Best Zoos In America: Top 5 Must-Visit Venues For Animal Lovers, According To Experts

One of the best past times and vacation destinations in the United States is visiting one of its numerous zoos throughout the country. There’s one in about every major city, and they offer a chance for families to experience nature. The National Geographic defines a zoo as: “a place where animals live in captivity and are put on display for people to view.” The word “zoo” is short for “zoological park.” Zoos contain wide varieties of animals that are native to all parts of the Earth. The best zoos in the US house a variety of animals in different habitats, while protecting endangered species, repairing ecosystems, rehabilitating animals, and educating visitors.

Some zoos specialize in different types of animals or extra animal encounters. All zoos have an ethical obligation to make sure every animal in their care is treate humanely. According to the American Humane Society, “to help achieve this, all zoos and aquariums should be subject to independent and third-party certification using science-based animal welfare standards.” Most zoos have a responsibility and mission to house and care for endangered species and faciliate repopulation or conservation.

If you’re interested in making a difference when it comes to animals, often zoos will accept donations that will go directly toward the upkeep and are of animals or other outreach and conservation programs. Make sure the zoo you choose is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Interested in checking out a new zoo? StudyFinds set out to do the research for you, visiting 10 expert websites in the travel and wildlife sectors to find the best zoos in the US. Our list contains the top recommendations across these sites. If you’ve got your own suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

two gray elephants in the zoo
(Photo by Irene Grace Tolentino on Unsplash)

The List: Best Zoos In the US, According To Experts

1. Henry Doorly Zoo    

It was a tight race between the two top zoos, but the Omaha, Nebraska Zoo does just enough to stay ahead of the pack. “Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is the top pick for the best zoo in the US that houses an incredible number of 17,000 animals on a 160-acre of land. 20 different exhibits cater to all ages and all types of interests including Asian Highlands, Owen Sea Lion Shores, Walking Trails, Desert Dome, Insect Pavilion, and Hubbard Expedition Madagascar,” says Exploringo

You don’t even have to walk everywhere at this place! “The 170-acre Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium are hands down one of the top zoos in America. There are trams and the Omaha Zoo Railroad to make your visit to this zoo double the fun,” exclaims Scenic States

USA Today explains its unique experience, “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, Gila monsters, death adders, rattlesnakes and inland taipans, the world’s most venomous snake – are visible inside a geodesic dome year-round in the heart of the Midwest.”


2. San Diego Zoo

The best zoo in California takes the number two spot after being in business since 1916!  Time Out says, “Renowned across the country, San Diego’s zoo, founded in 1916, is home to over 12,000 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. Among them are red pandas; African elephants; and bonobo apes.”

There’s plenty to do at this zoo, as Attractions of America says, “at the zoo, visitors can take a guided bus tour through the zoo, watch an animal show or 4-D theater show, or enjoy family-friendly play areas. There are also “Animals in Action” experiences where visitors can see cats up close.”

Pure Wow loves this place and puts it in their top spot. “It would be criminal to put together a roundup of the best zoos and not feature the famous and widely popular San Diego Zoo. Founded in 1916 and located in Balboa Park, this world-leading institution protects and cares for more than 650 different species from across the globe—including the Amur leopard, the most critically endangered big cat on the planet.”

3. The Bronx Zoo

The largest metropolitan city in the country houses the largest zoos as well! Next time you’re in the Big Apple, stop by! Travel + Leisure sums it up nicely: “The Bronx Zoo tagline says it all: Saving wildlife and wild places. The flagship zoo ​​for the renowned Wildlife Conservation Society is home to more than 10,000 animals and even operates its zoo hospital.”

It’s a place of escapism within such a large city. “Densely forested with savannas, the river, and parks in addition to the sounds of wild animals, it is easy to forget that you are in the heart of New York City,” explains Vacation Ideas

Travellers Worldwide talk about its size, “If you want to visit this zoo, keep in mind that it is enormous! The zoo is over 250 acres and can easily take more than a full day to get all the way through.”

