Best Zoo (2017)


The nation’s best zoological facilities ensure animal care, welfare and enrichment come first, while still facilitating meaningful animal encounters with the public to help support wildlife and the wild places of the world.

  • Saint Louis Zoo

    Saint Louis Zoo
    St. Louis

    Situated within the nation’s largest urban park, the free-to-the-public St. Louis Zoo features a stunning diversity of animals – more than 600 species in total. The zoo is divided into six zones, including Lakeside Crossing where the award-winning Sea Lion Sound combines a stellar exhibit experience with educational presentations and shows. At River’s Edge, visitors journey along the Amazon backwaters in South America, through the African savanna, across North American wetlands and deep into an Asian forest to see everything from hippos, African dogs and hyenas to giant anteaters and Andean bears.
    Photo courtesy of Philip Leara / Flickr

  • Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

    Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

    Continued investments have allowed Henry Doorly Zoo to continue to offer one-of-a-kind exhibits to guests, including the world’s largest indoor desert where arid plants and animals – meerkat, peccaries, quail, gila monster, death adders, rattlesnakes and inland taipan, the wodl’s most venomous snake – are visible inside a geodesic dome year round in the heart of the Midwest. Kingdoms of the Night, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, features a wet cave, eucalyptus forest, bat cave and the world’s largest indoor swamp. Here, guests watch how aardvarks, bush babies, springhaas, wallabies and echidnas spend their evenings.
    Photo courtesy of Justin Limoges & Lucas Marshall, Henry Doorly Zoo

  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

    Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson blends elements of a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, museum and aquarium into a seamless and unparalleled look at the region’s wildlife. Animals displayed along 2 miles of trails are integrated impeccably into the vast landscapes. Observing coyotes, peccaries, mountain lions and bobcats in their naturalistic enclosures is as close as most visitors will come to seeing them in the wild.
    Photo courtesy of Michael Madrid

  • Fort Worth Zoo

    Fort Worth Zoo
    Fort Worth

    Established in 1909, the Fort Worth Zoo is the oldest continuously operated zoo in Texas and home to more than 540 animal species from around the world. More than 100 of those species are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, and 68 are endangered or threatened. An international leader in Asian elephant conservation, the zoo is also the only one in the country to display representatives from all four Great Ape species – gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans.
    Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Zoo

  • Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

    Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
    Columbia, S.C.

    Columbia's 170-acre Riverbanks Zoo & Garden houses more than 2,000 animals in naturalistic habitats free of bars and cages. Throughout its 40-year history, the zoo has earned many awards and recognition for its breeding programs for animals like the Toco toucan, Bali mynah and black howler monkeys. The zoo also participates in 70 of the Species Survival Plans of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
    Photo courtesy of Scott Jennings / Flickr

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
    Colorado Springs

    The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs connects visitors with more than 750 animals representing 170 species from all corners of the globe. The African Rift Valley exhibit is home to the largest zoo giraffe herd in the world, as well as Red River hogs, meerkats, African lions and Colobus monkeys. Rocky Mountain Wild hosts regional species, like moose, grizzly bears, mountain lions, river otters, porcupine, Mexican gray wolves, bald eagles and lynx.
    Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

  • San Diego Zoo

    San Diego Zoo
    San Diego

    San Diego Zoo celebrated its centennial in 2016, and it continues to innovate. The world-famous zoo, along with its safari park, represents the largest and most diverse zoological collection in the world. Visitors at the zoo can explore seven zones, including the award-winning Elephant Odyssey with its one-of-a-kind Elephant Care Center (ever seen an elephant pedicure?). The largest collection of koalas outside Australia reside within the Australian Outback exhibit. Summer 2017 will see the zoo’s largest expansion yet – Africa Rocks – with animals from six different habitats on the continent, like penguins, lemurs, leopards and a host of African birds.
    Photo courtesy of AFP PHOTO/MARK RALSTONMARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

  • Brookfield Zoo

    Brookfield Zoo

    The 200-acre Brookfield Zoo hosts over 2,000 animals from around the globe. Exhibits take visitors to the tropics of Asia, Africa and South America to spot gorillas, monkeys, orangutans, sloths and gibbons, and to the African savanna where giraffes, African wild dogs and klipspringers roam. The Seven Seas features dolphins, while the Swamp hosts crocodiles, snapping turtles and otters.
    Photo courtesy of Brookfield Zoo

  • Audubon Zoo

    Audubon Zoo
    New Orleans

    Situated in historic uptown New Orleans, the Audubon Zoo features a spectacular recreation of the Louisiana Swamp – an exhibit linking the region’s distinct Cajun culture with the plants and animals of the surrounding habitats. Visitors get the chance to see black bears, alligators, red foxes, blue crabs, water snakes and a host of other animals with a view into the daily lives of those who rely on the swamp for a living. Other zoo highlights include the Jaguars Jundle and South American Pampas.
    Photo courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute

  • Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

    Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

    Occupying 183 wooded acres, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals representing 600 species from six different continents. The newly opened Rosebrough Tiger Passage features two Amur tigers in four interconnected habitat areas, including two trails passing right over the heads of visitors. In an effort to connect visitors with the wildlife the zoo serves to protect, each admission ticket comes with a "Quarter for Conservation" token, allowing guests to vote for what projects zoo funds should go to.
    Photo courtesy of tehusagent / Flickr


We asked a panel of family travel and zoological park experts to nominate their 20 favorite facilities across the United States (all accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums), and for the last four weeks, readers have been voting for their favorites.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Zoo are as follows:

  1. Saint Louis Zoo - St. Louis
  2. Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium - Omaha
  3. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum - Tucson
  4. Fort Worth Zoo - Fort Worth
  5. Riverbanks Zoo & Garden - Columbia, S.C.
  6. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo - Colorado Springs
  7. San Diego Zoo - San Diego
  8. Brookfield Zoo - Chicago
  9. Audubon Zoo - New Orleans
  10. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo - Cleveland

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Katie Dillon (La Jolla Mom), Debra Erickson (International Zoo Educators Association), Kyle McCarthy (Family Travel Forum), Eileen Ogintz (Taking the Kids) and Alan Sironen (Zoo Consultants Internationalwere chosen based on their knowledge and experience of American zoos.

Other nominees included the Bronx Zoo, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Denver Zoo, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Houston Zoo, Memphis Zoo, Phoenix Zoo and Woodland Park Zoo.

Congratulations to all 10 of our winners.

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AlertThe Experts

Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon

Debra Erickson

Debra Erickson

Debra Erickson

Kyle McCarthy

Kyle McCarthy

Kyle McCarthy

Eileen Ogintz

Eileen Ogintz

Eileen Ogintz

Alan Sironen

Alan Sironen

Alan Sironen