Is there one thing you always do when visiting a new place? For our family it’s the zoo. We always said that having children wouldn’t stop us from seeing and doing all the things that interest us in a given place, but that doesn’t mean we can’t allow time for child friendly activities as well.
Finding a balance is key and the zoo with animals and beautiful gardens has often been the perfect place to achieve that balance. Though as my children are getting older I’ve recently started finding my own balance…
Over the years we’ve visited as many as 25 different zoological gardens around the world, so we consider ourselves something of zoo connoisseurs! Traveling with kids, and considering a zoo, take a look and see if your destination is on our list:
I don’t have photos from every one, but for the purposes of this post I dug out some old photos. I admit in advance that some of them aren’t the highest quality.
Woodland Park Zoo
The Woodland Park Zoo has to be one of my favorites, probably because I grew up going there. However, the zoo is laid out really well and has a wide variety of animals. The Children’s Zoo has a lovely farm and a petting zoo.
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
A zoo and an aquarium, Point Defiance does a great job with both. We loved visiting the beluga whales and the zoo’s playground is quite good. I once rode a camel here, and really regretted it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is this awful photo.
We really enjoyed the Portland Zoo, which has a very Pacific northwest feel about it. The forested areas, natural habitats, and lots of interactive exhibits made the entire experience fun and immersive for the entire family.
Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens
I really enjoyed this zoo, that is until I decided that the white tiger exhibit wasn’t quite secure enough for my liking. That might have been because the zoo keeper told me that enclosures are really more to keep the people out than to keep the animals in… Yikes!
San Francisco Zoo
San Francisco, California
I admit San Francisco Zoo isn’t my favorite. The layout isn’t easy to follow, and the enclosures are spaced far from one another. They did have these fun interactive posters though…
Sadly, I don’t have any photos of our visit to the Oakland Zoo, but we really enjoyed our visit here. A pretty standard zoo, there are also rides and an overhead tram.
The Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo
Palo Alto, California
This was my neighborhood zoo for many years! I know, a neighborhood zoo, how cool is that?! So, why don’t I have ANY photos? Too busy enjoying ourselves I guess… This zoo may be small, but it has a lot to offer including a wonderful indoor area with science exhibits and play areas made just for the little ones.
Happy Hollow Park and Zoo
San Jose, California
A bit off the beaten path, this zoo is perfect for the younger set. It’s not terribly large, but there are interactive exhibits, and an amusement park with rides perfect for toddlers through age 8.
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Los Angeles, California
We always get lost in this zoo, but there is a really nice selection of animals and interactive exhibits, so we don’t mind. I especially loved watching these Chinese Cranes. Keep in mind the zoo is located in Griffith park, which is a giant hill.
Santa Barbara Zoo
Santa Barbara, California
The Santa Barbara Zoo is a family favorite. It’s an absolutely lovely little zoo with a fabulous ocean view! The gardens are beautiful and finding your way around is relatively easy. There are many unique animals and if you’re interested you can even feed the giraffe! We loved the playgrounds, and if you fancy it there is a little train around the zoo as well.
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
Palm Desert, California
If you’re visiting the Palm Springs area with younger children consider a visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. We loved the Giraffe exhibit, and if you’re interested you can feed them for an additional fee. The animals featured here are from North America and Africa, and there are some unique and endangered species. Did you know the giraffe is endangered?
The desert gardens are beautiful and unique. A first at any zoo I’ve ever visited there were hiking trails and even the opportunity for camping overnight. It was a lovely afternoon out, though I don’t recommend a summer visit, as it was blazing hot even in March.
The San Diego Zoo
San Diego, California
I know the San Diego Zoo is world famous zoo, but I admit it wasn’t my favorite. This was mainly due to a confusing layout and the many hills, which weren’t easy to navigate with a stroller. We did see pandas though, so thats something!
