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These Are The 5 Best Zoos in The United States

These Are The 5 Best Zoos in The United States

The best zoos in the U.S. offer a glimpse into the world of the Amazon rainforest and African savanna without having to cut the distance.


5 min read

May 24, 2021

Getting an up-close look at wild animals in natural settings is not a common activity for many people who live in major cities. Fortunately, the best zoos in the United States offer a glimpse into the world of the Amazon rainforest and African savanna without having to physically cut the distance. 

But that’s not all that makes a zoo great. The best zoos in the country are grand institutions capitalizing on displaying wildlife and running conservation programs; doing important research; and saving neglected and unfairly treated animals from a life of despair. With all that taken into account, as well as elements like diversity and enclosures, we compiled a list of the best zoos in the United States.

America's Best Zoos

The San Diego Zoo is home to over 12,000 animals from 650-plus species and subspecies. It's located in the famed Balboa Park and covers 100 acres.

1. San Diego Zoo 

We’re not letting our biases get in the way when we say that the San Diego Zoo is one of the world’s best. A main attraction in San Diego and one of the most visited zoos in the county, the San Diego Zoo is a pioneering force in the industry. Not only does this famous zoo provide an unforgettable experience for visitors, but it also continuously improves and strives to better connect people and nature. And by the looks of it, the San Diego Zoo’s goal of becoming “the most effective wildlife conservation organization for the world” isn’t that far-fetched.

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When visiting one of the top zoos in the U.S., expect to see over 3,500 animals across 650 species, with eight main exhibits themed around geography and habitat. One of the most famous exhibits is the Australian Outback. Here, you’ll see cool animals like Tasmanian devils and koalas which are native species. Other cool exhibits include the Elephant Odyssey, the Asian Passage, and the Lost Forest.

The cageless exhibits make the animals’ habitats as life-like as possible by constructing hidden obstacles, like moats. This technique was spearheaded by the San Diego Zoo and is now implemented in many of the coolest zoos worldwide.

The Philadelphia Zoo is spread across 42 acres and houses nearly 1,300 animals. It's one of the premier zoos in the world for breeding animals.

2. Philadelphia Zoo

Would it even be a complete list of the best zoos if the first public zoo in the U.S. didn’t make the cut? The Philadelphia Zoo, aptly nicknamed the “Nation’s First Zoo”, was constructed in 1859 and hasn’t stopped doing groundbreaking work since. Other firsts under its belt include the first orangutan births in a U.S. zoo, the world’s first children’s zoo, the first U.S. exhibit of white lions, and more impressive feats.

The PECO Primate Reserve at one of the best zoos on the East Coast is stellar—you get to see Sumatran orangutans, western lowland gorillas, and four types of lemurs. Other impressive rare animals to see at the 42-acre Philadelphia Zoo include silverback gorillas and gibbons, thanks to its successful rare animals breeding program.

Recognized for its animal care program, the Oakland Zoo houses more than 850 animals, and has a 17,000-square foot veterinary hospital.

3. Oakland Zoo

A must-see zoo in the Bay Area, the Oakland Zoo is impressive in many ways. You’ll find both exotic and California native species at the zoo. Grizzly bears, grey wolves, and bison are among the species displayed along the California Trail exhibit. Sun bears, giraffes, baboons, and over 700 other exotic animals are also found at this family-friendly destination

Many of the Oakland Zoo’s animals are rescues—not only is the zoo committed to providing a great visitor experience, but it also implements large-scale conservation and sustainability practices. One of the animal husbandry efforts pioneered by the Oakland Zoo is the “protected contact” method. This limits contact between zookeepers and elephants and promotes persuasion through rewards rather than discipline. The method has garnered the respect and approval of animal behaviorists from around the world. Now, the world’s best zoos incorporate this practice in their methods.

The diversity of animals at this awesome California zoo is also fascinating. You’ll find over 850 native and exotic animals divided across species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods. 

The Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States by area, comprising 265 acres of park lands and naturalistic habitats.

4. Bronx Zoo

There are quite a few zoos across New York, but there’s no doubt that the Bronx Zoo is the most amazing of them all. Spanning 265 acres, the Bronx Zoo is one of the biggest metropolitan zoos in the country. The famous zoo opened its doors in 1899 and began its long-established legacy of animal conservation and welfare. Among its most impressive feats is creating the first modern zoo animal hospital in 1916.

Seeing every single one of the 6,000-plus animals with 700 species seems like an impossible task, which is why planning an itinerary is definitely a good idea. Check out the Jungleworld exhibition to see gibbons, langurs, and tapirs. Make your way to the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit to view our closest relatives in the wild and head to Tiger Mountain to see majestic wild cats. 

If you’d like to get up-close and personal with the animals, book a wild encounter in advance and you’ll get to meet penguins, cheetahs, and sloths at one of the best zoos in the United States.

Home to over 150 species of animals, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is set on 1,200 acres, with 80 developed as zoo and gardens.

5. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens celebrates desert plant and wildlife from around the world. But if you thought that the species would be limited to dry-air insects and reptiles, you’d be grossly underestimating the diversity of the biggest zoo in the United States. 

Located in the Palm Springs desert, this top California attraction covers a sprawling 1,800 acres and provides an environment to over 450 animals. Much of the lands on-site have been left in their natural state, so the enclosures at the Living Desert Zoo are as lifelike as they can get.

See Australian wallabies, Mexican wolves, African cheetahs, and more cool animals as you explore the grounds of one of the United States' best zoos. Besides visiting animal exhibits, this top family attraction hosts a lot of other cool activities everyone can enjoy. Sign up for animal encounters, feed the giraffes, trek along nature and hiking trails, and ride the endangered species carousel for a zoo experience you won’t soon forget.

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