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The 8 Best Zoos in North America

December 29, 2022 By CityPASS

One of the great things about zoos is that you’re never too old to indulge in the excitement of visiting one. Fun for kids and adults, a zoo visit is often a great family-friendly activity when exploring a new city. While many big cities have zoos, we’ve rounded up some of the best zoos in North America that you won’t want to miss.

8 Zoos in North America With the Best Variety of Animal Exhibits

We’ve ranked these zoos as some of the best in North America because they showcase animals local to the area and house species of animals from around the world. Whether you’re looking for a fun date idea or something the whole family can enjoy, a trip to the zoo to see some wild animals is just the thing.

San Diego Zoo, California

Travelers from around the world revere the San Diego Zoo. It’s the most-visited North American zoo, welcoming millions of guests annually. Located in the famous Balboa Park, this zoo has one of the largest zoo membership associations in the world, as more than half a million children and adults are members.

One thing that makes the San Diego Zoo so unique is that it was one of the first zoos to introduce cage-free, open-air exhibits mimicking the natural habitats of many different exotic animals. There are more than 3,700 animals from 1,000 species to learn about and see. Some can’t-miss animals include grizzly bears, koalas, polar bears, and African penguins.

Woodland Park Zoo, Washington

Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle takes up half of Woodland Park. The other half is a green space with lots of things for families to enjoy, including hiking trails, picnic areas, and a mini golf course. This prize-winning zoo is one of the best in America and received second place for Best National Exhibit from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

One of Woodland Park Zoo’s most popular exhibits is the world’s first immersion exhibit, created in the 1970s. This exhibit recreates gorillas' natural habitat, giving you a sense of what their life is like in the wild. Other parts of the zoo are broken up into regions of the world so visitors can discover animals from those places.

Toronto Zoo, Ontario

The Toronto Zoo is one of the top zoos in North America and is the largest in Canada, housing 5,000 animals from 460 different species. It’s divided into seven sections representing different regions around the world, including Canadian animals and species. This zoo often features exotic animals from other zoos, including giant pandas, golden monkeys, koalas, and Tasmanian devils.

An exciting exhibit that opened in 2019 is Terra Lumina, a 1.5-kilometer nighttime walk through the zoo that imagines life in 2099 when people have learned to live in harmony with nature. It highlights the positive things that can happen when people and the natural world are in balance.

The Toronto Zoo is committed to fighting extinction by preserving many endangered species. It does so by breeding select endangered animals and introducing them to life in the wild.

Franklin Park Zoo, Massachusetts

Franklin Park Zoo is inside Boston’s largest park, Franklin Park. While there are several different exhibits to explore, this zoo’s most famous are those featuring African animals of various habitats. Exploring the zoo, you’ll find animals like lions, zebras, giraffes, hippos, and monkeys.

This zoo also has a three-acre Children’s Zoo featuring a walk-through aviary and a farm. On the farm, there are several kinds of animals to see, including an area to interact with goats. Franklin Park Zoo also has a 10,000-square-foot playground where little ones can run, play, and explore.

Zoo Atlanta, Georgia

Zoo Atlanta is dedicated to conservation and preservation. It’s one of only a handful of zoos in North America that currently have pandas, and it has the continent’s largest population of great apes.

One of the top exhibits at Zoo Atlanta is the African Savannah. It mimics the animals’ natural habitat, the African river basin. You’ll spot elephants, zebras, giraffes, and warthogs, to name just a few.

Another spot you can’t miss is the Scaly Slimy Spectacular, the first LEED Gold-certified amphibian and reptile complex featuring more than 70 species.

Dallas Zoo, Texas

The Dallas Zoo is the biggest and oldest zoo in Texas. It has more than 2,000 animals from 406 species around the world. Covering 106 acres, this zoo certainly offers visitors plenty to see and explore and is divided into two parts: Zoo North and Wilds of Africa. Within these parts, there are several smaller exhibits to discover.

Within Wilds of Africa, you shouldn’t miss the award-winning Giants of the Savanna habitat that features animals like lions, giraffes, cheetahs, zebras, ostriches, and many more. You can also take a ride on the wild side by joining the Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari. This 20-minute monorail journey travels through several exhibits to give you an incredible view of these majestic creatures.

Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia Zoo is quite a landmark since it is the first true zoo in the U.S., opening in 1874. It’s a leader in breeding animals that are usually difficult to breed in captivity and is home to many rare and endangered species.

Since this zoo has 1,300 animals on 42 acres, there’s plenty to see and do. Be sure to check out Big Cat Falls, an extensive cat exhibit with an array of leopards, tigers, cougars, and jaguars. Another popular exhibit is Water is Life, featuring tunnels, bridges, and slides that allow animals like red pandas and otters to run freely and play.

Houston Zoo, Texas

The Houston Zoo is the second-most visited zoo in the U.S., welcoming more than two million guests annually. It has more than 6,000 animals representing over 600 global species. There are 17 exhibits to explore, the most popular being the African Forest. This award-winning exhibit features hippos, rhinos, giraffes, and gorillas, among many others.

Another special place in the zoo is Carruth Natural Encounters. This exhibit takes you on an adventure through coral reefs, deserts, the rainforest canopy, and the river’s edge to explore several plants and animals in a simulated natural habitat.

Observe Your Favorite Animal Species Across North America at a Discount

Wherever you decide to take a walk on the wild side, a CityPASS® ticket unlocks significant savings in top destinations. With more than 15 cities to choose from, a CityPASS® combined ticket package can ensure you experience more while spending less by offering more than a 40% savings compared to buying individual tickets to top attractions. It’s your ticket to fun and adventure in North America’s best cities.

Header image ©Cathy Burkey/Dallas Zoo

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