a lion sculpture at the San Diego Zoo

Learn all about animals and their habitats at the top zoos in the U.S., including the San Diego Zoo. (Photo: Marriott International)

Kid-Friendly

Go Wild at These Top Zoos in the United States

Whether you’re obsessed with pandas, love lemurs or are avid about antelopes, visiting zoos is a great way to foster appreciation for wild animals. While the United States is home to hundreds of zoological parks, not all are created equal; some focus more on conservation than others. The top zoos in the U.S. are not only fun for the whole family to explore, but they’re also known for animal welfare and conservation.  

From incredible animal exhibits to in-depth programming for kids, these zoos provide delightful learning experiences for visitors of all ages. As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.  

Zoo Atlanta  

the entrance to Zoo Atlanta
Zoo Atlanta offers families so much to explore. (Photo: Shutterstock) 

See 1,000 creatures big and small (many critically endangered) at Zoo Atlanta in the city’s historic Grant Park. One of this zoo’s claim to fame is its large population of great apes  —  and don’t miss African Savanna’s elephants, giraffes, rhinos and zebras.  

This Atlanta zoo supports wildlife conservation in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, as well as locally in Georgia. If you’re visiting with kids, make sure to check out the calendar for programming, activities and virtual experiences

Where to Stay: Choose a room with a city view at Atlanta Marriott Marquis, which is just three miles from the zoo.  

Dallas Zoo 

Discover Texas’s oldest and largest zoo at this 106-acre gem in Marsalis Park. The Dallas Zoo is home to hundreds of species and more than 2,000 animals — and you can get an up-close look and even interact with some, including watching dozens of bird species fly in the aviary and feeding giant giraffes.  

Tech-obsessed kids will love journeying into the mountains of Rwanda during the Gorilla Trek Virtual Reality Experience, where a primatologist takes you on a 360-degree adventure. 

The zoo is focused on a dozen areas of conservation, with efforts focused on animals such as African elephants, gorillas, rhinos, tigers and local Texas wildlife. 

Where to Stay: Immerse yourself in the city’s Arts District at JW Marriott Dallas Arts District.  

The Maryland Zoo 

Located in Druid Hill Park, The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is America’s third-oldest zoo, and it’s where 1,500 wild animals representing nearly 150 species live.  

Waddle over to the award-winning penguin exhibit — home to 60 African penguins (also called black-footed penguins). Party near these penguins in their South African habitat and watch from a viewing area beneath the water as they swim underwater and gobble fish during daily feedings. This Baltimore zoo houses North America’s largest African penguin breeding colony, and one of its Signature Animal Programs focuses on African penguin conservation in the wild. 

Interested in larger animals? In the African Journey exhibit, see lions, giraffes and elephants roam. 

Where to Stay: Experience Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and waterfront views at the luxe Baltimore Marriott Waterfront

San Diego Zoo 

two rhinos with a spectacular sunset in the background at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Add the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to your itinerary. (Photo: Marriott International) 

Get the biggest bang for your buck at the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park. It’s famous for being one of the largest zoos in the U.S., and it’s home to more than 12,000 rare and endangered animals, representing more than 600 species.  

The 100-acre wildlife sanctuary is famous for pioneering open-air habitats that let animals roam. Traverse rainforests, woodlands, marshes and dunes in the Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, an animal-filled, all-ages playground. 

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance runs two parks, the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located about a 40-minute drive away in Escondido. Interested in seeing both? You can save a few bucks by purchasing a multipark ticket for the two locations. 

Where to Stay: Experience the San Diego waterfront at SpringHill Suites San Diego Downtown/Bayfront.  

Memphis Zoo 

Travel the world without leaving Memphis at this top U.S. zoo, a home for lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!). The Memphis Zoo astonishingly boasts more than 3,500 animals across more than 500 species. It also features immersive habitats, like the African Veldt experience, where animals live in replicas of their native grasslands.  

Keep an eye on seasonal experiences for kids — and dinosaur fans shouldn’t miss the enormous reptilian replicas of Dino Park. The zoo’s conservation programs support species including the local dusky gopher frog and the Louisiana pinesnake. 

Where to Stay: Residence Inn by Marriott Memphis Downtown is a historic, art deco hotel in downtown Memphis.  

Woodland Park Zoo 

See more than 800 animals at the 92-acre Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, which pioneered naturalistic, bioclimatic animal habitats, like the Australasia, Living Northwest Trail and Temperate Forest exhibits.  

Unique to this Seattle zoo is the opportunity to discover creatures that call the Pacific Northwest home in the Living Northwest Trail exhibit. Get close to river otters, brown bears, gray wolves and Canada lynx with interactive displays and, in some cases, encounter experiences you’ll remember forever.  

Where to Stay: Explore downtown from Sheraton Grand Seattle, a few blocks from Pike Place Market.  

Smithsonian’s National Zoo  

a panda munches on bamboo at Smithsonian's National Zoo
The National Zoo’s panda program drew attention for decades. (Photo: Washington.org) 

Smithsonian’s National Zoo sets itself apart by always being free — plus, it’s located right in the heart of Washington, D.C. Recognized as one of the best U.S. zoos, this park dates back to 1889.  

The 163-acre park has more than 2,000 animals, including apes, bears, wallabies, red pandas and sea lions. The Zoo is part of a longtime conservation partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation Association and has a long history of hosting giant pandas. It also promotes the birth of endangered species and reintroduces animals into the wild. 

Where to Stay: Located just two miles from the National Zoo, The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection, a historic hotel that provides easy access to many top attractions.  

Indianapolis Zoo 

Want to see chimpanzees move overhead? Head to the Indianapolis Zoo to see dozens of chimps swinging on a vast sky trail. Zoogoers can also interact with 20 species of exotic snakes and see macaws soar in one of North America’s largest flocks.  

This zoo is also the only place in the Midwest where you can wade in the water with dolphins. The Indianapolis Zoo also supports conservation efforts worldwide, such as the Cheetah Conservation Fund.  

Check the calendar for feeding times and animal chats, when you can memorize some fun trivia to take home with you. 

Where to Stay: Stay less than a mile from the zoo at JW Marriott Indianapolis.  

Zoo Tampa 

At Zoo Tampa, visitors can get close to giant tortoises, feed an Indian rhino, snap a pic with a penguin or swim with stingrays during popular animal experiences.  

This zoo focuses on protecting endangered species from climates similar to that of Tampa Bay, with animals from Asia, Africa, Australia and Florida residing here. So embrace Florida’s warm climate and enjoy this zoo’s lush tropical setting (and the animals who call it home).  

Where to Stay: Explore Tampa’s vibrant downtown during a stay at JW Marriott Tampa Water Street