Shark Reef Mandalay Bay
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Shark Reef Aquarium, located in Mandalay Bay, is a fully accredited aquarium, and is home to not only sharks, but many other fascinating creatures as well. I know this isn’t a zoo, but my sons insisted I include it here, as there were animals as well as fish.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Another favorite and well worth your time is the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is open and free 365 days a year. My parents grew up going to this zoo, and it’s been such a treat visiting with them and my own children. The enclosures are beautifully done and the play areas are wonderful. There are sea creatures here as well. A perfect zoo if you have limited time.
The Brookfield Zoo is a very large zoo, so you’ll want to allow the better part of an entire day if you decide to visit. A fairly standard zoo I prefer Lincoln Park zoo.
Although there wasn’t a lot of shade at Zoo Miami, and it was hot hot hot, we all enjoyed our visit. Beware the animal statues they’re scalding!
The Audubon Zoo
New Orleans, Louisiana
I feel pretty confident when I say the Audubon Zoo in Uptown New Orleans is pretty great! We’ve been three times! The zoo has a wide variety of animals from around the world, but my favorite part of any zoo is the exhibit showcasing the local area and the Audubon Zoo does a great job of this with their Louisiana swamp section, which features local animals and foliage. You can even get alligator jambalaya at the zoo cafe! We loved seeing the white alligators, and they have a white tiger too!
Brooklyn, New York
We visited the Brooklyn Zoo, when my older son was only 4 years old, and I admit to having only a vague recollection, so I can’t really tell you how it measures up.
Central Park Zoo
New York, New York
Even though you won’t see all the animals from the Madagascar movies, The Central Park Zoo is a wonderful little zoo right in the heart of the city. A perfect place to give the kids a New York Minute before carrying on with the rest of your New York day.
Turtle Back Zoo
Essex County, New Jersey
We visited this zoo on a preschool field trip ages ago, and I don’t recall much, only that we really enjoyed our day here.
The London Zoo
The London Zoo, located in Regent’s Park is not only the worlds oldest scientific zoo, but it was also the home of Winnie the bear. A.A. Milne changed the name of his famous storybook character Pooh Bear to Winnie-The-Pooh after he and his son Christopher Robin visited the London Zoo. We’ve been to the London Zoo twice, 12 years ago, and again just this past Christmas Eve.
We had a really nice visit at the Edinburgh Zoo, even with the rain, because… Pandas and Penguins! I wouldn’t say this about every zoo we’ve seen, but if the littles are growing tired of yet another historic site or museum and just need a break this is a very nice place to visit.
The Barcelona Zoo was the perfect place to give our littles a break from all that sightseeing. On the smaller side, we were able to see it in just a few hours!
Bioparco di Roma
Bioparco di Roma, is one of the oldest zoos in Europe, and is located near the Villa Borghese Gardens. We wandered through the gardens and then around the zoo on Christmas Eve. It was a nice break, especially for the little guy.
The oldest zoo in Japan, the Ueno Zoo is located in Ueno Park in Taitō, Tokyo. We really enjoyed our afternoon here and saw animals that we’ve never seen in any western zoos.
The Tower of London
My husband says The Tower of London Doesn’t count, but did you know that it was at one time a zoo. Yes, for 600 years the Tower of London was a zoo?! This is where Kings and queens kept the exotic animals gifted to them from other monarchs around the world. There is a great exhibit showcasing the different types of animals that lived here including a polar bear who once lived in the moat and fished in the River Thames! The wire replicas of animals throughout the grounds are pretty cool, even if they aren’t real…
Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Paris Zoo, but the Jardin des Plantes is a fabulous place to visit with children, and I hope to find my way back.
Have you been to any of these zoos? What is your favorite go to family activity when traveling? How many times can one person say zoo?
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great blog post!
Zoos are some of the best entertainment for kids. I think they have come a long way since I was a child – thank goodness! Love you to come and see some of our zoos in Melbourne. My favourite is the wildlife sanctuary that looks after native animals like koalas and kangaroos. They have an awesome birds of prey exhibit!
I would love nothing more than to add a Melbourne zoo to our list! Have to make that happen!
