19 Best Zoos in the US to Add to Your Bucket List

Are you an animal enthusiast, a curious adventurer, or a parent hunting for an unforgettable day out with the kids? If so, you’re in luck, because we have something really special for you.

We’ve traversed the great expanse of the United States, from the sun-baked plains of Arizona to the bustling heart of New York City, to compile a list you won’t want to miss.

In this article, we’ll share our ultimate guide to the top zoos in the US that are simply teeming with fascinating wildlife, exciting exhibits, and conservation initiatives that will warm your heart.

The adventure begins now, and we promise—it’s going to be a wild ride!

San Diego Zoo
Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo

1. San Diego Zoo

Prepare to be dazzled by the San Diego Zoo, a jaw-dropping paradise for all things furry, feathery, and scaly.

This marvelously lush zoo is also a botanical garden, boasting over 4,000 animals and 700,000 plants!

Roaming around San Diego Zoo can be a workout, so take advantage of the guided bus tour. It’s a great way to get an overview of the different areas and save some steps for later.

And psst, while you’re there, check out the Skyfari aerial tram for a bird’s eye view of the entire park.

The San Diego Zoo is not only about the animals; it’s an immersive experience. From daily animal encounters and keeper talks to the delightful Children’s Zoo, you’ll never run out of surprises and fun moments.

2. Roger Williams Park Zoo

Roger Williams Park Zoo is the third oldest zoo in the U.S., nestled within 40 acres of lush woodlands.

Prepare to be dazzled as you come face to face with over 160 species of animals, including rare gems like red pandas, snow leopards, and New England’s one and only Komodo dragon.

Not only do you get to explore this animal haven, but you’ll also get to experience close encounters with furry and scaly friends. Try petting an armadillo or embark on an exhilarating zip ride for that extra touch of adventure.

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3. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Get ready to explore the marvelous Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, one of the nation’s best!

Known for its adorable resident hippo duo, Fiona and Tucker, this place is pure magic for animal lovers. Witness rare wonders and bask in the glory of winning multiple awards.

Their Botanical Garden is also highly rated as well! So prepare yourself for a double whammy of excitement as you dive into the enchanting world of Cincinnati Zoo.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Photo Credit: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

4. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a must-see destination that’ll make your heart go wild. This fantastic place is home to over 10,000 animals and nearly 600 species from far and wide across the globe.

While strolling through the grounds, don’t forget to check out their 22-acre Zoombezi Bay water park for a splashing good time. Also, unleash your inner Tiger Woods at the 18-hole Safari Golf Course.

Columbus Zoo is always full of surprises, so keep an eye out for their events and interactive programs that’ll make you feel like a real-life Dr. Dolittle!

Here’s a pro tip for you: time your visit for their exclusive animal presentations, where you’ll get a chance to learn the secrets of the animal kingdom.

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5. Audubon Zoo

The marvelous Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is where enchanting creatures await you at every turn. This delightful haven is home to an astonishing variety of animals, and it’s been voted as one of the best zoos in the US.

You might be wondering what sets Audubon Zoo apart from the rest. How about a swamp exhibit that gives you an up-close look at fascinating critters such as black bears, alligators, and water snakes?

You don’t want to miss this immersive experience. Plus, with their dedication to conservation and education, you’ll not only have a blast but also leave with newfound knowledge.

Insider tip for your visit: maximize your time by arriving early and head straight to the most popular exhibits (like the mesmerizing swamp section!).

Brevard Zoo
Photo Credit: Brevard Zoo

6. Brevard Zoo

Who wouldn’t love a zoo that’s not only among the best in the US, but also ranked the top zoo in Florida? Yes, you heard right – Brevard Zoo is the place to be!

With its lush, jungle-like landscaping and interactive experiences, every visit is a wild adventure.

Giraffe and bird feedings? Check! Kayaking around animal habitats? Totally! Brevard Zoo even lets you zip above monkeys and otters.

Just remember to take some awesome photos to show off your newfound expertise in all things wild and wonderful.

7. Houston Zoo

You’re in for a wild ride at the Houston Zoo; with over 6,000 animals living in this 55-acre park, there’s never a dull moment.

The Houston Zoo attracts a massive two million visitors annually! Get ready to be wowed by the zoo’s incredible conservation efforts and ethical animal care.

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8. Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

We’re about to venture into the wild world of the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska.

This is no ordinary zoo. In fact, it’s got a remarkable reputation as one of the world’s best zoos, with over 160 acres and home to more than 900 species of animals.

This extraordinary place is leading the charge in conservation efforts and making a real difference for our planet’s wildlife.

Henry Doorly Zoo has a top-notch aquarium too! So while you’re there, don’t forget to check out their breathtaking ocean exhibit, where you’ll come face-to-fin with some of the most mesmerizing creatures beneath the waves.

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Photo Credit: Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

9. Smithsonian National Zoo

The Smithsonian National Zoo should be at the top of your zoo bucket list! This gem of a park, sitting pretty in Rock Creek Park, holds the title of one of the oldest zoos in the United States, bringing you face-to-face with wildlife without charging a dime for entry.

You’ll have a chance to witness daily animal demonstrations up close, like elephants flaunting their majestic charm, and sea lions playfully snatching fish.

Contrary to popular belief, the naked mole rats deserve some of your attention, as well. Make your way to their exhibit and prepare to be oddly entranced.

So ready your camera, slap on that sunblock, and gear up to discover the wilder side of life at the unparalleled Smithsonian National Zoo!

10. Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is a wild wonderland that’s home to over 10,000 animals and 700 species nestled within an expansive 265-acre park.

Did you know the Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the US? That’s right! Prepare to be mesmerized by the variety of creatures from all corners of our fantastic world, all while surrounded by lush parks, woods, and streams.

You’ll definitely want to clear your schedule and spend more than a few hours exploring.

Imagine standing nose-to-nose with a playful penguin, feeling the thrum of a cheetah’s purr, observing the quirky charm of porcupines, or hanging out with lovable sloths.

Delve deeper into the zoo’s history, animal collection, and conservation stories – you’re about to become an expert in all things wild and wonderful.

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11. Woodland Park Zoo

The Woodland Park Zoo is nestled in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. This 92-acre green oasis is home to nearly 900 animals, creating a perfect and unforgettable family outing.

What makes this zoo truly captivating are its endangered wildlife, native trees, rare tropical plants, and even an exceptional rose garden.

Did you know that Woodland Park Zoo welcomes an astounding 1.4 million annual visitors? Now that’s some serious animal magnetism!

Don’t miss the fantastic indoor play and learning area, where your kids will surely have a roaring good time; they even have a carousel.

Woodland Park Zoo
Photo Credit: Woodland Park Zoo

12. Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is simply beyond magical. Say hello to nearly 200 fascinating species from across the globe including the super rare Jamaican iguanas and eastern black rhinoceroses. Did we mention it’s free? Yes, absolutely free to visit!

You’ll be roaming through one of America’s oldest zoos, so make sure to wear your explorer hat.

Try visiting on an off-peak weekday, as Saturdays can be quite the jungle (pun intended).

13. Fort Worth Zoo

Prepare to be dazzled by the enchanting Fort Worth Zoo, home to over 7,000 animals and over 500 species. It’s an absolute must for any animal lover visiting the Lone Star State.

You’ll find hands-on habitats and experiences that’ll make your day extraordinary. Just wait until you discover their awe-inspiring conservation efforts!

Central Park Zoo
Photo Credit: Central Park Zoo

14. Central Park Zoo

Who wouldn’t love a fantastic oasis of wildlife in the heart of New York City’s concrete jungle?

Enter Central Park Zoo, a marvelous menagerie waiting to be explored. This wild wonderland is home to many awe-inspiring creatures, right in the middle of Manhattan.

This zoo houses an array of animals like snow leopards, red pandas, and bears. Don’t forget to check out their penguins; many visitors may overlook these flightless birds.

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15. Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo isn’t just any average zoo; you’ll be amazed by their top-notch animal care and engaging visitor experiences.

You might think you’ve seen it all, but this zoo also has super-exclusive members-only perks like free admission and parking, discounts on attractions, and special events.

Don’t miss out – take that plunge and become a zoo member; cheers to a wild time!

Oakland Zoo
Photo Credit: Oakland Zoo

16. Oakland Zoo

The marvelous Oakland Zoo awaits you with its more than 750 native and exotic critters ready to steal your heart.

Ranked as one of the top zoos in the US, this wildlife wonderland offers so much to explore.

Don’t miss their California Trail exhibit; you’ll have the chance to meet some Golden State natives.

What makes Oakland Zoo stand out from the crowd? Its dedication to wildlife conservation, both locally and globally!

They’re managed by the Conservation Society of California, a nonprofit that turns your visit into an opportunity to learn and give back to nature.

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17. Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not just a zoo – it’s a fantastic combination of an expansive animal park and a wildly fun theme park!

This park offers a one-of-a-kind adventure that goes beyond your average zoo experience. You’ll encounter majestic animals up close and personal while also enjoying thrilling rides and attractions.

For example, the park offers a spectacular nighttime show with dazzling lights, floating lanterns, and a splashing good time. Just make sure to time it right, so you don’t miss out on this spectacular event!

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Photo Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

18. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Experience the thrill of discovery as you explore Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, tucked in the heart of the Colorado Rockies.

What sets this place apart? Well, their amazing Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit is not to be missed!

Watch as your perspective shifts, each exhibit is a page-turning experience in the captivating narrative of nature’s diversity.

Imagine a world where you’re not just a spectator, but an active participant in the wild; you’ll go on a breathtaking journey into the heart of the animal kingdom!

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19. STL Zoo

Get ready to be dazzled by the wonders of the Saint Louis Zoo, one of the top zoos in the nation. Prepare to be amazed at their diverse collection of 16,000 animals, including rare and exotic species, all within a free-entry zone!

Say hello to your favorite animals, from the mighty lion to the vibrant poison dart frog. While you’re there, don’t miss their awesome conservation and animal care initiatives that put this zoo in an elite group with the likes of the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Keep an eye out for unique attractions like the seasonal Sea lion show, making your visit to the STL Zoo not just entertaining, but truly unforgettable.

Final Thoughts

And so, fellow adventurers, we’ve trotted down the path of wonder, peeking into the lives of critters, great and small, in the wild wonders of America’s top-notch zoos.

Where will your curiosity take you next? Only you can write that tale. Let’s keep the spirit of adventure roaring louder than any lion, and remember to cherish these zoos not just as attractions, but as reminders of our shared responsibility to safeguard these creatures and their habitats.

So, fellow explorers, grab your adventurer’s hat, pack a snack or two, and dive headfirst into these incredible destinations. There’s a whole wild world out there, waiting to be discovered and admired!