The Top 10 Zoos in America

The next time you make a fool of yourself leaping out of the way of a mouse, take the moment after to appreciate the fact that the United States ranks on the far low end of the “native animals that can kill you” scale. Sure, we’ve got them – grizzly bears, brown recluse spiders, rattlesnakes – but the percentage chance that you will be mercilessly injured by an animal in the United States is lower than just about anywhere else in the world.

This fact may actually explain our fascination with zoos in this country. Whether its beasts-behind-bars, authentic habitats, aquariums or safari parks, zoological entertainment is big business in the United States. The rest of the world has the cool stuff, and we want to see it.

But not all zoos are created equal. Here at USA Travel Guide, we’ve compiled a list of our ten favorite zoos in America for all you animal-lovers out there to throw on the bucket list. Have fun!


#10 – Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana

Our first zoo is a charming mix of the old and new. The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, located in uptown, dates back to the early 20th century, a heritage you can see to this day in the architecture of the older facilities. However, the 21st century brought with it major renovations so that today the park is both old-world and world-class. The most popular exhibit is the Louisiana Swamp where you can see that zoo’s famous white alligators. Too scary? Two majestic white tiger brothers are also a principal attraction drawing crowds from all over the country. The Audubon Zoo also has a large aquarium, insectarium and IMAX® Theatre.

All exhibits closed on Monday. Admission varies by attraction. (Web site)

#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.

Open daily; seasonal hours. Standard admission: $17.95.

#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.

Open daily. Admission varies wildly. (Web site)


#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”.

Open daily; seasonal hours. Standard admission: $13. (Web site)

#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.

Open daily. Standard admission: $10. Offers “free” days throughout year. (Web site)

#5 – Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, Texas

Since its founding in 1909, accreditation has followed the Forth Worth Zoo, and today it has been heralded as the top zoo in the nation by Family Life, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. Although the zoo is well-rounded overall, with over 350 species from every continent except Antarctica, it pays special tribute to the native flora and fauna of Texas. In the feature exhibit, Texas Wild!, can learn all about the diverse wildlife of the Lone Star State while also seeing a historic glimpse back at turn-of-the-century Texas in an authentic town recreation from the early 1900′s.

Open daily; seasonal hours. Standard admission: $12. (Web site)


#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!

Open daily; seasonal hours. Standard admission: $16. (Web site)

#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.

Open daily. Standard admission: $24.

#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.Giraffes

Open daily. Standard admission: $35. (Web site)

#1 – Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio

While any of the zoos mentioned above are worthy of they respect they have garnered, none have achieved the positive worldwide reputation of the Columbus Zoo, arguably America’s favorite. While the zoo has been open continuously since 1927, its reputation grew to such heights under direction of the amiable Jack Hanna, one the America’s most beloved animal experts. Under Hanna’s guidance, the quality of the Columbus Zoo was elevated considerably, making it what is considered today to be the aspiration of any traditional zoo. Along with over 7,000 animals, the Columbus Zoo has more recently expanded to include a water park, amusement park and golf resort.

Open daily; seasonal hours. Seasonal/special rates available. (Web site)

For more fun travel info, be sure to check back often at USA Travel Guide.


  1. Joe Peffer Said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 8:22 am

    My family and I couldn’t agree more with your number one choice of zoos. We love the Columbus Zoo and it’s only getting better and better. Now, if we could just get the Giraffes and Zebras back to go with the incoming Polar Bears…

  2. Steven Said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 8:37 am

    Thanks for your comments, Joe.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to what makes the Columbus Zoo different: it continues to grow, it continues to explore, it continues to get better. We featured a lot of great zoos, but none that have the sense of evolution and creativity as the Columbus Zoo.

    Plus, with the addition of theme parks, it’s a true family mega-destination. We love it!

    Thanks again.

  3. Don E. Said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 8:56 am

    I respectfully disagree. I live near the Columbus zoo and have been a member of the Zoo in the recent past. While we have a VERY nice zoo it is NOT even close to the San Diego zoo. The new waterpark is also very nice but it has no bearing on the zoo itself, well except for the parking lot.

    By the way I have also been to the Cincinnati zoo and it is run down, unattractive, and in dire need of a remodel.

  4. Steven Said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 9:15 am

    Thanks, Don!

    I know you’re not the only one who feels that way when it comes to the San Diego Zoo.

    Normally I do a lot of the articles myself, but for this piece we got the whole office involved, and the opinions were strong. We narrowed down our ten fairly quick, but believe me when I say that we went back and forth on that number one spot. We’re talking conference room roundtable discussion.

    Columbus can’t compete with San Diego in sheer variety or even in quality of facilities on many points, this is something that team Columbus would concede, but on the other side, it was agreed (almost) universally that the Columbus Zoo just had a vibe about it. A sense of love, a sense of personality, a sense of realism.

