Embark on a wild adventure and explore the best zoos across the US!
From Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo to San Diego Zoo, discover top wildlife havens and conservation champions. What is the best zoo in the US? With over 400 zoos in the country, and many of them world-class, there’s no quick answer to that question! Keep reading to discover the best zoos in America!
However, one of the best ways to determine the top zoos in America is by consulting the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) list. According to Dan Ashe, who serves as the president and CEO of the AZA, "AZA has a thorough and rigorous accreditation process in place to ensure that zoos and aquariums provide the highest level of animal care and well-being."
From this AZA-accredited list, we've handpicked 12 of the most popular zoos in America to simplify your trip planning. These zoos are widely recognized for their excellence in animal care and conservation efforts–and a couple of them offer unique activities and ways to bond with animals that you won’t get in any other zoo. So, if you're wondering about the best zoos in America, this curated selection is a great place to start!
12 Best Zoos in America
San Diego Zoo: San Diego, California
San Diego Zoo in sunny San Diego, California, is undeniably one of the finest zoos in the country, and it's not hard to see why! When you talk about the best zoos in the US, this one always makes the list, and it's not alone—San Diego Zoo Safari Park joins the adventure, and when combined, Zoo and Safari draw over 6 million visitors annually.
At the main zoo, you'll encounter a captivating array of creatures, from cuddly koalas to majestic lions, not to mention pygmy hippopotamuses and Tasmanian devils. Over at Safari Park, you can marvel at greater one-horned rhinos, playful elephants, wise gorillas, enigmatic platypuses, and the elusive Matschie's tree kangaroos—all in habitats designed to mirror their native homes.
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For an even deeper dive into the animal kingdom, don't miss the 'Inside Look' program, which offers a sneak peek into zoo life. For an aerial adventure, hop aboard the Skyfari tram to gain a bird's eye view of the zoo's diverse habitats. It's no wonder San Diego Zoo is a must-visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts of all ages. We agree: it’s one of the best zoos in the country!
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium: Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, is a surprising haven for nature enthusiasts. Within its sprawling 160-acre domain, you'll encounter remarkable creatures like red pandas, Indian rhinos, Amur tigers, and snow leopards! It’s easy to forget you’re not in the wild itself when you’re inside this miniature world of wildlife.
One unique feature of this zoo is the Hubbard Gorilla Valley, where gorillas move around you while you’re in an enclosed bubble. Additionally, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is renowned for its exceptional indoor exhibits, including the largest indoor rainforest in the nation and the world's most extensive nocturnal exhibit and indoor desert. The Lied Jungle rainforest exhibit is noteworthy, as it allows visitors to peer out from behind a spectacular 50-foot-high waterfall.
This zoo truly ranks among the top zoos in US–and it’s safe to say that it’s a paradise for both animals and humans alike, with various ecosystems to explore.
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Cincinnati, Ohio
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden began as a modest space of nearly 66 acres nestled in the city's heart, but it has since expanded to over 75 acres. This historic zoo, open since 1875, holds a special place as one of the best zoos in Ohio. It's now a haven for over 1,800 animals from 500 unique species.
Look forward to encountering captivating creatures like gorillas, zebras, Sumatran orangutans, Komodo dragons, and charming red pandas. But the real star here is the world-renowned hippo, Fiona! Fiona, born prematurely, faced a challenging start in life. The dedicated team at the Cincinnati Zoo stepped in, providing round-the-clock care. Today, she's a healthy, happy hippo whose inspiring journey has captured the hearts of millions.
Beyond their success with Fiona, the Cincinnati Zoo plays a crucial role in educating people about sustainability, pollinator conservation, and cell phone recycling, all of which have a direct impact on wildlife worldwide. They are also actively involved in breeding endangered species such as Masai giraffes, Malayan tigers, western lowland gorillas, Sumatran rhinoceroses, and South African cheetahs. Pretty cool, right?
And oh, don't miss the chance to explore the delightful Cincinnati Zoo Botanical Garden Cincinnati. It’s included in your ticket price!
