Our Picks: The Nation's Best Zoos

Family, Featured Article, Travel

Whether you’re looking for a quick family-friendly summer getaway or are seeking a fun day trip as part of longer vacation, consider stopping at one of these zoos. Our selections in top family-friendly destinations, find out why we think these zoos are tops!

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Perilla Gages Shadow

CREDIT: CincinnatiZoo.org

Touted as the “greenest zoo in America,” the Cincinnati Zoo has a serious commitment to environmentally friendly practices and family-friendly practices, too! Zoo programming includes family sleepover nights where children ages 5 and older and parents/caregivers can spend the night near the giraffe exhibit or manatee aquarium and enjoy behind-the-scenes peeks. Speaking of giraffes, Cincinnati just welcomed a brand new giraffe calf named “Keeper.” Other cool critters in residence include red pandas, manatees and one of the only black rhinos left in the world. Find out more about the zoo’s exhibits, conservation efforts and more at cincinnatizoo.org.


The National Zoo

Red Panda

CREDIT: Meghan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Two thousand individual animals reside in the heart of the nation’s capital thanks to the National Zoo. As a part of the Smithsonian enterprise of museums and learning institutions, the zoo is open 364 days a year, and admission is free. One of the hottest attractions includes the chance to observe giant panda cub Bao Bao, who made waves last year as the newest addition to the zoo. The daily schedule is chock full of informative sessions with critters of all kinds, from orangutans to lemurs. Be sure to download the zoo’s free app for up-to-the-minute news and real-time views of gorillas, tigers, flamingos, lions, and golden lion tamarins. Find our more about other free programming, animal exhibits and more at nationalzoo.si.edu. 


St. Louis Zoo


CREDIT: stlzoo.org

Gateway to the West or a walk on the wild side? The St. Louis Zoo includes the expected exotic critters with the added bonus of a significant historical component. Historic Hill includes the original 1904 zoo structure as a home to sea lions, exotic birds, reptiles, and the like. Hop on the Zooline Railroad to explore more than a mile of zoo and a guided tour. If your trip is planned for a few weeks out, consider scheduling one of the behind-the-scenes tours, which provide an exclusive peek into the day-to-day life as a zookeeper. Learn more about the zoo’s conservation and education efforts and more at stlzoo.org


ZooAmerica—North American Wildlife Park


CREDIT: zooamerica.com

Trade in the usual exotics for an in-depth look at the species native to North America. Located in Hershey Park, Penn., ZooAmerica’s wildlife sanctuary is divided into regional exhibits that reflect the ecological make-up of North America: Southern Swamps, Northlands, Eastern Woodlands, Big Sky Country and the Great Southwest. If your crew leans to the nocturnal side, Creatures of the Night is a can’t-miss opportunity to grab flashlights and check out zoo critters’ nighttime habits. Check out the zoo calendar, current exhibits, ticket prices and more at zooamerica.com.


Woodland Park Zoo

raised trunk

CREDIT: zoo.org

Cheetahs and other spotted friends will soon invade the Seattle-based Woodland Park Zoo. Already home to more than 300 species, the long-awaited cheetah exhibit will showcase Liz and Missy, two 14-year-old female cheetahs. Other adorable residents include a brand new porcupine baby known as a “porcupette” and four new otter pups. For an atypical zoo experience, be sure to check out the summer concert series, where children 12 and younger get in free with each paid ticket. Learn more about special programs, contests, hours and more at zoo.org.

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