Best Zoos in the USA: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

When I was little, I was obsessed with zoos. I still really love zoos, but a zoo-obsession is slightly different. I used to carry a sparkling, purple notebook with me and look at each of the animals and take notes on what they were doing. I willingly took copious (pages and pages) of notes when I was younger. I would love to show you the evidence, but I still have some dignity left in me. Now, if you are arguing that by blogging, I’m taking notes of my travels, allow me to send you a virtual exasperated sigh. Sigh. There. I may or may not agree with you though.

Zoos are the closest way for us, humans, to interact with other fabulous animals. I, personally, appreciate zoos that focus on conservation and take an effort to help animals cohabitate back in the wild. So, I present to you, without further ado, the best zoos in the USA. Drumroll, please.

San Diego Zoo

I first fell in love with the San Diego zoo when I read about their efforts for protecting the California Condor. The California Condor has been my favourite bird since I was ten, so naturally, I would unabashedly pick the zoo that started the first California Condor conservation project. Apart from that, the San Diego zoo is a wonderful zoo with a wide variety of animals and a history of conservation. Be sure to take all the tours you can because the added tours are what make the San Diego Zoo experience ultra-special. If you are a Winnie-the-Pooh fan, the San Diego zoo is one of the few zoos to feature sun bears (the zoo also partnered with the Sun Bear conservation center in Borneo). These honey-loving bears are sure to make your day!

Dallas Zoo

I visited the Dallas Zoo at 9AM sharp, in the dead of winter. Typically, in my experience, this means that animals aren’t active and more elusive. No one likes to come out in the cold and at morning. I’m obviously referring to the animals here (chuckle). But, contrary to all expectations, the animals at the zoo (and I) were wide awake and all of them had very interesting personalities. I got to see an introverted penguin that backed the wall the entire time and refused to socialize. I watched a couple of lowland gorillas getting ready to engage in some major Fifty Shades of Grey activity before I turned away and stalked towards the next exhibit (they need their privacy too). Some chimps were in a competition over who was stronger and could complete the more reckless activity. It got to the point that the mother actually dragged him away and sat him down on the platform and wouldn’t let him leave. There was a wise old meerkat that kept checking me out. And bonus points for Handsome Rob right here.

Best Zoos in the USA - handsome Rob

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

I still fail to recognize why Animal Kingdom is dubbed as a theme park. Sure, they have some manic roller coasters, but the beauty of Animal Kingdom doesn’t lie in the quick attractions that are a check off a to-do list. The park is an immersive experience that forces you to plunge into the depths of the Africa and Asia. In a lot of zoos, many people stare from behind at glass exhibits, wide-eyed, never knowing what is going on behind the scenes. Animal Kingdom has introduced a solution – Rafiki’s Planet Watch, a seven minute ride, by the Wildlife Express Train, that allows you to travel past veterinary facilities and step into a world of  conservation. There are viewing areas where you can catch of glimpse of surgical procedures and food preparation. Animal Kingdom also has some interesting exhibits that make you feel as though you aren’t just a bystander. From the Maharajah Jungle Trek to the Kilimanjaro Safari, you feel as though you are part of the habitat, living with the animals. 

Best Zoos in the USA - giraffe in Animal Kingdom

Smithsonian’s National Zoo

The Smithsonian Zoo is over 250 acres (trust me, you will feel the size when walking). This isn’t a zoo that can be covered in one day, like most of the others. The zoo is home to a many unique exhibits. Amazonia showcases animals from the Amazon River, from poison-arrow frogs to black pacaus. The zoo also has a huge focus on giant pandas and the pandas at the National Zoo are adorably awesome. Every year, the National Zoo tries to raise over $400,000 just for panda conservation alone. One of the exclusive aspects of the National Zoo is the Think Tank. This is a place to “think about thinking”. Here, visitors are introduced to conservation efforts and research. Scientific research is a huge aspect of conservation and an often overlooked aspect, but the National Zoo makes a serious effort to promote this part of the conservation process. The Think Tank is home to Orangutans (sometimes, they’re at the Ape House though) and you can see them trapezing around the park. No, I’m not joking. Look.

Best Zoos in the USA - National Zoo is one of the best zoos in the USA because of the Think Tank which promotes conservation
What are your favourite zoos in North America? Comment down below and tell me. I would love to discover some new zoos that are worth a visit.

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32 Comments

  • Reply
    Jessica || WONDERMENTARY
    January 19, 2016 at 2:54 AM

    I went to Animal Kingdom years ago and remember it was my favorite Disney park! Sadly, I didn’t get to return the next few times we went to Disney. What was up with my family?!

    WONDERMENTARY

    • Reply
      Anshula
      January 19, 2016 at 10:14 PM

      It’s okay, Jessica. I wish I could go back there as well too!

  • Reply
    Kaley
    January 21, 2016 at 9:18 PM

    I love going to zoos, but only if the animals are kept up in good form! So many of the zoos in Japan just made me sad. 🙁 May have to make a trip out to Animal Kingdom.

    • Reply
      Anshula
      January 21, 2016 at 10:07 PM

      I agree with you, Kaley. It is sad to hear that a country as influential as Japan doesn’t have properly maintained zoos. I’ve heard of animal cruelty in Thailand and Southeast Asia, but not in other Asian countries until now. All the zoos listed above, albeit in the USA, are heavily involved in conservation and protecting animals! We need more like them across the globe!

