Readers Choice

10Best Readers' ChoiceChosen by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best

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    #10 - San Diego Zoo & Safari Park - San Diego

    One of only four U.S. zoos to exhibit giant pandas, the 100-acre San Diego Zoo features 3,700 animals from more than 650 species and subspecies, and the 1,800 Safari Park has another 2,600 animals from 300 species. Some of the zoo's biggest contributions have come through its conservation programs, including its distinction as the first North American zoo to produce a surviving giant panda cub through artificial insemination.

    Photo courtesy of Heather Paul

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    #9 - Dallas Zoo - Dallas

    An Association of Zoos and Aquariums award-winner for its exhibits, the Dallas Zoo is the largest in Texas with 106 acres. Founded in 1888, the zoo features approximately 430 species (not including fish), of which 66 are part of the AZA Species Survival Plans. The Wilds of Africa exhibit, where guests embark on a Monorail Safari through six exhibit areas, was the first in the world to include every major habitat on the African continent.

    Photo courtesy of DCVB

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    #8 - Brookfield Zoo - Chicago

    Chicago's 216-acre Brookfield Zoo, operated by the Chicago Zoological Society, features all the favorites. Guests find polar bears, tigers, gorillas and other iconic critters, as well as a few interesting residents, like a spirited flock of Humboldt penguins with its own baby chick born in February. The Brookfield Zoo has also been recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its outstanding educational programs, including the partially kid-designed Hamill Family Play Zoo.

    Photo courtesy of Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough

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    #7 - Houston Zoo - Houston

    More than 6,000 critters reside at the 55-acre Houston Zoo, its exhibit spaces designed to get visitors up-close-and-personal with some of the world's most interesting species. In the indoor Natural Encounters exhibit, for example, young visitors can crawl through a transparent tunnel to see a piranha habitat from the inside. "Meet the Keeper" talks give guests a behind-the-scenes look at how zookeepers keep the animals happy and healthy.

    Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

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    #6 - Henry Doorly Zoo - Omaha

    Omaha's 161-acre Henry Doorly Zoo features an aquarium, IMAX theater and a drivable or hike-able wildlife safari park. Notable exhibits include the Desert Dome, the world's largest indoor desert environment, and the Lied Jungle, the country's largest indoor rainforest. The zoo's Center for Conservation and Research addresses a variety of global conservation issues in cooperation with other such facilities.

    Photo courtesy of Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

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    #5 - Columbus Zoo - Columbus, Ohio

    At 580 acres, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium is the largest of our 20 nominees and has been recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquarims for both its exhibits and its conservation efforts. Some 575 species from around the world are represented, and the zoo contributes more than $1 million annually to over 70 projects around the globe. Jack Hanna, America's most famous zookeeper, serves as the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo.

    Photo courtesy of S Pisharam

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    #4 - Memphis Zoo - Memphis

    More than 3,500 animals call the 70-acre Memphis Zoo home, with some 500 different species represented. Perhaps its most famous denizens are the pair of giant pandas, Ya Ya and Le Le, who live in the three-acre CHINA facility; it's one of only four zoos in the nation to exhibit these animals. Tennessee residents can visit the zoo free of charge on Tuesdays after 2 pm.

    Photo courtesy of Karen Dorsett

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    #3 - Cincinnati Zoo- Cincinnati

    One of the oldest zoos in the country, the 79-acre Cincinnati Zoo houses some 580 animal species, with another 3,000 plant varieties in its botanical gardens. The zoo is no stranger to "Best Zoo" lists, thanks in part to programs like Nocturnal Adventures, where families can pitch a tent and camp out in the zoo, and exhibits like the Spaulding Children's Zoo, complete with an animal nursery where visitors can peek in on the zoo's newest babies.

    Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau

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    #2 - St. Louis Zoo - St. Louis

    The 90-acre St. Louis Zoo exhibits 600 species of animals representing every continent and major biome on the planet. It's also our only nominee to offer free entry, though some exhibits and shows charge smaller admission fees. The zoo's Penguin & Puffin Coast exhibit is one of the best penguin habitats in the country, with four species of penguins and two species of puffins on display.

