These Are the Best Zoos You Can Visit in America

If you love exotic animals but you don’t want to keep any as pets, then the zoo is the place for you. Zoos are great for animals fans and they’re family-friendly, too, but not every zoo is quite the same. From coast to coast, these are the best zoos in America, according to TimeOut.

The best zoos are in every corner of the country, but we’ll visit one where the climate is perfect for the animals (page 8) and one that’s out in the middle of nowhere (page 10).

15. Denver Zoo

Stretching Lion at the Denver Zoo

Stretching lion at the Denver Zoo | David Kish/iStock/Getty Images

  • Location: Denver

The Denver Zoo has two major pluses that make it one of the best zoos in the United States:

  • The Predator Ridge section replicates the natural environment for lions, hyenas, and wild dogs since it resembles the African savannah.
  • It’s just a few blocks from the heart of the city.

Next: An oldie but a goodie.

14. Cincinnati Zoo

Bathing Rhino at the Cincinnati Zoo

Bathing rhino at the Cincinnati Zoo | appletat/iStock/Getty Images

  • Location: Cincinnati

When you push through the turnstiles at Cincinnati Zoo, you enter the second-oldest zoo in the U.S. as it dates to 1875. That’s a neat tidbit, but you get more with your visit. The zoo is one of the best around for its work with endangered animals, such as rhinos, and it also has a botanical garden for the people not too keen on staring at animals all day.

Next: Two pandas are waiting for you to get tired of the other tourist traps.

13. Memphis Zoo

Memphis zoo panda

Panda at the Memphis Zoo | unicurse/Wikimedia Commons

  • Location: Memphis, Tenn.

When you’re done with the Sun Studio tour and you get tired of Graceland, one of the best zoos in America is waiting for you. Two giant pandas are among the roughly 3,500 animals at the Memphis Zoo, which is large but well organized, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Next: A zoo where the animals (almost) run wild.

12. Zoo Miami

Two young cheetahs at Zoo Miami

Two young cheetahs at Zoo Miami | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Location: Miami

Zoo Miami resurrected a medieval strategy to keep the animals where they’re supposed to be. Instead of using cages or enclosures to keep the animals in, ditches and moats separate the humans from the animals. According to one visitor, you get unobstructed views of the animals, which is a big place and one of the reasons it checks in as one of the best zoos in the U.S.

Next: Make your dream come true.

11. Houston Zoo

Houston zoo giraffe

Giraffe at the Houston Zoo | Houston Zoo

  • Location: Houston

If you’ve ever wanted to hand-feed a giraffe, then the Houston Zoo is the place for you. In the African Forest section, you can gaze at the giraffes while you eat and then buy some lettuce and feed them when you’re done. Plus, the zoo has more than 6,000 other animals just waiting for you to visit.

Next: Skip the free zoo and head here instead.

10. Brookfield Zoo

Baby Gorilla Draws Visitors To Chicago's Brookfield Zoo

Kamba, a western lowland gorilla, holds her one-day-old son Zachary at the Brookfield Zoo | Scott Olson/Getty Images

  • Location: Brookfield, Ill.

Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is free, but Brookfield Zoo is the place to be. It’s about 12 miles west of the city, but its Tropic World exhibit with primates from three continents is a must-see attraction.

Next: It’s worth the trip.

9. Henry Doorly Zoo

402983 04: The Desert Dome opens at the Henry Doorly Zoo March 27, 2002 in Omaha, NE. The dome houses the world's largest indoor desert containing thousands of plants and animals from three of the largest deserts.

The Desert Dome at the Henry Doorly Zoo | Eric Francis/Getty Images

  • Location: Omaha, Neb.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is a little off the beaten path south of downtown, but it’s one of the best zoos in the U.S. and definitely with the trip. At 130 acres and 17,000 animals from 962 species, it’s also one of the largest zoos in America by any measure.

Next: A zoo where the climate is perfect for the animals.

