|Polar Bear at Columbus Zoo|
2. San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California
We mulled over the placement of the San Diego Zoo at some length. Did it deserve to be number one? Maybe so, but even at number two, the San Diego Zoo stands above the crowd for its immense size, its variety and its commitment to driving the conservation and protection of animals higher than ever. Known as one of America’s most modern zoological parks, history shows the San Diego Zoo at the forefront of nearly every innovation in contemporary zoo keeping. The zoo has pioneered the use of “cageless” exhibits, and strongly promotes the use of open air attractions. With over 4,000 animals and 880 species to see, there’s truly something for everyone, but the absolute must-see is the Giant Panda exhibit, one of only four in the world.
3. Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach, Florida
Moving into the altogether different realm of Safari parks, Lion Country Safari near West Palm Beach, Florida is the nation’s original open-road animal attraction, and arguably it’s still the best. At Lion Country Safari, you enter in your own vehicle and drive through the zoo over 5 miles of road, more or less at your own pace. While certain animals such as lions and chimpanzees must be contained in fences for their safety and yours, others including zebras and giraffes roam freely and may even hold you up if they decide to take a rest on the road. The open-road zoo is followed up by Safari World, which hosts traditional zoological attractions as well as carnival rides.
4. Phoenix Zoo in Phoenix, Arizona
The largest non-profit zoo in the United States, the Phoenix Zoo is a must for family vacations in Phoenix or pretty much anyone who likes to enjoy a laidback afternoon. This massive 125-acre complex differs from most modern zoos in how it structures its 1,200+ animals into four long trails covering the native wildlife of Arizona, Africa, and others. There’s also a large “touch” tank called Stingray Bay. You can guess what they’ve got there. Also unusual, the wide sprawl of the park allows for rollerblades and bicycles. It’s not just a place to see amazing sights; it’s a great place to work out!
5. Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, Texas
|Fort Worth Zoo|
6. Houston Zoo in Houston, Texas
Another fairly large zoo, and certainly one of North America’s most-attended, the Houston Zoo stands out for its surprisingly modern facilities (many of the exhibits have been at least renovated in the past five years) and some interesting choices in how to see the park. Of course you can set off on you own as you might expect, but with an advance reservation the Houston Zoo offers you to set-up a private tour that will take you beyond the normal visitation parameters. Get a glimpse of all the behind-the-scenes action at the zoo, watch special feedings, see the animal hospital, and even look in on an animal training session. It costs a little more, but for true zoo-lovers it’s the experience of a lifetime.
7. Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio
Another large zoo with scores of “best of…” lists to its name, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden holds among its many distinctions an honored place in zoo history as the second zoo in the United States, having opened not long after the Philadelphia Zoo in 1875. The modern value of the Cincinnati Zoo is inherent in its vast collection of endangered species and plants, including macaws, Indian rhinos, cheetahs, Brazilian ocelots and Western Lowland gorillas. Successful breeding programs for all of these species have earned the zoo the unofficial nickname, “The Sexiest Zoo in America”.
8. Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando Florida
That Disney would even open a true blue zoological park left a sour taste in the mouths of many who wouldn’t trust the ethics of the company any farther than they could throw a cartoon mouse, but over ten years have passed since Animal Kingdom’s 1998 debut, and all that remains is an attractive, utterly massive zoo with wonders aplenty. Put your fears to rest: Disney’s Animal Kingdom is fully-accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Although the inclusion of rides and speculative exhibits qualifies the Animal Kingdom as a theme park, this place is the real deal.
Exhibits are divided into seven major sections, each blending natural animal habitats with various other Disney-fied attractions. The Africa section is perhaps the most popular with a walking trail designed to imitate a jungle valley in Africa and also a simulated safari experience with giraffes, hippos, elephants and much more. Combined, Disney’s Animal Kingdom houses over 1,700 hundred animals throughout the 500-acre park.
9. Philadelphia Zoo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Although it didn’t open until 1874, after the American Civil War, the Philadelphia Zoo was chartered in March of 1859, making it the oldest zoo in America and just days away from its 150th anniversary. Not only is it a fanciful, family-friendly park with 1,300 animals to discover, it’s a revered historic site celebrating the many years of successful zoology in the United States. With 42 acres to explore, you’ll want to show up early and be ready for a full day. Popular exhibits include the Big Cat Falls, home to lions, tigers and jaguars, and the Rare Animal Conservation Center.
10. Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana