As an old saying goes, “Teach children to be kind to animals so they will grow up being kind to people also.” Giving your children the gift of being with animals inevitably teaches them compassion and sensitivity. On top of that, it is also a healthy and fun family activity where you can bond and enjoy together with them. Thankfully, there are zoos where you can take your kids to see all sorts of animals, even those which are not native to your location.
More than just seeing and learning about these animals from books and cages, take your experience one step further with these best zoos in the US you must visit at least once, especially those which does not only exhibit animals but allow guests to interact and pet these creatures.
1. Brookfield Zoo, Illinois
The Brookfield Zoo, which is also known as the Chicago Zoological Park, is a 216- acre property in the Chicago suburbs of Brookfield. It currently houses more than 450 species of different animals and is well- known around the world for its design using ditches and moats to keep the animals and tourists safe.
Aside from the usual zoological fare you would find, the Brookfield Zoo offers unique treats for the whole family. See the Brick Safari, where they feature around 40 life- size animal models made up of millions and millions of LEGO pieces such as giraffes, pangolins, and leopards dotting the wooded pathway.
One of their most famous areas, however, is the Hamill Family Play Zoo. An area covering a little more than three acres, visitors are treated to a variety of activities together with the zoo animals. In a hollowed – out tree, kids can try on animal- themed outfits. They can also get face painting sessions, create their own artworks, and of course pet animals. Also spread throughout the family play zoo is “Zoo Chat,” where Animal Ambassadors answer your questions about the animals and their habitats.
2. St. Louis Zoo, Missouri
Often recognized as one of the country’s leading zoological facilities in terms of management, conservation, education, and research, St. Louis Zoo is surprisingly attractive for parents for being both child and budget- friendly. Admission to the general section of the zoo is free, with a minimal fee for most of its special attractions such as the on- site passenger trains.
As for the must- see attractions, you could never miss the St. Louis Zoo penguins. Within one of the zoo sections named “The Wild” is the Penguin and Puffin Coast. Humboldt penguins greet you as you enter a cave where a variety of penguin species play around the area or swim in the surrounding waters. Following the penguins is Kali, the resident polar bear visitors can get nose to nose with at the Polar Bear Point.
Aside from their locomotive passenger trains, they also have a fun feature exclusively for kids. Within the Emerson Children’s Zoo, kids can slide down a clear tube passing directly through the river otter enclosure. Another zone in the zoo is the Historic Hill – home to the Bird House which features and conserves birds such as eagles, hornbills, and owls. It is also home to the Flight Cage, still one of the world’s largest bird cage ever built.
3. Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pennsylvania
What makes this attraction quite rare is that in the United States, there are only five other sites like it – a major zoo and aquarium together. It covers 77 hectares and has more than 475 different species, including endangered species.
Have a blast at the Kids Kingdom by petting domesticated animals, following sea lions and fish through your underwater windows as they play and hunt. Also watch your kids feel one with nature with the wildlife trail and meet dears, river otters, and beavers. Moreover, let the children know what it feels like burrowing underground for shelter and moving through tunnels, as meerkats in this exhibit. There are other animal yards where experienced tour guides take you along while telling you tidbits about these animals’ lives and habits.
The other half, the PPG Aquarium, is a two-story aquarium covering an area around 45,000 square feet. Learn about and enjoy the diverse marine ecosystems existing around the world through their exhibits including a tropical rainforest with piranhas and arapaimas, a coral reef, the open ocean, and even the Pennsylvania exhibit featuring the local marine life of the Allegheny River.
4. ZooTampa at Lowry Park, Florida
Formerly known as Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, this state center for wildlife conservation and biodiversity is known for its efforts to preserve different species of animals from around the globe. Also, this is the first zoo in the United States to have its own accredited preschool, so parents can feel at ease as they and their children ask questions about the animals in the zoo.
The Safari Africa section offers an authentic African experience with huge Acacia trees shading the section from a sunlight. Take an actual safari tram ride around and witness Patas monkeys and Martial eagles as well as species native to the continent – meerkats, reticulated giraffes, zebras, duikers, and southern white rhinoceroses. A treat for most kids is the elevated platform tourists can climb to feed the giraffe. It has recently been expanded to now include the Ituri forest, designed after an African river bank and features flamingos, storks, and hippopotamuses.
From the Safari, kids will definitely enjoy a slice of the great Australian Outback. The Wallaroo Station is ZooTampa’s 4.5- acre area with that immersive and dedicated Australian feel. In this section, children can brush the fur of goats and follow the trail and meet kangaroos and wallabies crossing their path. There are also Australian singing dogs, emus, cockatoos, and flying fox bats. For bats, take the Flying Bananas ride – an interactive experience in an enclosed bat habitat. A family rollercoaster is also available as well as a splash play area for smaller kids called the Billabong – named after the Australian term for an oxbow lake.