I didn’t go to zoos pre baby and now go all the time
I’m desperate to try Singapore #farawayfiles
I always remember taking our small kids to London Zoo. I was so disappointed about how underwhelmed they were. Too young to really appreciate how spectacular the animals were. We adults were super excited. My nephew was married at Edinburgh Zoo last year. I spent the day before the wedding singing the children’s song ” we are going to the Zoo tomorrow” kept me amused anyway!
Always think Central Park zoo is a welcome refuge on really hot days!
Great post, loved the old pictures, especially the one with the camel!
Wow, married at the Zoo! That’s pretty cool!! Yes, the old photos are funny, aren’t they?! My one and ONLY camel ride.
Wow – you have been to a lot of zoo’s! We used to visit the Oregon Zoo in Portland a LOT when the kids were little. I will admit now, I’m more of an aquarium person and love seeing what’s swimming around down there! Nice walk down memory lane Hilary! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles
Oh, I didn’t even list the Aquariums! Ha ha! We haven’t even counted those… maybe an idea for another post?
I could offer a few there!
I haven’t been to a zoo in years! I grew up going to the San Diego Zoo quite often and I think after that I got burnt out on it! But I have many fond memories there and even planted a tree there! #FarawayFiles
Yes. We do the zoo a lot more now that we have animal loving children! Planting a tree at the zoo?! That’s fun!
“How many times can one say zoo?” heehee! Cute closing, Hilary. My family has seemingly outgrown its interest in zoos, but your post reminded me of some great ones we’ve been to. One thing I’ve noticed is how many of them ARE challenging to navigate, really testing one’s map reading skills. Zoo Atlanta is what I grew up with, and they’ve had a renaissance of sorts over the past 20 years. I also love a small local zoo in Tampa, FL – Lowry Park Zoo – which when we were there late afternoon, it happened to be feeding time. Saw soooo many animals, the highlight being the manatees. It was magical, and that was probably 16 years ago! #FarawayFiles
I think our zoo days are coming to an end with a 15 yo in the house, but as long as my younger one wants to go I’ll take him. Of course wild life is best seen in the wild, but it is magical to see the animals up close!
You have been to a lot of zoos! Our favorite is actually this tiny zoo in Austin, Texas. It only has rescue animals and is super laid back. #FarawayFiles
Oh that sounds like a wonderful zoo! I hope to visit Austin, so maybe we can check it out when we do!
I’d never even heard of the Palo Alto Neighbourhood Zoo before. It’s got to be close to where I am, that’s really cool 🙂 I’ll have to visit it one weekend. #FarawayFiles
It’s currently located on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto, but will be temporarily relocated while they build a brand new zoo. Check it out before they move in may!
Well you certainly can call yourself a zoo connoisseur and I bet this is the tip of the iceberg. We have been to a few, but nothing like your family.
We live in Kent in the southeast of the UK and Howletts Wild Animal Park & Port Lympne Zoo are enjoyable to visit. Howletts specialises in gorillas (which are fascinating to watch) & African elephants. #farawayfiles
I visited Kent over Christmas, but didn’t know about the Zoos there. We always love to see the elephants and gorillas.
This is great! I enjoy zoos too. I always end up learning a lot and get to discover species I have not seen before. A lot of zoos are research, study and conservation centers. I am happy places like that exist. #FarawayFiles
Me too! Without zoos many animals would be extinct.
So many amazing zoos in this post, Hilary! My favourites are the wildlife parks where it’s easy to walk around and you have to try harder to spot the animals. There’s a great one in Kent called Howletts and we’ve been to good wildlife parks in Norfolk too. We really liked the Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam. I did enjoy all the pictures of your boys when they were little.
Oh! I recently learned of the zoo in Kent! You’ll have to bring us next time we visit!
We recently visited Lincoln Park Zoo & had it mostly to ourselves. It was pretty chilly so we didn’t see too many animals, but it was still a wonderful time! One of our favorite zoopierences!
PS we also loved the National Zoo in DC. The panda was actually awake eating bamboo & lemur island is crazy fun to watch.
Ha ha! Zoopierences! Love it! That’s a pretty great zoo, though I can imagine with Chicago weather the animals were all inside where it was warm! We love to see the Pandas!