    How it came down eventually was, “My brain says San Diego, but my heart says Columbus.” We finally went with our hearts.

    But you are not wrong. The San Diego Zoo is a shining example that all others would follow if they could.

    I’m sorry to hear you weren’t a fan of the Cincinnati Zoo. We enjoyed the history and stateliness of the place. It felt storied to us, but not run down. It’s been awhile since anyone on staff has been, however, so things might have changed.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  5. Joe Said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    When are you going to do a top ten aquarium list?

  6. Linda Said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

    I love your list of zoos. I would like to plan a vacation around family adventures that include zoos and theme parks for the summer. Do hotels usually offer packages or free tickets to zoos or other family parks? I am interested in Texas or California locations if you know of any.

  7. Steven Said,

    February 12, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    Hi Joe, not a bad idea. It’s definitely something we’ll put on our radar, but it will probably have to wait until after the Spring Break season. That’s a busy time for us around here, as you can imagine.

    Hi Linda. Many do, yes. We’ve found that Holiday Inns (and sister properties like Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza) tend to be good with those kinds of packages because they’re very family-oriented, so keep your eye out for those when you do your planning.

    If you want to check out our #2 zoo in America, consider staying at the Holiday Inn San Diego on the Bay. They’re offering a package to the Zoo and also to San Diego Sea World, which is part zoo part theme park (and part awesome!). Check out their San Diego vacation specials.

  8. Kris Said,

    February 12, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

    Thanks so much for your great review and kind words abot the Columbus Zoo. I work there and it’s great to see that all our hard work that we put into making it a great zoo is appreciated!! :o)

  9. Steven Said,

    February 13, 2009 @ 8:10 am

    Hi Kris,

    It was a fun article to put together. We’re happy you made the #1 spot!

    Thanks for your comments.

  10. doreen Said,

    February 13, 2009 @ 10:20 am

    Columbus Zoo Rocks! If you have never been there, it’s worth the trip. Their Christmas Lights display in 2008 was the best one yet. Highly recommend the Columbus Zoo for a winter trip.

  11. Columbus Zoo Named #1 by USA Travel Guide « Irish is an Attitude Blog Said,

    February 13, 2009 @ 11:31 am

    [...] New) More great news from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium …  they were just awarded the #1 Zoo in the Country by USA Travel Guide. The guide goes on to say what we already know… “The Columbus Zoo is considered today to be [...]

  12. Kerry Said,

    February 14, 2009 @ 9:29 am

    As members of the Columbus Zoo, it’s nice to see it recognized. There is something for everyone with all that it offers these days. We also love the Cincinnati zoo. The history and the botanical park distinguish it from other parks. Another great Ohio zoo is the Toledo Zoo.

  13. Tom Said,

    February 15, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

    I’m San Diego born but Columbus raised. I couldn’t be more proud of both of my hometowns! They certainly deserve to get top billing. San Diego has truly magnificent displays and in part can thank the Southern California weather for the lush displays and natural looking habitats. Columbus on the other hand continues to reinvent itself and has produced spectacular new exhibits over the past couple of decades and they are only getting better. Hats off to both and congrats Columbus – you deserve it!

  14. Joey Martin Said,

    February 16, 2009 @ 9:14 am

    The Columbus Zoo and aquarium is nice, my family has been members for the past 3 years, but I am an aquarium fan, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium should remove the Aquarium part, Ive seen better aquariums in peoples homes!! The zoo itself is nice, easy to get around and lots of attractions, we found new exhibits every week we didn’t know about this past summer, pretty cool. We’ve also been to the San Diego Zoo and we liked that a lot also, lots of walking up and down hills, I didn’t mind, but my in-laws were in trouble.

  15. Steven Said,

    February 16, 2009 @ 9:36 am

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    Our list seems to have caught some major attention :)

    The comments section even got a mention on Jack Hanna’s Blog ( check it out ). I can’t tell for certain, it could be a crafty blogger, but the blog appears to be written by Jungle Jack himself, in which case his response would not only honor USA Travel Guide, it would honor me personally.

    Keep’em coming everyone!

  16. Bob & Cynthia Oswalt Said,

    February 17, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    We agree heartily that the Columbus Zoo is the greatest. We live in Georgia so we can’t get there as offten as we would like but can’t wait until we are able to return for another visit.