4: Brookfield Zoo 

Also known as the Chicago Zoo, the number 4 pick is located in Brookfield, Illinois, and was opened in 1934! It’s a zoo that loves to give back. “The facility hosts a penguin experience that includes an introductory talk with zookeepers and a penguin encounter. As part of the nonprofit Chicago Zoological Society, the zoo uses a portion of entrance fees to support various global conservation projects, including youth leadership training in Botswana and dolphin tagging in Brazil,” explains US News

This is the place that changed how habitats were made. “Brookfield Zoo was opened in 1934 and introduced the idea of using moats and ditches for enclosures rather than cages. The zoo is managed by the Chicago Zoological Society non-profit which is dedicated to furthering animal welfare and care,” Road Affair

Scenic States says that the zoo “allows visitors to participate in hands-on feeding of animals like goats, parakeets, reindeer, alpacas, llamas, pandas, wallabies, and more. Also, you can stop by Habitat Africa: The Savannah to feed the giraffes with delicious greens.”

5. Smithsonian’s National Zoo 

Rounding off the list is the zoo situated near the country’s capital. Owned and operated by the Smithsonian, it’s the oldest zoo on our list. “In addition to the famous pandas, there are 2,000 other animals, some of whom are rare and endangered species like golden lion tamarins, Sumatran tigers, and sarus cranes.” says Attractions of America

It’s also free of charge! Pure Wow explains, “Not only is the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington D.C. one of the oldest and most beloved zoos in the country, but it provides free entry to the public (and, no, gratis admission doesn’t factor into why people dig this place so much). There are 2,700 animals across more than 390 species, so whatever animal you’re most obsessed with almost certainly lives at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Join fellow wildlife lovers in spying on everything from zebras and leopards to critically endangered Chinese three-striped box turtles.”

“The must-see exhibits in this zoo are the Elephant Trails, Cheetah Conservation Station, Great Ape House, Amazonia Science Gallery, and many more. The programs for education and conservation in this zoo include Professional Development Workshops for Educators, Zoo Camp, Summer Internships for College Students, and Citizen Science,” says Exploringo

You might be interested in:


Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.



    1. The Smithsonian National Zoo is not “situated near the country’s capital.” It is in the country’s capital. Learn a little geography before writing your next article.

  1. I’m a native New Yorker and can’t account for the overblown reputation of our zoo in the Bronx. It’s huge, alright: you can walk for thirty minutes without encountering a single animal exhibit. Lots of space and a shortage of species. A much MUCH better animal park is the one in Miami, which for some reason has not been included on this list. I’d also cite the wonderful desert park in Tucson.

    1. I have been to 3 of the 5 zoos in the article and I agree. All wonderful places doing good conservation work.The L A. Zoo is amazing too!

  2. Obviously you ha ent been to the St. Louis Zoo which is consistently rated one of the top zoos in America. And it’s free. You need to pay for parking if you choose to park in a fenced lot. The zoo is situated in one of the most beautiful & largest U. S. City parks Forest Park.

    1. Absolutely agree. Have the Bird cage from the 1904 works fair.
      Date opened: 1910; 113 years ago
      No. of animals: 18,700
      No. of species: 603+
      Land area: 90 acres

  3. There is no “Best Zoo In America”. A Zoo is nothing but a prison for animals. It’s animal cruelty and total exploitation for profit.