8. Alaska Zoo

Black Malayan sun bear

Black Malayan sun bear at the Alaska Zoo | gopfaster/iStock/Getty Images

  • Location: Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska’s weather isn’t ideal for most animals, but Alaska Zoo doesn’t force things. It focuses on housing arctic and sub-arctic animals, including polar bears, grizzly bears, wolverines, and bald eagles.

Next: One way to see tropical fish without getting wet.

7. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Turtle at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Turtle at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium | DrexRockman/Wikimedia Commons

  • Location: Powell, Ohio

It’s the Columbus Zoo in name, but it’s actually about 17 miles from the city in Powell, Ohio. However, its distance from the city doesn’t impact its reputation as one of the best zoos in the U.S. One of the big draws is a 100,000-gallon saltwater aquarium that is a must-see during any visit.

Next: A zoo in the middle of nowhere that’s worth visiting.

6. Living Desert Zoo

Living Desert zoo

Living Desert Zoo | The Living Desert via Facebook

  • Location: Palm Desert, Calif.

You’ll be hundreds of miles from any major city and pretty much in the middle of nowhere at Living Desert Zoo, but it’s still one of the best zoos you can visit. Conde Nast Traveler writes the animals nearly roam free, and the desert surroundings are perfect for local native animals such as coyotes, bighorn sheep, desert iguanas, and more. When the other major local attraction is the waste-of-time Joshua Tree National Park, it makes the zoo that much better

Next: Big price, big zoo

5. Bronx Zoo

Bronx Zoo Building

Bronx Zoo building | littleny/iStock/Getty Images

  • Location: New York City

Getting into the Bronx Zoo isn’t cheap (adult tickets cost $36.95), but you get access to one of the biggest zoos anywhere. The zoo’s 265 acres house more than 600 species, including a Komodo dragon at the heart of the zoo.

Next: Who said anything free can’t be good?

4. St. Louis Zoo

Group of Penguins at the St. Louis Zoo

Group of penguins at the St. Louis Zoo | JMichael-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

  • Location: St. Louis

St. Louis Zoo is perennially one of the best zoos in the U.S., and even though you have to pay to enter some exhibits, it’s always free to get in. Which is good, because you might need more than one day to see all the animals.

Next: An award-winning zoo with 1,100 animals.

3. Woodland Park Zoo

Sumatran Tiger at the Woodland Park Zoo

Sumatran tiger at the Woodland Park Zoo | Jason Erickson/iStock/Getty Images

  • Location: Seattle

In the midst of houses, restaurants, and churches, you’ll find Woodland Park Zoo in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood north of downtown Seattle. What makes it one of the best zoos in the U.S.?

  • More than 1,100 animals from 300 species, including ambassador animals such as an arctic fox, spectacled owl, peregrine falcon, and two kinds of armadillos.
  • An extensive awards list, including prizes for conservation, education, sustainability, and exhibits.

Next: Small footprint, big fun

2. Indianapolis Zoo

Entrance to the Indianapolis Zoo

Entrance to the Indianapolis Zoo | AndreyKrav/iStock/Getty Images

  • Location: Indianapolis

At just 64 acres, Indianapolis Zoo is a little on the small side, but don’t let that keep you from visiting. The zoo features five biomes (desert, flights of fancy, forest, ocean, and plains), a dolphin show, shark touch pool, roller coaster, and a gondola ride above the crowds. It might be small, but it’s fun and visitors love it.

Next: The zoo that tops two lists.

1. San Diego Zoo

Eight-week-old rhino debuts at San Diego Zoo | Ken Bohn/Zoological Society of San Diego via Getty Images

  • Location: San Diego

San Diego Zoo is No. 1 on two lists. It’s the most-visited zoo in the U.S. with 3.2 million guests each year, according to U.S. City Traveler. It’s also No. 1 on the list of America’s best zoos. An adult ticket isn’t cheap at $54, but for that price, you get 3,500 animals spread over 100 acres and access to what is one of the best zoos in America or anywhere else.

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