  17. Karen Said,

    February 18, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

    I am soo pleased to hear the Columbus Zoo has the #1 spot!! I go as often as possible it has been a great and affordable place to take my daughter on weekly trips when the weather is nice and to all the events even when the weather doesn’t agree. I am a San Diego transplant and I can’t help but love the Columbus Zoo and would pick it any day over San Diegos and alot has to do with vibe, events, and heart! In another note I have visited zoos all around the country, I think those other zoo directors could learn a thing or two from Columbus! Great article and thank you for noticing the one place in Columbus I have raved about since moving here 10 years ago and have made every person who visits me here go, whether they like zoos or not!

  18. Steven Said,

    February 19, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Karen.

  19. Amy Katz Said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

    I think the most under appreciated zoo in the county is Omaha’s – no doubt it is easily one of the top 10

  20. Steven Said,

    February 23, 2009 @ 8:15 am

    You’re not the only one to fight on behalf of Omaha, Amy. In fact, the zoo contacted us directly to get the scoop. We have one expert who’s been there before, but we’re definitely looking to get a couple more out there whenever we have the chance now.

    Thanks for your comments.

  21. Spring Break Family Getaways – San Diego, California | Breaking Jist 4 U! Said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

    [...] Diego Zoo – Our #2 Zoo in America just might be the #1 kid-friendly attraction in San Diego. With over 4,000 animals, there’s [...]

  22. Shaun Jones Said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

    What about Saint Louis? It should be in the top 5.

  23. Steven Said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 8:29 am

    Hi Shaun, thanks for writing in.

    I’ve been contacted more than once on behalf of the Saint Louis Zoo. All I can offer as condolence is to say that it was definitely a part of the debate when we sat down to craft the list. Unfortunately, it was one of the many that for whatever reason kept sliding down, down, and down some more until it finally wasn’t on the list. It happened to Omaha and Bronx, too.

    There’s always next year though. As we have more and more opportunities to visit more and more zoos, we’ll definitely want to sit down, take stock, and have another go one day.

    Thanks again for writing.

  24. noah Said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    I enjoyed the list but the henry doorly zoo is definatly better than all of those. If anything Henry doorly and san diego zoo would be 1 and 2. iv heard many times that henry doorly zoo is better than san diego.

  25. Chris Said,

    February 28, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

    As a long time Cincinnati resident, I’m used to the flavor of our own Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, however I made a trip up to Toledo last fall and was pleasantly suprised. The Toledo Zoo was very neat and plentiful of unique species and exhibits. It’s definitely worth a stop sometime. As for Columbus and San Diego, I couldn’t be more excited that I’m visiting them both this summer!

  26. Merry Said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 8:17 am

    I am so glad my favorite zoo (the Philadelphia Zoo) made the list.

    I would really like to know more about how you made your selections. How many times did you visit each zoo? How many different zoos did you visit? Did you have a checklist with you?

    What factors influenced you decisions most?

    I think some kind of a comparison chart on specific criteria would be helpful, too.

  27. Nani Said,

    March 3, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

    Has anyone ever visited Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo? They were voted #1 family-friendly zoo in the U.S. I love it there! I’m surprised it didn’t make it on the list – I’ve heard it’s comparible with San Diego. I hope to visit some of these other zoos.

  28. Nathan Said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 7:43 am

    Thanks for a great list, Steven! I’ve only been to about half of these zoos, but from my limited experience, I agree 100% with your assessment of the Columbus Zoo. It’s known for exploration, frequent new exhibits, and great animal loans. The credit for its success goes to Jack Hanna, as well former executive director Jerry Borin, who was willing to sit back and control the operations while Jack was traveling the world with his animals, promoting the Columbus Zoo.

    As for “noah,” his e-mail speaks for itself. Everybody has a right to an opinion, and I prefer to use punctuation and capitalization in mine. The Henry Doorly Zoo is a great zoo, although I haven’t been there in many years. But what Columbus has in its favor is its ability and desire to pay for zoo upgrades. It’s the largest city and metro area in America with no major league football, basketball or baseball, and Jack Hanna is a very popular figure. So Columbusites tend to be willing to splurge when tax levies come up to support the zoo and other leisure activities.

  29. Steven Said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 8:24 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Nani, while comparisons to San Diego are a little generous, in my opinion, you’re absolutely right to defend it. Lowry Park is unmatched in its presentation of the diverse, not to mention fascinating ecology of Florida. We also appreciate the mixture of traditional exhibits and interactive exhibits, sometimes taking you “hands on” in the most literal sense. It was a part of our discussion, but unfortunately it didn’t make the list this time around.

    Nathan, I’m glad you agree about the Columbus Zoo. We’ve received plenty of flak for it, especially in favor of San Diego, but we really do think we made the right choice with Columbus. You can visit several times a year, and have a different experience every time, which not a lot of zoos can say. As for Henry Doorly in Omaha, this has proven our most regrettable omission. My inbox has seen more than a few letters, some of them nearing outrage, in defense of the zoo. As before, all I can say is, “we agree!” As the discussion flows around the table, zoos rise and zoos fall, and sometimes big names find themselves on the cutting room floor (Bronx would be another).