    Photo courtesy of David Merritt/St. Louis Zoo

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    #1 - Toledo Zoo - Toledo, Ohio

    With 9,000 animals representing more than 800 species on display, the Toledo Zoo is one of the most complete zoos in the world. Highlights include the Hippoquariam, where visitors can observe hippos both above and below the water, and Nature's Neighborhood, the Toledo Zoo's award-winning children's zoo.

    Photo courtesy of santiphotois/iStock

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Zoo Fans Catapult Toledo Zoo to Top Spot of 10

Records shattered: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Memphis, Columbus, Omaha win also

We've never seen ANYTHING like the passion our readers have for their favorite zoo!  In an historic 10Best Readers' Choice contest category, zoo enthusiasts voted in record numbers - shattering previous vote tallies by a mile - in pursuit of seeing their hometown zoo land the coveted #1 spot.   

Toledo Zoo has taken the top honor, and a very hearty congratulations goes to this amazing zoo, which has obviously won the hearts of its patrons.  Fans encouraging each other on Twitter and Facebook obviously worked, and the zoo was very involved in making sure its friends and followers knew of the nomination.   

Coming in at a very solid #2  is St. Louis Zoo, which also had legions of loyal fans voting daily, and even up through the final minutes of the contest.   

Cincinnati Zoo takes 3rd place honors, followed by #4 Memphis Zoo, and 5th place finisher Columbus Zoo.  A special thanks goes out to "Jungle Jack" Hanna, who encouraged animal lovers across the U.S. to vote for the zoo of their choice, despite being long associated with the Columbus Zoo.  

The 4th and 5th place finishers ran a tight race, and Omaha's popular Henry Dourly Zoo also ran a successful campaign, landing it in 6th place.  It was followed by Houston Zoo, Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Dallas Zoo and San Diego Zoo & Safari Park.  

In a contest where there were so many worthy contenders, we feel compelled to make an exception and note that Oklahoma City Zoo just missed the top 10 by a very small number of votes. 

The other nine nominees included Bronx Zoo; Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; Oklahoma City Zoo; Denver Zoo; Disney's Animal Kingdom; Louisville Zoo; Minnesota Zoo; Oregon Zoo; Phoenix Zoo; and Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C

Another historic 10Best Readers' Choice scenario has also occurred within this contest category:  three zoos from one state have landed in the top 10 and a fourth secured one of the original 20 nominations.   That state is Ohio, home to Toledo Zoo (#1); Cincinnati Zoo (#3) and Columbus Zoo (#5) and nominee Cleveland MetroParks Zoo. 

Thanks to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which provided the data our editorial team used to select the nominees.  

The winners in the 'Best US Zoo' contest category for 10Best Readers' Choice are as follows:

  1. Toledo Zoo - Toledo, Ohio
  2. St. Louis Zoo - St. Louis
  3. Cincinnati Zoo - Cincinnati
  4. Memphis Zoo - Memphis
  5. Columbus Zoo - Columbus, Ohio
  6. Henry Doorly Zoo - Omaha
  7. Houston Zoo - Houston
  8. Brookfield Zoo - Chicago
  9. Dallas Zoo - Dallas
  10. San Diego Zoo & Safari Park - San Diego

Congratulations to all our winners and nominees.  And to our readers . . . a big THANK YOU . . . and we'll see you at the zoo!  

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The Experts

Libby McMillan

Senior Editor Libby McMillan is an animal lover who enjoyed researching these world-class zoos.  Variations of her favorite zoo resident - the monkey - can be found at all of the nominees.  She has been known to monkey around herself, at the Greenville Zoo, a short bike ride from her home.

Lydia Schrandt

Photo Editor Lydia Schrandt's favorite subjects to photograph are animals, and while she loves nothing more than capturing interesting behaviors in the wild, she finds zoos the perfect places for honing her skills.

Travis Seward

As Editor in Chief of 10Best since its founding 12 year ago, Travis Seward has absorbed more travel media than many readers come across in a lifetime.  He's also seen a good portion of the USA, and appreciates conservation efforts, beautiful grounds and a great story . . . all of which are offered by these 20 nominees.  

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