Animals are a guaranteed winner when you’re traveling with kids. The United States is home to some incredible zoos making strides in protecting endangered species, educating visitors on how to protect their natural habitats and showing off animals that most people will never see in the wild. These vibrant collections of creatures will pack enough excitement into one day that will have your kids talking for a lifetime.
The unexpectedly awesome contender
Photo by Amanda Vandermotten
A perennial Top 10 establishment, the Toledo Zoo in Ohio is definitely worth the trip. With 9,000 animals representing over 800 species, is it really any wonder? Their new children’s area with a tree house and honeybee exhibit has wowed audiences since it opened. The Hippoquariam allows parents and children to observe the hippos from above and below the water, making sure no one misses a sighting of these massive, yet majestic creatures.
The first American zoo
Photo by Steve Eng
America’s first zoo was founded in 1859 when Pennsylvania signed the charter establishing the Zoological Society of Philadelphia. More than 150 years later, 1,300 rare and exotic animals now call the Philadelphia Zoo home. The Children’s Zoo (North America’s first) allows children to get up close to the animals in the petting yard and participate in daily animal shows. The Rare Animal Conservation Center gives visitors a peek at the work the zoo does behind the scenes to make sure endangered species, like the blue-eyed lemur, are not wiped off the planet forever.
The one that started small
Photo by Brandi Korte
Texas has more than enough zoos to entertain your family, but it’s the Fort Worth Zoo that should not be forgotten. Founded in 1909, it is the oldest zoo in Texas and started out with a modest collection of just one lion, two bear cubs, an alligator, a coyote, a peacock and a few rabbits. Today the zoo has evolved into a world-class institution. Although you might visit for the animals (who doesn’t love meerkats, giraffes and elephants?) there are loads of attractions like the hurricane and tornado simulator, a wild west shooting gallery and the Play Barn for kids to explore.
The baby booming zoo
Photo by Helix 90
Seattle boasts an impressive zoo with expansive grounds and a thriving breeding program that is making sure some of the world’s most endangered creatures continue to thrive. Daily programs teach children about elephants, birds of prey and kids can even feed the giraffes. The zoo has seen an influx of newborn babies in the last few years, making it a great place to see the cutest baby animals. Take your kids on a ride around the historic carousel and even sit down for a live concert during the summer through their ZooTunes concert series. On rainy days families can stay dry in the Zoomazium, an indoor jungle gym that will make monkeys out of the most serious visitor.
The one everyone knows but is truly amazing
Photo by Bill Gracey
No zoo list is complete without mentioning the San Diego Zoo, arguably the best in the nation. This zoo boasts over 3,700 animals and is one of three U.S. zoos to pandas, creatures that are sure to delight even the grumpiest kid in your group. Behind the scenes tours are available, including an early morning with the pandas. If you aren’t up for the added cost of a behind the scenes tour, head to the children’s zoo to get your chance to meet one of the 45 animals trained to interact with children. Not too far from the zoo is their sister property, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an expansive wildlife sanctuary that is home to over 2,600 animals.
What are some of your favorite zoos in the country?