(credit: Randy Yagi)
Whether you love them or you hate them, zoos have been a family-friendly attraction in America for nearly 150 years. Today, there are well over 10,000 zoos worldwide and over 2,400 in the U.S. alone. But where are the largest zoos in America, based upon total acreage, number of animals and attendance? For a closer look, here is a profile of just five of the largest zoos in the country and, not surprisingly, among the best in the world.
2300 Southern Blvd.
Bronx, NY 10460
Originally known as the Bronx Zoological Park when it first opened in 1899, the Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the country. Residing upon 265 acres a few miles northeast of Yankee Stadium, the world-renowned zoo draws more than two million visitors annually and features 4,000 animals representing more than 650 species. You will be able to enjoy several free exhibits such as the African Plains, Himalayan Highlands and Tiger Mountain, along with the option to see paid exhibits and attractions which includes the Children’s Zoo, Zoo Shuttle and the Wild Asia Monorail. Due to the size of the park, visitors may not be able to see everything in a single day without using either the Zoo Shuttle or Wild Asia Monorail. The Bronx Zoo also has several seasonal cafes and food stands on the property, as well as the Dancing Crane Cafe, which operates year-round.
4850 W. Powell Road
Powell, OH 43065
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is an enormous complex that also features an 18-hole golf course, a water park and an amusement park named after America’s most famous zookeeper. Located just north of the capital and largest city of Ohio, the Columbus Zoo has a total land area of 582 acres and is home to more than 10,000 animals from over 575 species. Often cited as one of the best zoos in the world, the Columbus Zoo is one of the most popular family attractions in central Ohio, drawing more than two million visitors each year. Although the animals are the main attraction, part of what makes this zoo known worldwide is Jack Hanna, also known as “Jungle Jack,” who served as its director for several years and has appeared on several television shows, including Good Morning America and the Late Show with David Letterman, as well as well his own Emmy-winning television programs. Although there is no transportation once inside the zoo, visitors have a wealth of things to do and places to go, including Pirate Island, Congo Expedition Forest, live shows, amusement rides and several dining and shopping options.
3701 S. 10th St.
Omaha, NE 68107
Recently named among the world’s best zoos, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is consistently the top paid attraction in Nebraska. Established in 1894 as Riverview Park, the 130-acre property is home to 17,000 animals from 962 species as well as a host of world-class exhibits, amusement rides and other attractions. Among the noteworthy exhibitions from the zoo once named best in the world include the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, the Desert Dome — the world’s largest indoor desert under the world’s largest geodesic dome — and Kingdom of the Night, featuring the world’s largest indoor swamp. Trams operate Memorial Day through Labor Day, offering park visitors a convenient way to get around the zoo. Additionally, visitors can also take the Omaha Zoo Railroad, featuring a steam locomotive on weekends weather permitting.
Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
500 Wildlife Parkway
Columbia, SC 29210
In terms of acreage, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden may not be the largest zoo in the Southeast. However, it’s the most visited, surpassing other notable zoos such as Zoo Atlanta and the North Carolina Zoo. Located just minutes from the heart of downtown Columbia, the 170-acre zoo is one of the most popular family-friendly attractions in the capital city and is home to more than 1,000 animals from over 350 species. Among the top attractions are Koala Knockout, the Aquarium Reptile Complex and African Savanna, where visitors of all ages can feed giraffes for a modest fee. Riverbanks also features a state-of-the-art seal and sea lion display known as Sea Lion Landing inspired by the legendary sea lions who bask in the sun at San Francisco’s famed Pier 39. Visitors can also see the gorgeous botanical gardens, which features a walled garden, play area, 2,000-seat amphitheater and a waterfall that’s quite popular over the summer.
2920 Zoo Drive
San Diego, CA 92112
Named the best zoo in the world by Trip Advisor, the San Diego Zoo features one of the largest collections of rare and endangered animals in the world. Located within San Diego’s famed Balboa Park, the 100-acre park is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 650 species, including the fascinating giant panda and the largest collection of koalas outside of Australia. Other highlights of the zoo include popular exhibits like the Polar Bear Plunge and Elephant Odyssey, as well as animal encounters, live shows and two 4-D theaters. The San Diego Zoo also offers a guided bus tour, the Balboa Park Miniature Train, the Kangaroo Bus and Skyfari. First opened in 1915, the San Diego Zoo is managed by the non-profit San Diego Zoo Global, which also oversees the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an acclaimed wildlife sanctuary on 1,800 acres near Escondido that houses more than 3,000 animals from over 300 species.