Indianapolis Zoo: Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis Zoo is a special place in the Midwest–it’s a paradise for animals and animal lovers! One standout experience here is the chance to wade in the water and interact with dolphins. It's a unique opportunity to learn about the habitat and fascinating behaviors of the smart and friendly aquatic creatures
The zoo also hosts special events like Animal Art Adventures, where clever elephants, playful penguins, graceful dolphins, and other animals create original art during enrichment sessions. And while you're here, make sure not to miss the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, known worldwide for its research on orangutan vocalization. You’ll meet Rocky, one of the orangutans in the center's loving care, as you discover the intriguing world of these intelligent creatures.
Indianapolis Zoo vs Cincinnati Zoo: Which zoo is better Cincinnati or Indianapolis? You might have heard about the years-long debate Cincinnati Zoo vs Indianapolis Zoo. Cincinnati Zoo and Indianapolis Zoo are often compared because they are both well-known zoos in the Midwest region of the United States, and they share several similarities.
Ultimately, the answer depends on your personal preferences and what you're looking for in a zoo experience. Visit Cincinnati Zoo if you want to see Fiona, the famous hippo, in person as well as explore a botanical garden with beautiful plant collections. Alternatively, visit the Indianapolis Zoo for the Dolphin Pavilion and Orangutan Center.
Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute: Washington, D.C.
Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC is still one of the top zoos in the US. And with the high-quality care that it provides to its resident creatures, we don’t think that will change in the near future.
One of the zoo's most famous attractions is Tai Shan and Bei Bei, the beloved giant pandas who have called it home since 2005. These furry celebrities and their dedicated care team play pivotal roles in a comprehensive research and conservation program aimed at nurturing and breeding this vulnerable species. But the zoo's grounds are also home to a diverse array of creatures, from majestic lions to curious orangutans, playful meerkats, and graceful seals.
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During your visit, don't miss the chance to attend the daily talks conducted by knowledgeable zookeepers. They're well-trained to provide fascinating insights into the animals they care for, adding depth to your zoo experience.
Bronx Zoo: New York City
Bronx Zoo in the heart of New York City stands as one of the largest zoos in the metropolitan world, covering a vast 265 acres. It's celebrated for its meticulously crafted habitats that are home to more than 6,000 animals!
One of the most popular attractions is the Congo Gorilla Forest, where you'll encounter western lowland gorillas, mandrills, and okapis. You can step into the glass-enclosed rainforest habitat to come face to face with the chest-thumping western lowland gorillas and other fascinating African creatures.
For an added dose of excitement, explore the Treetop Adventure, where you can experience the thrill of ziplining through the trees. Put on a harness and conquer the high ropes course among the treetops, then soar with a view of the scenic Bronx River on a zipline. How’s that for one of the best zoos in US?
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Colorado has come a long way from its beginnings as a private collection of exotic animals owned by philanthropist Spencer Penrose. Today, it stands as a respected educational facility.
Nestled on a mountainside overlooking Colorado Springs, this zoo boasts the remarkable Encounter Africa exhibit, home to elephants, meerkats, African Cape porcupines, and black rhinos—an award-winning experience filled with close-up interactions and educational infographics.
Over in the Rocky Mountain Wild area, you can encounter Alaska moose, grizzly bears, and Canadian lynxes. Don't miss the enchanting Water's Edge: Africa Exhibit, where Nile hippos and African penguins add bigger smiles to your day!
Beyond the animals and breathtaking views, explore unique artifacts like the Mountaineer Train's engine, which once transported guests of The Broadmoor to and from the best zoo in America. For a bird's eye view, take a ride on the gondola before the sun sets.
Denver Zoo: Denver, Colorado
Denver Zoo, nestled across 84 sprawling acres in Denver, Colorado, is a haven for more than 3,000 animals. Its reputation as one of the top zoos in America is well-deserved, thanks in part to its award-winning habitats, like the captivating Toyota Elephant Passage. Here, you can marvel at the majestic Asian elephants, observe the imposing greater one-horned rhinoceroses, and encounter the curious tapirs up close.