    Fortunately, these zoos are lauded far and wide, some with trails of commendations already. We take some comfort in knowing that our more unusual picks – Cincinnati, Lion Country Safari, Philadelphia – stand to benefit far more through inclusion than the biggest players ever would or could.

    Thanks again.

  30. Merry Said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

    I’m sorry, Steven, but you’re wrong. Both the Cincinnati Zoo and the Philadelphia Zoo have been lauded far and wide and have a trail of [well-deserved] commendations. And not just from longtime zoo advocates and enthusiasts like me!

    The Philadelphia Zoo is world renowned and definitely one of the top tourist attractions in the area, with more than a million visitors every year! Its newest exhibit, Big Cat Falls, was the AZA’s choice for the Best New Exhibit of the Year in 2007.

    And, according to the Cincinnati Zoo’s website, it was recently voted the number one family attraction in Ohio, as well as being included on Child Magazine’s Top Ten Zoos for Kids list.

    Also, I’m not sure how much being on a Top Ten list really helps if an organization really needs help in gaining recognition – there are just so many top ten lists, and they are all subjective, as you said.

    The value in Top Ten lists is, I believe, that people enjoy reading them, and enjoy agreeing or disagreeing with them in comments! And that, of course, is what really spreads the good (or bad) word!

  31. Steven Said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

    They certainly do. Thanks again, Merry.

  32. Richard Said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 10:15 am

    I think the big thing is that with this list, the zoos on the list will work to try an improve thier rating for next time. The zoos that failed to make the list will hopely try to improve to make it next time. SO all I can say is for the animals that depend on the zoos to survive and the people that love to visit them. This can lead to nothing less then a win/win for all.

  33. Richard Said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 10:24 am

    The fort worth zoo held a free day after seeign this list.

  34. Lion Country Safari Named #3 US Zoo by USA Travel Guide | Sun, Surf, and So Much More Said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    [...] The report rewards the individuality of the experience, continuing to say it is “still the best.” You can view the entire report here. [...]

  35. Jeff Miller Said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    Can’t believe Lion Country Safari is the third best zoo. Go Lion Country

  36. Austin Said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    Columbus Zoo definitely has more personality than any zoo my family and I have ever seen. I’d like to see a few more on the list. Enjoyed Cincinatti, Bronx and S.D. and Columbus was the best of the best!

  37. Juliane Said,

    March 19, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

    I love the Saint Louis Zoo–My kids never tire of seeing the underwater Hippos, sliding down
    the glass slide in the Childrens Museum which takes you through the River Otter Exhibit.
    The Jungle of the Ape Exhibits is always exciting. My kids love the 3D Planet Earth movie.
    My kids just came back from the Insectarium at the Zoo all excited about Butterflys from
    Africa. Its just that it has everything Big Cats, Big Elephants, African trails, Penguin and
    Puffin coast which is my favorite because you actuary get splashed by the penguins as they
    are diving under water. My little loves the little red train that chugs merrily along and I
    appreciate the free price of admission. I love how the people of the Midwest/ Saint Louis are
    so proud of their zoo they want it to be free for all!!! I love how they already have a plan for
    the next 25 years. I loved the Animal Kingdom but have been to so many other zoos that pale in comparison to The Saint Louis Zoo. I want to thank my fellow St.Louisans for being so progressive and forward thinkers that they always support the zoo/museum tax. The free entry fee means so
    much to my children and they can go back week after week.

  38. Steven Said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 7:00 am

    Thanks Juliane, we love it, too!

    You really can’t argue with free admission! I’m happy you seem to enjoy it as much as your kids. How much easier that must make it!

    When I was young, it wasn’t the zoo, it was the original animated Transformers movie, and I wanted to watch it over and over and over. Drove my parents nuts!

    Thanks again for writing in.

  39. Sarah Said,

    March 22, 2009 @ 2:25 pm


    What a wonderful list. Its nice to see the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium finally get its due! My family has been members for 6 years now and have made it our family tradition to use the membership’s inclusion in the AZA reciprocal program a part of our family vacations each year. The inclusion of the Cincinnati Zoo into the top 10 list just reinforces what many of us in Ohio already knew: Ohio is a wonderful place for family’s to see wildlife up close. While I was a little disappointed to not see a few of our states other wonderful zoos on the list (namely The Wilds, Toledo Zoo and The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo & Rain Forest), I’m sure they would have made the top 25, okay top 50, had you been compiling that list. Anyways, job well done!

