Kings of the Jungle: America’s Most Unique Zoos
Posted On 01.04.2017 | By: Heather Foster
7. The Phoenix Zoo, Arizona
What you won’t find anywhere else: Visitors can ride camels (with the assistance of zoo personnel of course—we don’t need any more accidents with Little Timmy), pet stingrays (again, Little Timmy will be fine), and feed giraffes.
- Location, location, location. Just 20 minutes from downtown Scottsdale and Tempe, the Phoenix Zoo is convenient no matter where in the greater metropolitan area you’re staying.
- The zoo is one of the only entirely non-profit endeavors in the United States, so the money you spend in the gift shop on plush critters to calm down your kids after lunch wears off will actually go somewhere meaningful—like protecting the Amazon or elephants in northern Africa.
- Members of the zoo can receive admission to special events, discounts and more.
6. Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pennsylvania
What you won’t find anywhere else: For the parents who can’t stand the smell of the animals’ you-know-what on a hot summer’s day, you can easily give your nose a break at the Pittsburgh Zoo. As the one of only six zoo/aquarium combos in the US, neither you nor your hyperactive 6 year old will get bored during your day out together.
- Interactive exhibits like the deer and goat yard, the sea lion pool, and a netted bird enclosure allow kids to use all of their senses to learn about the surrounding world. You won’t be looking through glass all day here—meaning your children will actually understand the difference between going to a ‘zoo’ and looking up pictures of animals on the internet.
- Swimming apart from the school, enclosures like the two-story shark aquarium and Water’s Edge, a glass-paneled tunnel/aquarium, turn life into art with swirling colors of rare fish surrounding you—mimicking the vastness of their natural habitats.
5. Brookfield Zoo, Illinois
What you won’t find anywhere else: Dolphin shows? More than 300 miles north of any reasonably warm weather and even farther inland? Yes. Shamoo better watch out.
- In addition to the dolphin shows, the zoo boasts a special section specifically with kid-friendly activities. Hamill Family Play Zoo includes a hollow tree converted into a playhouse, where children can dress up as animal and zoo keepers, enjoy crafts, get their faces painted, and play with hedgehogs, armadillos, and more.
- Starting this summer, Brookfield has extended their hours into the evening and added special perks for night time visitors. Families can enjoy activities together, live music, dining, and even beer and wine gardens for Mom and Dad.
- Members receive discounts on dining, shopping, and special events– in addition to free parking and admission.
4. Houston Zoo, Texas
What you won’t find anywhere else: VIP tours allow guests to travel with zookeepers past gates and barricades into the habitats of animals, and even behind-the-scenes. See the animal hospital, what dinner looks like, and more.
- Meet-and-greets with the less dangerous animals allow families to pet tropical birds, giraffes, meerkats, sloths, and more.
- With a 4D movie theater and Water Way Park free with admission, you don’t need to sweat the day away. Take a break. Let the kids run around in the sprinkler system on steroids and regain your mental composure.
3. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio
What you won’t find anywhere else: Even parents may never have seen a manatee before. The Columbus Zoo offers new experiences for the young and less-young with the creatures mistaken as mermaids by colonial fisherman, as well as rare gorillas, apes, and bonobos.
- With three different parks, including the zoo & aquarium, water park, and golf course for the parents, you probably won’t ever see everything at Columbus.
- The zoo is the filming location for veteran Jack Hanna’s wildlife shows, a staple of American culture since the mid-80s. The inspiration of many SNL skits and a regular player on the talk-show circuit, Hanna regularly makes appearances at the zoo.
2. Albuquerque Biological Park, New Mexico
What you won’t find anywhere else: wombats and koalas, with the former being particularly special as the first of the species to ever be in the U.S. You’ve been warned though: your kids might beg to go to Australia after they start learning about these cuddly creatures.
- The six acre Africa exhibit boasts cheetahs, hippos, hyenas, warthogs, and more. Expect spontaneous performances of The Lion King soundtrack from fellow zoo-goers.
- Members not only receive discounts and free admission here, but at more than 150 zoos across the country when they join.
1. Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Florida
What you won’t find anywhere else: An accredited preschool and kindergarten on-site that both use the facilities to provide hands-on experiences for early education. Known as the ‘Zoo School,’ the waiting list is two years long and widely regarded as one of the best opportunities for early education throughout the state.
- The child-friendly atmosphere at Lowry Park doesn’t end with education. The zoo offers a special Australian-themed area for kids known as Wallaroo Station, where kids can enjoy a petting zoo, feeding birds, and a path where they can walk alongside wallabies and kangaroos.
- The zoo also offers rides on llamas and camels for children, and if that isn’t enough, children’s amusement park rides to finish out the day.
- Zoo members get unlimited admission into the parks and aquarium, discounts, and more.