      • Reply
        Kaley
        January 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM

        They just have very different views on animals than we do. Basically, a lot less respect towards them!

        • Reply
          Anshula
          January 22, 2016 at 3:11 AM

          Yes! A lot of people, on the bright side, like us have stopped visiting such zoos after witnessing such horrible cruelty. I hope that in the West, they open up factory farms to tourism as well, so people are more aware of the cruelty that goes on in making animal-based products. That is still a huge problem!

  • Reply
    Tammy Nix Ellington
    January 21, 2016 at 9:20 PM

    Great info! I’m going to save it for future reference. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Cheers to traveling
    January 21, 2016 at 11:30 PM

    Lots of awesome info! One of my most fond memories from traveling as a kid was going to the San Diego Zoo! Such an incredible zoo! I really hope to get to Disney’s Animal Kingdom next time I’m in Florida!

    • Reply
      Anshula
      January 22, 2016 at 3:13 AM

      I love the San Diego Zoo! You should definitely visit Animal Kingdom when you visit Orlando. It is perhaps the most underrated Disney Theme Park because most people consider it a glorified zoo, but it is so much more than that!

  • Reply
    lovelyluckylife
    January 22, 2016 at 4:59 AM

    Great list but you left the St. Louis Zoo off the list! One of the best and FREE 🙂 http://www.stlzoo.org/

    • Reply
      Anshula
      January 22, 2016 at 5:12 AM

      I’ve never been there, but the Zoo does sound amazing (especially the free part). I love that they are recycling everything they can and trying to save energy and reduce greenhouse gases. It looks like they are taking initiative to go beyond just helping animals and focusing on the environment as well. So, the St. Louis Zoo is now officially an honorable mention. Go, St. Louis Zoo!

  • Reply
    Ann
    January 22, 2016 at 5:06 PM

    My kids are insanely obsessed with the zoo. This is such an awesome post!

    • Reply
      Anshula
      January 22, 2016 at 10:48 PM

      Thank you! I think that it is wonderful that your children have an appreciation for animals 🙂

  • Reply
    aCajuninCali blog
    January 22, 2016 at 9:18 PM

    I absolutely love the National Zoo! It was such a treat visiting. San Diego is pretty awesome too!

    • Reply
      Anshula
      January 22, 2016 at 10:49 PM

      I love the National Zoo too! What was your favourite exhibit?

      • Reply
        aCajuninCali blog
        January 23, 2016 at 2:59 AM

        I really loved the lion but the gorilla was my fav. Just posted a super fun picture of the gorilla on my instagram feed. you have to check him out 😉 http://www.instagram.com/acajunincali

        • Reply
          Anshula
          January 23, 2016 at 9:03 PM

          Haha! That pic is hilarious! Thanks for sharing!

          • aCajuninCali blog
            January 24, 2016 at 12:13 AM

            ahahahha glad you like it!!!

  • Reply
    cali
    February 6, 2016 at 4:03 AM

    Ugh, I love your writing style 🙂 I’m an anthropology major so I love zoos too and have spent plenty a day there 🙂 I’ve been to 2/4 of your list (San Diego and Animal Kingdom) and LOVED IT!!! Great taste :))

    • Reply
      Anshula
      February 6, 2016 at 4:22 AM

      Thank you! That means so much to me! Anthropology sounds like a fun major, but I don’t think I could personally get through Organic Chemistry. What was your favourite part of the San Diego Zoo or Animal Kingdom?

  • Reply
    Get Some Adventures
    February 9, 2016 at 2:25 AM

    Everyone loves Zoo. Great piece!

    • Reply
      Anshula
      February 9, 2016 at 1:39 PM

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    A Broken Backpack
    February 9, 2016 at 8:16 AM

    Great post! Lot of ideas here! 😀

    • Reply
      Anshula
      February 9, 2016 at 1:40 PM

      Thanks! Have you been to any?

  • Reply
    Sandy Rao
    February 9, 2016 at 1:36 PM

    I thoroughly enjoy going to the zoos and one of the best one was in Bangkok – Safari World Zoo

    • Reply
      Anshula
      February 9, 2016 at 1:41 PM

      I haven’t been to many zoos in Asia, so I only picked what I thought would be the best zoos in the USA. I’ll definitely add Safari World Zoo to my list of places to go when I’m in Bangkok!

  • Reply
    Cai
    February 16, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    Would love to visit zoo’s in the USA someday. Smithsonian looks the most interesting.

    • Reply
      Anshula
      February 16, 2016 at 9:59 PM

      Which country are you based in? I haven’t really been to many zoos outside the USA and I’m always curious as to what they are like. The Smithsonian is by far my favourite zoo from the list, so I think you would find it very interesting 🙂

  • Reply
    Hung Thai
    March 5, 2016 at 12:34 AM

    Nice shout out to San Diego’s zoo. 🙂

    • Reply
      Anshula
      March 5, 2016 at 4:24 AM

      Thank you! I love how much they promote conservation and positive-treatment of animals 🙂

  • Reply
    Diedre Anthony
    March 30, 2016 at 8:05 PM

    Thank you for sharing! I haven’t been to any of these zoos and I absolutely love animals! We took our daughters to the Columbia Zoo in Columbia, SC a few weeks ago. You’ve given me others to visit.

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