For a thrilling experience, visit the Benson Predator Ridge, where you'll have the opportunity for close-up views of two lion pride and the intriguing hyenas. Denver Zoo takes pride in its leadership in animal care, so these habitats designed to provide enrichment for the animals also serve as research opportunities to support their conservation initiatives.
The zoo also offers engaging and interactive events, including encounters with their friendly llamas, Jorge and Fernando, as well as diverse cultural performances. Families with kids can embark on a memorable adventure with the 'Bunk with the Beasts' overnight stay, complete with up-close animal visits, a pizza dinner, snacks, and a delightful breakfast.
Audubon Zoo: New Orleans
At Audubon Zoo, visitors get a special chance to get closer to animals than in many other zoos, all while staying safe. How? The zoo has created unconventional, natural habitats for various animals, making it a wonderful place for families.
In the Louisiana Swamp exhibit, you'll discover how Cajun people used Native American conservation techniques to build a unique culture and cuisine in a swampy setting. Meanwhile, the Jaguar Jungle takes you to a Mayan rainforest re-creation, where spider monkeys, macaws, ocelots, and jaguars roam. There's even an archaeologist-themed exhibit to explore.
For some active fun, head to Monkey Hill, one of the tallest points in New Orleans. Here, a five-story treehouse awaits with a slide, wading pools, and bronze lion sculptures—perfect for burning off some energy, especially for the little ones.
Overall, Audubon Zoo offers a one-of-a-kind experience that's both educational and entertaining for visitors of all ages.
Fort Worth Zoo: Fort Worth, Texas
The Forth Worth Zoo in Texas has been educating visitors since 1909 and holds the honor of being the oldest continuous zoo in Texas. We like it because it’s one of the few zoos in the U.S. that has resident bonobos, a type of great ape, as well as two different kinds of rhinos. You'll also find the Museum of Living Art, filled with reptiles and amphibians.
People who've been there recently really like how clean and well-designed the animal homes are. They suggest taking a ride on the Yellow Rose Express train for extra fun. Plus, the zoo is a leader in saving Asian elephants, and it's where you'll find the most successful colony of lesser flamingos in the world.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park: Tampa, Florida
ZooTampa at Lowry Park offers a perfect mix of fun and learning, which makes it a popular choice for families with kids. At this zoo, you can get close to creatures like manatees, giraffes, and orangutans, making it an exciting place for everyone.
Even though it covers only 24 acres, the zoo is home to a whopping 1,100 animals from Asia, Africa, Australia, and even native Florida wildlife. But what makes it truly special is its top-notch animal healthcare and the work it does to help endangered species recover and thrive.
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In fact, they are the number one facility in the world for the care of sick and injured endangered Florida panthers. For that, we say ZooTampa is one of the best zoos in America.
Philadelphia Zoo: Philadelphia
Of course, this list would not be complete with Philadelphia Zoo, the oldest zoo in America. It's a home for over 1,900 rare and endangered animals. Since it first opened its doors in 1874, the Philadelphia Zoo has been a pioneer in taking care of wildlife. It even had the world's first animal care center right at the zoo, a place where they look after animals–and it's where they had the first successful births of orangutans and chimpanzees in the country.
Another thing that makes this zoo stand out is its Zoo360 exploration trail system. It's a special pathway that connects different animal homes and gives them more space to move around, just like the Big Cat Crossing–a bridge made of mesh that goes above the ground, and lions, pumas, and jaguars can walk on it.
There are other pathways too that connect outside areas to places where primates live. These include the Rare Animal Conservation Center and the PECO Primate Reserve, where you can see golden lion tamarins and orangutans. These additions to the animals’ home make the entire visit a unique experience.
Grab Your Tickets to the Best Zoos in the US
Get ready to visit the finest zoos and aquariums in the US with discounted tickets from Tripster! Whether you're in Florida, California, Texas, or Arizona, you can plan an exciting trip to explore these amazing zoos and their conservation initiatives. Plus, enhance your savings by adding a hotel of your choice to your vacation package.
Don't miss this opportunity to experience the wonder of wildlife and support conservation efforts at the best zoos across the country!
Which Zoo is Your Favorite?
Did we miss any of the best zoos in America? Leave us a comment below!