Best and worst zoos in the US.

Many have already been mentioned, but in terms of best zoos here are my picks:

  1. Cincinnati Zoo–fabulous white tiger exhibit & I think they were first with the natural habitat thing.

  2. San Diego–they also recently took over the Wild Animal Park (which is not in San Diego, but in Carlsbad). The Wild Animal Park is sort of like going on a safari–you can also camp there and hear the animals at night, which is cool. Only down side to SD Zoo & Wild Animal Park is the entrance fee, which is pretty hefty.

  3. I also love the National Zoo in DC, but mostly because it is free and rarely crowded. You just walk right in like you are going to a park or something–no lines or anything.

In terms of worst zoos, the LA Zoo gets my vote. The exhibits are ugly and the animals are often missing from the cages. Also, there is no shade to be found as you walk around the park, so unless you like the hot sun beating down on you all day long–avoid this zoo. They have made some improvements, but it still sucks.

Best zoos:

San Diego Zoo, as others have mentioned
Bronx Zoo, though I wish they hadn’t gotten rid of the Sky-fari. The walk from one end of the zoo to the other is very long.
National Zoo in Washington DC
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
St Louis Zoo (free after 5 PM, IIRC)

Only zoo I’ve been to that I didn’t care for that much was Zoo America in Hershey, right near Hershey Park. Long, winding paths to see animals that are relatively common.

Some smaller, more specialized animal places that are very enjoyable:

The Black Hills Reptile Gardens, near Mount Rushmore - they have giant tortoises that you can put a little child on to ride.
Kentucky Down Under, near Mammoth Cave - an Australian-themed zoo where you can actually pet the kangaroos (and they have a cave as well).

We really liked the San Diego Zoo.

I remember a small one in Amarillo, Texas that was really shit. I bet it’s not there anymore. For the sake of the animals, I hope not.

Let me nominate the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle for the top 10 list. Some really fine areas for big animals like Brown bears, great Apes, and orangutangs. Also, large an African Savannah area,Tropical Rain forest, etc. And Penguins. Who doesn’t love penguins?

Another vote for San Diego Zoo especially when you factor in the Wild Animal Park too.

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The St. Louis Zoo is free admission all day, everyday (as well as the other Forest Park attractions: Art Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Center,…etc). It is also a fantastic place to spend a day, and I would put it up in the top tier of our nations zoo’s.

The portland zoo is great when they have the butterfly room going. It’s not all the time though, so you’d have to plan a trip specifically for that.

The San Diego zoo is by far the best zoo I’ve ever been to, and it is righteously expensive as well.

The Houston Zoo isn’t bad at all, especially with the new Africa exhibit.

I know the OP said the United States, but I’m throwing in a vote for the Toronto Zoo. It’s a great zoo.

Of the zoos I’ve been to, the best are:

The San Diego Zoo, which has been mentioned many times
The Cincinnati Zoo, which has been mentioned a few times

I specifically came in here to grouse about the Kansas City Zoo. I grew up there and visited only once, but it was an awful and depressing experience. Cramped cement cages; elephants getting snowed on; grimy public areas; few amenities.

However, I haven’t been in probably 15 years, so I’m glad to hear it’s improved recently.

Technically, it is in fact in one of the northernmost parts of the San Diego City Limits, (perhaps by design). If you look at this .PDF, it’s in the area across San Pasqual Valley Rd (Highway 78) from the “SD Future San Pasqual FS.” The mailing address is Escondido, but that’s only for postal/zipcode reasons. The city of Escondido would love to be able to say that it were the home of the Wild Animal Park, because Escondido doesn’t have much going for itself. (And Carlsbad isn’t really close at all.)

If you’re in reasonably good health, the Colorado Springs Zoo is pretty good. (It’s also a good workout.)

It has a couple claims to fame–(1) it has the largest giraffe herd in the nation, and (2) it’s one of only a handful of zoos in the nation that don’t receive any taxpayer money whatsoever. In addition, while this is not a typical zoo attraction, admission to the zoo also includes the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun.

So, of the two is Toledo or Columbus better nowdays?

I’m from San Diego, and always maintain an annual pass. Great place.

I adore the Phoenix Zoo. Very up-to-date, and the special area dedicated to local Arizona Desert species was particularly nifty.

On a business trip to Pittsburgh, I visited the zoo there, and very much admired it. It’s built on a hillside, so the walking was a bit strenuous, but the enclosures and displays were state-of-the-art modern, and the landscaping and planting was luscious.

The Los Angeles Zoo is pretty good. I know this sounds like faint praise, but “parts of it are excellent.” Other parts are showing their age, but they are in a new phase of modernizing and upgrading, so they’re definitely still in the game. There was a recent lawsuit filed by animal rights groups over their elephant exhibit, but the zoo essentially won the case. In my opinion, their elephant enclosure was superb, and no one had any basis for a complaint.

ETA: the worst? Well, the Orange County zoo is tiny. It’s so darned small, it doesn’t even have a restroom! No joke! However, even given that, the enclosures are clean, the animals are well-cared-for, and the place is in the middle of a pretty park with some nice ponds. So, if you live in Orange County (southern California) this is not the worst way to while away an afternoon.

When I lived in southern New Mexico in the 1990s, I once took a drive down to El Paso to check out their zoo. It was a sad sight; some common animals in small cages and “natural” areas, and a lonely elephant, all baking in the desert sun. I saw everything there was to see in about half an hour. Hopefully it’s changed since then.

It’s a nice experience for the visitor, but I think it has a lot of problems in how it’s run. The National Zoo seems to be continually plagued by a high number of animal deaths, though, and in recent years it’s been criticized for poor training of its staff. It’s also been crumbling a bit due to deferred maintenance, which zoo officials have ascribed both to Congressional underfunding and to poor budgeting practices by the zoo.

Now if we’re leaving the US, then I give a big vote for the Singapore Zoo. Up there with and very possibly tops San Diego.

Going to the San Francisco Zoo?
Going to the Los Angeles or San Diego Zoo?
On your way from one to the other, don’t overlook the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, just off Highway 101 about halfway between S.F. and L.A.!

It’s at one side of Atascadero Lake Park. You could see the zoo in one day, and maybe it one half hour. It covers about the same ground space, I would estimate, as a typical Wal-Mart store. There are several animals there (even more if you count the ducks in the nearby lake), and a marvelous statue of a tiger swatting a fish out of a pool.


Okay, a guy driving back and forth across the United States to look at zoos? An eighty mile detour to Toronto is possible. But I think Singapore is pushing it.

“I knew I shoulda taken that left toin at Albaqoique.”