  40. molly Said,

    March 30, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    I’ve just got to ask, have you thought about doing a separate list for just ‘children’s zoos’. I ask because my family LOVES the Ft Wayne Children’s Zoo, and I noticed that it wasn’t on your list- How do zoos differentiate between a ‘regular zoo’ and a ‘children’s zoo?’

  41. thomas Said,

    April 4, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

    The bronx zoo is wonderful too.

  42. vale Said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 8:40 am

    this zoo is the best zoo ive ever been to

  43. Michelle Said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 11:24 am

    I had the great fortune to actually work at the Columbus Zoo and Aquariaum for several years…not only is it a wonderful place to visit, it was a fantastic place to work! It will always hold a special place in my heart and I am so glad to see it get the great press it deserves. Much of the praise should also go to the Franklin County residents who always vote for the zoo projects and keep coming back year after year!

  44. Winston Said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

    Thanks for putting together this list. More zoos to visit! (I’ve been to 4 on the list)

    Regarding Giant Pandas and the San Diego zoo, surely you meant one of four in the US, rather than the World, the other three being National Zoo in DC, ZooAtlanta in GA, and the Memphis Zoo in Tn.

  45. Ashok Said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

    Surprised that you left out Omaha Zoo, with its 1.5 acre 8-story high fiberglass dome that faithfuly reproduces Asian, African and South American rain forests, with the climate, trees, waterfalls, birds and animals of each environment. That and many other innovations make it the most interesting zoo I have seen. It certainly deserves to be in Top 10, even though Columbus and San Diego deserve the top two spots.

  46. Kristy P Said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

    Thanks for bringing attention to the Columbus Zoo. I’m fortunate enough to live very close by. I take my children quite often and we see a different part of the zoo each time, with a visit to Africa, and specifically the gorillas, each time. Colo is the 1st gorilla born in captivity and she is now 52 or so. Pretty amazing to see history when we visit.
    I was very surprised to see the Houston Zoo on this list. I’ve been several times and have never heard of the private tours. The rest of the Houston Zoo didn’t seem to have much to offer…and it’s so hot most of the year.
    Interesting list. Thanks for showing the country that Columbus has a lot to offer!

  47. sarah Said,

    April 12, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    I was thrilled to see Columbus, Philly, and Cincy Zoos on this list, also Animal Kingdom; I can’t comment on the other zoos personally as I haven’t visited them but I have heard nothing but great things about the San Diego Zoo also. I live in Pittsburgh PA and love our zoo, and as a member take advantage of the recip zoo program when we travel. The Cleveland and Toledo Zoos have been mentioned and I agree that they are great, but also some smaller zoos that I love include the Akron Zoo and the Erie Zoo. These are nice because they aren’t super huge that require an entire day to see everything and won’t tire the little ones (or elderly family members) out or overwhelm anybody who isn’t used to huge zoos or being out in the public much. I will say that we do try to visit the Columbus Zoo at least once a year, even though it’s a 200+ drive for us, we love it there THAT much!

  48. David G. Signer Said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

    Been to Philly yesterday.Wow!

  49. Matthew Said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

    Unbelievable that the Omaha Zoo wasn’t listed.

  50. leah Said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 10:15 pm

    What about the San Antonio Zoo? Talk about having a vibe- I don’t know what exactly it is about that place, but wow, does it have a nice feel to it.

    San Diego is just so over-the-top commercialized. Everything is a big deal there. San Antonio might be the opposite, it’s all understated. Two feet from you in an open exhibit is a bald eagle.

    That place deserves a “shout out” :)

  51. john rich Said,

    April 21, 2009 @ 10:11 am

    I have to said that the san diego zoo is one of the best First or second it has every thing the animals could need And just a 30 min drive north you have the wild animal park where all the animals roam free just like africa…….Which is run by the SAN DIEGO ZOO

  52. phipps Said,

    April 21, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    Hmm…I find it hard to believe that the St. Louis Zoo is no where on this list. It is/has been listed in top lists, not to mention that it is/has be wonderfully developed, not to mention it is free of charge to enter!

  53. chris Said,

    April 22, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

    I am a faithful member of Miami Metro Zoo. Wonderful aviary and amazing place. See it if you are here!

  54. Steven Said,

    April 23, 2009 @ 7:01 am

    Thanks you, everyone, for writing in. It’s great to see each of you support your favorite zoos.

    From Omaha to St. Louis to Miami, we agree with you – great destinations each!

    Alas, a top 10 just isn’t big enough to include all the parks we’d like, so hard, painful decisions had to be made. This is how it shaked out this time, but as long as you keep fighting the fight for your favorites, they’ll hardly need recognition from us.

    Thanks again, peeps.

  55. David G. Signer Said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 7:07 am

    Yeah, I agree with “chris”. I live in NY, but my grandparents live in Miami-Dade, and I used to as well. I must say I have never seen a zoo the likes of that. Philly Zoo is great, but it’s not as good as MMZ.

  56. Sima Aminfar Said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    We love the colubmus zoo, we are member since our kids were born, lots of fun in columbus zoo.
    The only thing I concern there is not many variety animal such as giraffes, camel, peacock, …and more.

  57. Phil & Rachael Said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

    I am very surprised to see the Phoenix Zoo on this list. It is a large zoo, but it’s so hot most of the year that the animals are always hiding. You almost never see any, and there isn’t enough shade to walk around in. :) I loved the Tucson Zoo, it was much smaller, but there are trees everywhere, and you always get to see the animals. Also, if you are ever in AZ, check out the Sonoran Desert Museum too, (in Tucson), it’s a great place to spend the day.

  58. Judith Said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:44 am

    I am so disappointed in that the Toledo Zoo is not in the top ten. It was for years in spite of being the smallest on the list. Now they have enlarged and have the most wonderful exhibits and are so people oriented and they are dropped from the top ten. Whats with this? Happy to see Columbus up there though.

  59. bryan Said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    where is henry doorly? Omaha has the largest indoor rainforest in the world, the largest indoor desert in the world, the largest indoor swamp in the world, the second largest aviary in the world, and the largest cat facility in north america. they add to the zoo every year.

  60. The Columbus Experience » Blog Archive » Experience Asian culture in Columbus this weekend Said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 6:31 am

    [...] get overnight accommodations and up to four free passes to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium – the #1 Zoo in America – where you can meet their new baby Asian [...]

  61. Carter L Said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 8:39 am

    The Columbus Zoo is definitely the most improved zoo in the last 15 years (Zebras or not). I have visited 7 of the ten zoos on your list and all have nice things about them (esp. Philadelphia) but you are right on the money with Columbus. There is just something extra special there, I can’t describe it. The “Jungle Jack Hannah” thing isn’t even played up there at all to me. It’s more about families, great original exhibits, and creating a wonderful experience for visitors of all ages. Not to mention it seems like they add a new attraction every year? The zoo has purchased a ton of land surrounding it in recent years and have even carved out a new entrance road and parking lot. I went a month ago and saw that they are currently building a new Polar Bear (Alaska habitat) exhibit there for the near future, possibly 2010? Simply amazing place and well deserving of the top spot.

  62. Katie Said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

    hi i totaly agree that the colombus zoo is the alltime best! i live in ohio so we go there alot also we go to the zoo in cincinatti some but it will never compare to the colombus zoo, iv never been to anyother zoo on the list but my suggestion is u go to the toledo zoo it is fun and they do have zebras. but you can only see them on the train. but zebras or not colombus is the #1 zoo in the contry iv been to!

  63. Hematoma Joe Said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

    Don’t forget the amazing, yet often overlooked Toledo Zoo. Between Columbus, Toledo, and Cincinnati, Ohio must be the best Zoo State around!

  64. John Said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

    I think that your missing one of the best zoos in that list the Omaha Henry Doorly should be at least at the number 5 spot.

  65. Sydney Said,

    May 31, 2009 @ 7:28 am

    i just went to the comlumbus zoo yesturday for the first time in about 5 years, so much has changed and its awsome! you guys should visit sometime! and there is a little baby elephant! i havent seen it yet because the line was too long.

  66. mina Said,

    June 7, 2009 @ 10:18 am

    I thought the st. louis zoo was #1. It says that on the banners by it.

  67. Maggie Said,

    June 14, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    Hey Steven — I just wanted to thank you and your team for writing up this list. I can tell how much thought and time you put into it, and I am absolutely thrilled to see the props that Columbus Zoo is getting. I have never been before, but I live in Ohio now and I can’t wait to make the trek up there! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    (PS – This is not meant to be a quibble in any sense — I really like your list — but just to let you know, I do have to agree with one of the commenters above that the Cincinnati Zoo was really disappointing. I went about a month ago, and the selection of the animals that they had was fantastic…but it was terribly run. Huge traffic problems, food staffing issues, hard to find the exhibits, strange layout, etc. I’m still glad that I went because I got to see lots of critters I’d never seen before (my favorite was Pallas’s Cat), but it’s certainly not a top ten this year.)

  68. JT Said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 2:08 am

    I wonder if the panel considered the Columbus Zoo’s direct association with The Wilds? I would say that helps take the Cbus Zoo to the top.

    2002 – Responding to financial pressures, the Wilds Board of Trustees initiated a major reorganization, including the development of a closer working relationship with the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

    Uh oh conservation love:

    Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2)
    The Wilds is a founding member of Conservation Centers for Species Survival, a group of large conservation facilities in North America dedicated to cooperative conservation and research for the advancement of species conservation. Other C2S2 founding partners are:

    San Diego Wild Animal Park

    Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
    Since 2002, the Wilds and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have worked together very closely. In addition to collaborating on specific conservation projects, the two organizations have developed a formal relationship that allows for sharing of resources to strengthen both institutions.


    Can’t go to Africa, come to Ohio, ha.

    Side Note:
    I agree that the waterpark and golf course at the Columbus Zoo are extraneous. But that is the nature of summertime capitalism in a state that is the rollercoaster king and home to Muirfield and Firestone.

  69. The Columbus Experience » Blog Archive » Great deals, free things to do and festivals in Columbus Said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    [...] is home to the #1 zoo and the #1 science center in the United States. So this summer, Experience Columbus is helping [...]

  70. Audrey Said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 11:29 am

    I”ve been to lots of zoos across the U.S. and the best one by far is the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s not even on this list! It’s an amazing zoo, with the world’s largest indoor rainforest, largest indoor desert, and largest nocturnal exhibit. Best zoo in the world!!!! by contrast the Houston zoo and even the San Diego zoo are barely worth seeing

  71. Steven Said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    Thanks Audrey, we appreciate your fervor.

    The Henry Doorly Zoo is a wonderful institution respected throughout the industry, and we love it. I really can’t explain why the voting committee didn’t get behind it at the time. However, it will be eligible next year as it was this year, and we wish them the best.

  72. David Said,

    July 1, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

    The Saint Louis Zoo should be in the top 10, if not #1. The park has been open since the 1910′s, Marlin Perkins (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom) was curator, the park has 90 acres, historic and modern buildings (one dates back to the 1904 Worlds Fair) was one of the first to display animals in natural “grotto’s” not behind bars and is totaly free.

  73. Dan Rabb Said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 8:12 am

    Seriously, was the St. Louis Zoo even considered in this top ten? It’s an amazing zoo! It has to be one of the largest free-admission zoos out there, but that isn’t what makes it impressive. They have done an amazing job in the last 10 years or so of really making it a must-see for zoo lovers.

  74. Deb Brandt Said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    Anyone ever been to the Henry Doorly zoo in Omaha, NE? It’s an awesome zoo and truly ranks up there w/ San Diego and Columbus. Has lots of animals in there natural habitat surroundings. It’s well worth a visit!!

  75. Courtny Said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 9:27 am

    sedgwick county zoo wichita ks is awsome:D

  76. Lizabeth Said,

    July 16, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

    Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska is soooo much better than many of these! Really, one of the very best. This list is certainly more political than accurate or they would be on here and near the top. Now that they’ve got Rosenblatt (College World Series) old stadium, expect more and ever greater things to add to their current outstanding list.

  77. Steven Said,

    July 17, 2009 @ 9:36 am

    Thanks for your comments Lizabeth. We’re glad you feel strongly about Henry Doorly. It’s certainly among the most controversial absentees, and the sheer number of readers that have come to its defense speaks for itself.

    I can assure you that there is nothing political about this list. As an independent, non-profit service (we don’t even host ads), USA Travel Guide has nothing to gain by providing anything but our honest opinion.

    We’ve been to Henry Doorly. We liked it, but it’s become obvious that we missed something. It is definitely on our list to revisit.

    Thanks again for writing in.

  78. Kevin Said,

    July 18, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    I just wanted to say, as someone who lives in Dayton and therefore visits the Columbus and Cincinnati zoos regularly, that I am proud to see both zoos on the list. But after reading the list and the comments here, I feel like I must be crazy. I have always enjoyed the Cincinnati Zoo more than the one in Columbus. I feel like the exhibits are higher in quality and there are more unusual animals. And, of course, their endangered species program is fantastic. I might just be the only person to say this, but I will always choose to visit the Cincinnati Zoo over Columbus. (not slamming Columbus, by the way – it is great as well – I just absolutely LOVE Cincinnati)

  79. KALLIE Said,

    July 19, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    I guess if water parks and gimmicks make a top zoo, this list is correct. But, if you go to a zoo for the exhibits and to learn about animals, then Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and it’s wildlife safari are by far and away at least a top 5 pick.

  80. Eric Griesheimer Said,

    July 22, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    Columbus loves its zoo. I live in Nashville which has a very disappointing zoo. I would love to make it out to see the San Diego zoo sometime.

  81. Stan Yodz Said,

    July 26, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    Why no mention of the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park? (San Diego Zooligical Society) The combination of the two parks, collections, displays & innovations are by far exceptional. The other important fact is that the weather in San Diego affords 365 days of comfortable natural access to the exhibits & animals. Another great bonus is the proximity of Sea World San Diego…& it’s fine collection of marine mamals.

    Stan Yodz

  82. Jeremy Said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    I’d like to agree with a user above, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is yet another fine zoo in Ohio. c: I’m nineteen, and have gone there since I was probably an infant; I have only good memories at the Metroparks Zoo and Rainforest. It is currently expanding in several construction projects, and consistently has new exhibits on display. It also has the nation’s largest number of primates in a zoo.
    Definitely would have made top twenty-five, without a doubt. :}

  83. Stan Said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

    Been to 3 or 4 zoos around USA. St.louis definitely is one of the best. Excellently designed. Unlike Sandiego where you walk and walk and walk..seeing nothing this is a pretty good zoo. Very under-rated.

  84. Eric Said,

    August 13, 2009 @ 12:19 am

    I have actually been to most of these Zoos and currently reside is a suburb of Columbus, and live 25 minutes away from the Columbus zoo, and although I have only been to the Columbus Zoo a couple of times I must agree I think it is great, but when I was younger I may have had a greater appreciation for these attractions (the opposite of what most would believe.) When I was younger my family were members of the New Orleans Zoo, and we attended there regularly (ok so not quite as much as the aquarium) but I absolutly loved the zoo, I have also been to the Cincinatti zoo, and I agree with Don, that the Cinnci zoo is just not that great. The Houston and San Diego zoo’s, I believe are just too vast to be enjoyed, they have cool features, but they are MASSIVE! there is no way you can see everything in the zoo in one day. But I do believe you and your team have put together a great list. Also there is a zoo in Colorado Springs that I kind of enjoyed. I wish I could recall the name (maybe Chyanne Ntl. Park and Zoo) but it seemed nice, well I liked it better than the Cincinatti zoo anyway. but I’m not downing your opinions. I’m just tossing mine out there.

  85. lance fuqua Said,

    August 14, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

    St.louis is top 2 hands down.

  86. Annie Said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    I have to disagree with so many comments… my family lives in Cincinnati, and have been members of the Cincinnati Zoo for years. We are also frequent visitors of other zoos, and I can honestly say that we love our zoo best of all. My son has had the great pleasure of interacting with so many different animals with the zoo’s public outreach effort, and we have enjoyed so many wonderful times there. The exhibits are clean and well-planned, and the breadth of animals is amazing.

    I think what some people notice is that you have to go through a pretty rough area to get there. But the zoo itself is great!

  87. Ryan Lesniewicz Said,

    August 31, 2009 @ 8:00 am

    I have never been to these zoos but I have been to the Toledo Zoo and I think its a good one as well

  88. haleigh Said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

    The Toledo Zoo is in the technical rancking of the top zoo’s. It is very nice with a new childrens zoo that is very pro green and is wonderful in the christmas time with the Lights Before Christmas. I think that it should of been on there. I have been to the San Diego Zoo, but just because they have a wide variety of animals dosnt mean much. It is alot of walking to do just to see all of it, but at the Toledo Zoo, you can see all there animals and still have time to go do something fun with the kids in the children zoo.

  89. becca Said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

    oh my gosh i can not belivie that the phoenix zoo is one i live there

  90. Kelly Said,

    September 11, 2009 @ 9:13 am

    The fact that the Bronx Zoo was omitted calls into questions the validity of the list. Full disclosure..the only other zoo on the list I have been to is Lion Country Safari but it just does not compare to the Bronx Zoo in any argument.

  91. Steven Said,

    September 11, 2009 @ 11:57 am

    Thanks, everyone, for writing in. We love to see people debate our list.

    Kelly, thanks for your comment. Read through the list and you will find an army of readers who agree with you. Know that the Bronx Zoo did defend itself. I was contacted personally by the Zoo with an emphatic “What gives?!”

    The Bronx Zoo was in the running like so many other fantastic institutions – Henry Doorly, St. Louis – but we stand by our list. The Bronx Zoo charms hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of guests every year, but it can’t possibly charm the all. As they say, you can’t please everyone.

    Unfortunately, more than a few of those non-charmed we’re on our selection panel.

    But we will be back. Readers comments have more than convinced us that another look is well in order. When we next compile this list, we hope we feel comfortable extending them the courtesy of joining it.

    Thanks again.

  92. Steven Said,

    September 14, 2009 @ 7:20 am

    Hello, everyone!

    We’d like to thank everyone for their continued support and discussion on what has proven to be our most popular article. I’ve enjoyed reading all of your comments immensely.

    Unfortunately, this article has developed a bit of a spam problem. We will be closing the article to comments for the time being while our team fixes things up. If you’ve commented in the past, don’t worry. All of your comments will remain visible.

    We apologize for the inconvenience.

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