering treats to native alligators, snapping selfies with the moving sloths, and interacting with the cuddly goats.

Must-see exhibits

Galapagos Islands is all about exploring the wild! Nature plays area, John P.McGovern Children’s Zoo, Reptile and Amphibian, South America’s Pantanal, and Kathrine G. McGovern Texas Wetlands

Note: Please get a Houston CityPASS, with this pass, you can get a discount on the zoo tickets.

Tip: Good news for all ornithologistsHouston Zoo, the best zoo in America is home to a large collection of birds. 

Houston Zoo
Houston Zoo

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6. Pittsburg Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Having visited the Pittsburgh Zoo with my mother once a month in childhood, I can attest to its uniqueness as the most family-friendly zoo in the USA, thanks to its thematic section division.

I still have vivid memories of our visits, with my mother always taking photos of the Amur tigers, red pandas, and pygmy hippos at the Pittsburgh Zoo!

Covering 77 acres of land, this zoo is home to over 4,000 animals from 500 different species, 20 of which are listed as endangered.

From mammals and fishes to amphibians and birds, this zoo has it all, including orangutans, gibbons, and monkeys. Don’t miss the impressive two-story, 45,000 sq. foot PPG Aquarium that is sure to leave you amazed!

Must-see exhibits

The Forest Passage, African Savanna, Worlds of Discovery, Meerkat exhibit, exploring Asian Forest, the Tropical Forest, Water’s Edge, Jungle Odyssey, Kids Kingdom, and The Islands.

Pittsburg Zoo and PPG Aquarium
Pittsburg Zoo and PPG Aquarium

7. Bronx Zoo, New York

Without a doubt, the Bronx Zoo is my all-time favorite family-friendly metropolitan zoo in the USA. It feels like a jungle, with incredible creatures and even butterflies calling this destination home.

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Ranked among the top zoos in the US, this destination is unique in that visitors can experience the natural beauty of the Bronx River, immerse themselves in dense forest life, and hear the echoing sounds of animals all around.

Spanning 256 acres, the Bronx Zoo is home to an impressive collection of animals, including crocodiles, lemurs, sloths, porcupines, cheetahs, giant grasshoppers, lowland gorillas, mandrills, and many more.

It is one of those zoos with the most diverse animal collections in America. The zoo was first opened in 1899 and is now home to more than 500 different varied species. 

Must-see exhibits

Congo Gorlia Forest, JungleWorld, African Plains, Tiger Mountain, and Wild Asia Monorail

Note: Bronx Zoo is a leader in the Wildlife Conservation Society and many fieldworks to preserve endangered species. Also, it has a hospital for animals in zoos.

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8. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Nebraska

Surprisingly, the sleepy city of Omaha has the coolest zoos in the USA which earned its name as the “World’s best zoo” by TripAdvisor.

Recognized as the best zoo in the world for animal welfare, research, and conservation, this destination is sure to delight both your inner child and your children. A visit to this zoo will leave you feeling elevated and inspired!

The place sits on 160 acres filled with Amur tigers, red pandas, porpoises, Indian rhinos, Amur snow leopards, Owen Sea Lions, and many more.

The Orangutan Forest and Desert Dome is my favorite! The 84,000 sq. feet dome is the home to desert plants, rattlesnakes, and varied reptile species. 

The replication of the Sonoran Desert in the USA, Australia’s Red Centre Desert, and southern Africa’s Namib Desert make this destination truly amazing! Visitors will feel like they are exploring multiple deserts all in one place.

Must-see exhibits

Kingdoms of the Night, Conservative programs like Nutritional Sciences, Plant Micro Propagation, Conservation Genetics, and Reproductive Sciences. 

Note: Educational activities like Sleeping Bag Safaris, Omaha STEM ecosystem, and Conservation Hero teach your child about the habitat. The zoo is home to the biggest cat complex

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

9. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio

While the competition is fierce for the best zoos in the USA, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium stand out above the rest. With so many positive features, it’s no surprise that this destination sits at the top of the list.

You’ll be surprised to know that this zoo hosts a 100,000-gallon coral reef aquarium full of Congo habitat and colorful fishes. Kids, adults, and in-between love this place!

The greatness of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium extends beyond its animal exhibits, as the destination offers funds for medical assistance for gorillas, prairie habitats, and coral conservation across the world. It’s clear that this zoo prioritizes the well-being of all animals, both near and far.

Spanning an impressive 580 acres of land, this zoo is home to a wide variety of animals, including leopards, bobcats, penguins, kangaroos, and birds. Visitors can experience species from Africa, Australia, and North America all in one destination.

The park is divided into seven sections, Asia Quest, pony rides and train voyage is my favorite. In terms of land, Columbus Zoo is indeed the biggest zoo in America.

Must-see exhibits

18-hole Safari Golf Club, Jungle Jack’s Landing, Zoombezi Bay, Polar Frontier, Shores & Aquarium, Congo Expedition, and Australia and the Islands.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

10. Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri

In search of the most affordable zoos in the United States, the Saint Louis Zoo entry fee is zero. It is the most known research and educational institution in America.  

Boasting an impressive 90 acres of land, this zoo is home to over 500 species and 14,000 animals. The most notable feature of this destination is its division into different zones based on geography, providing visitors with a unique and immersive experience.

It is one of those famous zoos in the United States that holds so many interactive programs like Animal enrichment, 4-D experience, behind the scene tours, workshops camps, Zookeeper Chats, and so more.

Must-see exhibits

Walk through bird cage, Caribbean Cove, River Edge, Children Zoo, and Historic Hill

Note: Saint Louis Zoo is involved in many preserving animals programs. 

11. Audubon Zoo, Louisiana

Audubon Zoo is a place of an exotic mix of animals around the globe starting from white alligators, to Western Lowland gorillas, and golden lion tamarin.

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The zoo was founded in 1914 and is one of the most famous zoos in America in terms of exhibits. People from far come here for its exhibitions.

Occupying 58 acres of land, this zoo offers an added attraction with its water park area complete with a lazy water slide and splash, making it a popular weekend destination for families with children.

During my visit, I attended Reptile Encounter exhibits where I saw a beaded lizard, green anaconda, rattlesnake, Gaboon viper, Gila monster and so more.

Must-see exhibits

The Swamp Exhibit, Reptile Encounter, and Asia Exhibits

12. San Antonio Zoo, Brackenridge Park, Texas

Watching animals from the comfort of your own backyard is a unique and rewarding experience. While many people enjoy seeing lemurs and African lions on television, imagine having them right beside your local park.

What if you can see them happy in front of your eyes? San Antonio Zoo spreads over 35 acres sitting in the heart of the city center. You can see 3,500 animals here.

Endangered species like black rhinos and Komodo dragons are found here. In a word, there are a lot of interesting animals in the zoo than you can think of!

Must-see exhibits

Species like Wolf’s mona monkey, Angola colobus, rock hyrax, Nile crocodile, hippotamus, and African wild dog participate in the exhibit. Africa Live in San Antonio Zoo is the zoo in the USA that has the most interactive exhibits. 

San Antonio Zoo, Brackenridge Park
San Antonio Zoo

What are Some Tips for Making the Most of a Visit to a Zoo in the USA?

Going to zoos with parents is surely a great way to enlighten your knowledge on animals. 

But if you do not attend the educational programs, and exhibits, or talk with the zoo keepers, I would say you’re simply missing out on the fun.

There are many cafes and gift shops inside the zoos, you can check them out too. You can follow some more tips to have a healthy relationship with the animals in the zoos.

For now, let’s know the tips to remember for a fantastic zoo trip –

  • Plan beforehand which zoo you want to go to with your people
  • Go on time. For example, if you’re choosing an exhibit to watch, reach there on time
  • Dress for the weather. Keep it simple. Wear comfy shoes, and hats
  • Always buy your tickets in advance
  • Download the zoo map
  • Do not go in the peak hours, and try to avoid weekends
  • Be respectful towards the animals. Do not disturb them
  • In the end, have fun, enjoy but do not disturb the animals and the other visitors. Please do not play loud music


There you go, this is a collection of some of the finest zoos in the USA for you to explore with your kids, cousins, grandparents, and friends. 

I’ve specifically mentioned the exhibits, and educational programs to explore so that you do not have a hard time finding any.

I guarantee you’ll have a great time exploring these zoos in the US. 

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FAQ: Best Zoos in the USA

1. Are there any zoos in the USA that offer discounted or free admission?

A. Yes, there are zoos in the USA that offers free admission. Come to Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, you’ll have a lot of fun at zero cost.

2. What are some of the best zoos in the USA for animal encounters and interactive experiences?

A. I recommend going to Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Centre in Colorado to get close to the animals and pet them with all your love. Also, the staffs here are very friendly to guide you to pet the animals.

3. What are the most popular zoos in the USA for children?

A. Pittsburg Zoo and PPG Aquarium in Pennsylvania and San Diego Zoo in California are the most popular zoos in the USA for children. Pittsburg Zoo is home to 4,000 animals with many Mammals, fishes, amphibians, and animals. At San Diego Zoo you’ll find many endangered species.

4. Which zoos in the USA have the best animal exhibits?

A. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska conducts the best animal exhibits. I recommend attending Kingdoms of the Night, Conservative programs like Nutritional Sciences. It enlightens visitors about animals’ lives and their way of living. 

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