    1. Certainly not the best option but sure beats the alternative of human slaughter and extinction in the wild.

    2. Total exploitation for profit?
      Sorry J.C.
      Total exploitation for profit is man building for profit by deforestation destroying animal habitats wiping out species to erect buildings, shipping malls, paper mills, etc
      Need more examples?
      Man hunting elephant ivory, rhino horns, for supposed aphrodisiac properties, companies and people polluting the ecosystems and landscapes all for their own benefits, self serving needs, and yes, profits.
      Do a little research J.C. and you’ll discover how many animals have been led into extinction, are endangered to be extinct soon, or at at great risk as their numbers in the Wild dwindle..
      Give me a home where the Buffalo roam? meant wipping out millions of bison across Europe and the U.S.
      Some zoos have graveyards of these extinctions animals foe the public to realize the extent of man’s quest for profit.
      If it wasn’t for zoos breeding programs in captivity, to restore these popularions,we wouldn’t see bison anymore.You can credit the Brinx Zoo w that feat.
      So many animal populations have been restored, by zoos, and some released back into the wild.
      These animals receive the best diets, medical care, protection from disease, more natural exhibits safe from deforestation than they might have anywhere else in the wild.
      And a chance to educate the public, who otherwise,might never have a chance to experience the beauty of these living beings.
      That’s what zoos can provide .
      Safe havens, breeding opportunities, learning about conservation, and how everyone can play a role in protecting and saving animal populations.
      Recycling is one small way to play a responsible role, not littering or polluting is another way to help .
      Take a look around J.C.
      Efforts are being made to keep the planet green..
      Decarbonization, emissions control, plastics regulation or elimination, paper bags and paper drinking straws…
      All help animals from top to bottom along the food chain.
      Hopefully, the ones at the top of the food chain learn their lesson.
      A visit to the zoo just might help and change their perspective on what zoos can accomplish!
      Make sure it’s an accredited zoo and not some abusive side show menagerie that abuses animals for profit.
      This is perhaps where you got your philosophy about zoos.
      In this regard, alone, your prison statement would prove accurate.
      Give your local zoo the benefit of the doubt.
      I think you’ll see a very different and enlightening scenario on your visit.

  4. The fort worth zoo is an excellent site . So is the Atlanta zoo . San Diego is nice but a lot of walking to see anything

  5. The Brookfield Zoo is a completely separate zoo from the “Chicago Zoo”. That zoo is in the city of Chicago. They are not the same zoo.

  6. I’ll have to see these zoos! I did visit the San Diego Zoo! I was sorry not to see the Cincinnati Zoo listed here.

  7. The Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium is missing off of this list. It is one of the better zoos in which I have visited, definitely a better zoo than the Brookfield Zoo located in Chicagoland.

    1. Been to at least 25 different zoo’s throughout US. My #1 is San Diego, #2 St. Louis.

  8. The Toledo Zoo is one of the best zoos I have ever been to in my life! I am a native Californian, and I have been to the much touted San Diego zoo. The only way to get anywhere in the SD zoo is on the train or tram, and you only get to see half the animals for about 5 seconds from a very far distance. Truly not worth it!

    The Toledo Zoo is an amazing experience and the botanical gardens included, with the beautiful lights in the Winter is a wonderful bonus!

  9. St. Louis Zoo will always be my favorite. I’ve been to several but St. Louis gets my vote.

  10. The Milwaukee County Zoo is beautiful as well. I was surprised to see the Brookfield Zoo on the list over the Milwaukee one. I’ve also been to St. Louis and Ft. Worth and they were both incredible as well.

  11. I feel that this list needs the Columbus, Ohio Zoo. The cheetah run beats the one at the San Diego Safari Park and the polar bear enclosure that permits a view of the bears swimming are a must see.

  12. Was delighted to see the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska so highly rated. My family lived in Western Iowa from 1997-2005 and we went often to that zoo. Biggest and best large cat exhibit I’d ever seen! Largest indoor jungle in the world at the time. Then they created the amazing desert climate in a dome structure with many exhibits. Great Zoo!
    I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo. It’s probably the best one overall in my opinion, but the one in Omaha is unique. I’ve been to the Bronx Zoo and the Smithsonian Zoo in DC. I expected the one in DC to make the list, but the Bronx Zoo being in the top 5 wasn’t expected. I imagine the one in Miami would be good.

  13. The “Chicago Zoo” is the free Lincoln Park Zoo located by the Lake in the MIDDLE OF THE CITY.
    To be clear: The Brookfield Zoo is a wonderful zoo and absolutely worth going to. It’s MUCH larger than the Lincoln Park Zoo with many more animals, but also more expensive and out in the suburbs.

Comments are closed.