Whether you're looking for a fun way to entertain the kids or enjoy an educational outing, visiting a local zoo is a great idea. To help us find the country's best zoo, we invited a panel of travel experts and industry professionals to nominate facilities that excel in the fields of animal care and enrichment while also facilitating meaningful interactions between animals and human visitors. Then, readers voted for their favorites. Here are the 10 best zoos in the United States for 2023.
Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Zoo - Craig Banister
No. 10: Indianapolis Zoo - Indianapolis, Indiana
A very walkable zoo in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, per 10Best expert Chez Chesak, the Indianapolis Zoo features a variety of animals, including lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!). In addition to viewing the animals in their habitats, the zoo also offers a number of up-close-and-personal animal adventures, such as bathing elephants and watching penguins paint art. Plus, your admission fees to the zoo will help the zoo in its efforts to save wildlife and wild places that are at risk.
Photo courtesy of Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
No. 9: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium - Powell, Ohio
Wildlife from six regions around the world, including Australia, the Congo, Asia and North America, call the Columbus Zoo home. The zoo is one of only two facilities outside of Florida to care for manatees, visible in the Manatee Coast area alongside other rescued animals.
Photo courtesy of JoEllen Toler/Saint Louis Zoo
No. 8: Saint Louis Zoo - St. Louis, Missouri
Situated within one of the nation’s largest urban parks, the free-to-the-public Saint 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.
No. 7: Audubon Zoo - New Orleans, Louisiana
The Audubon Zoo, situated in historic uptown New Orleans, is ranked as one of the city's top things to do and offers visitors the chance to see wildlife, including highly endangered whooping cranes, Amur leopards and orangutans. Be sure to check out the award-winning Louisiana Swamp recreation, an exhibit linking the region’s distinct Cajun culture with the plants and animals of the surrounding habitats. You'll have the chance to observe 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.
Photo courtesy of ZooTampa at Lowry Park
No. 6: ZooTampa at Lowry Park - Tampa, Florida
Sitting on 56 acres, ZooTampa is home to endangered, threatened and vulnerable animal species from such areas as Asia, Africa, Australia and Florida. "This is one of the most amazing zoos in America," 10Best expert Nikky J says. "Not only do they have a mission of rescue and rehabilitation, [but] they're [also] always hosting events to bring the community of Tampa together." Examples of that programming include Day of Discovery, a low-sensory morning for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families, and Speakers of the Wild, a series that features discussion of wildlife and wild places.
Photo courtesy of CZS-Brookfield Zoo
No. 5: Brookfield Zoo - Brookfield, Illinois
Since 1934, the Brookfield Zoo has maintained a strong focus on animal care and conservation of the natural world coupled with animal education. Visitors can take part by learning about the more than 2,400 animals from some 500 species that call the zoo home. Plus, the zoo hosts a number of educational activities ranging from Earth Day celebrations to animal encounters to children's camps and other events.
Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
No. 4: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo - Colorado Springs, Colorado
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 one of the largest zoo giraffe herds 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, porcupines, Mexican gray wolves, bald eagles and lynx. A ski lift offers stellar views over Colorado Springs.
Photo courtesy of Brevard Zoo
No. 3: Brevard Zoo - Melbourne, Florida
Home to more than 900 animals, the AZA-accredited Brevard Zoo takes the zoo-going experience to adventurous new levels. Guests can zip-line through the jungles of South America or kayak through the African savanna or a restored Florida wetland.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Curley
No. 2: Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden - Cincinnati, Ohio
The Cincinnati Zoo (one of the oldest zoos in the nation) brings visitors nose-to-nose with a range of exciting animals. Guests can view hippos underwater (including world-famous hippo Fiona), pop up in a bubble amid meerkats or watch cheetahs racing at top speeds. The multi-sensory Night Hunters exhibit hosts cats and other nocturnal predators, while Manatee Springs seeks the long-term conservation of the Florida manatee by encouraging guests to observe these gentle giants.
Photo courtesy of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
No. 1: Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium - Omaha, Nebraska
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 – meerkats, peccaries, quail, death adders, rattlesnakes and inland taipans, the world’s most venomous land snake – are visible inside a geodesic dome year-round in the heart of the Midwest. The $73 million African Grasslands exhibit features 28 acres of habitats and exhibit spaces for giraffes, elephants, lions, cheetahs and sable antelopes.