Come walk and talk with the animals.
Take a drive through this sprawling African Safari Wildlife Park and get up close and personal with animals native to the African savannah. The animals (giraffes, zebras, water buffalo, and more) are used to being fed by visitors to the Sandusky park, so they'll lumber right up and introduce themselves.
Parents' top tips for going to this venerable New York zoo? Taking a ride on the Skyfari — an elevated tram ride — elicits ooohs and aaahs as kids point out where they want to head next (Children's Zoo! Camel ride, please!). There's something for everyone at the Bronx Zoo: kids who like snakes and reptiles; those in awe of giant apes; and little ones who love to walk among flitting, fluttering butterflies.
Your typical county park might have a few rabbits and, if you're lucky, a deer or two. Not this one. The Cape May County Park and Zoo serves up 80 acres of beautifully maintained exhibits. Best of all, the cages and pens at this Jersey Shore zoo allow you to get up-close with most of the animals. When the animals are out, you're so close you can almost feel their breath.
Have a guide lead you through the Croncun Zoo in Cancun to tell you about the native animals or explore the zoo on your own. Either way you'll see macaws, swamp and river crocodiles, a scaly maroon South American reptile called a tegu, scorpion snakes and lots of other creatures. The guide will let your children touch and hold the animals (careful of the crocodile's teeth), there's a petting zoo and hundreds of crocodiles lounging in the sun (watch where you step!).
Disney's Animal Kingdom is like no other Disney World theme park. With 1,500 animals spread over a vast "wilderness," it's designed for ambling through. Stop and admire the regal tigers in Asia, talk to the birds in the Oasis, and marvel at the artwork on the trunk of the man-made Tree of Life attraction. Not that it's all quiet time — faux wildlife provides for some adrenaline-rushing fun, like the menacing Yeti of the park's only coaster, Expedition Everest.
Although technically a store, the East Bay Vivarium rivals the best nature museums for its collection of snakes, lizards and other reptiles and it's award-winning breeding program. Yes, those cute little spiny tail monitor lizards are for sale, but families are also welcome to visit this Berkeley museum-store just to see and learn about them, and animal-lovers visit in droves. Want to know what tortoises eat, which chameleons change color or simply what a blue-tongue skink is? This is the place.
If you come to Florida hoping to see gators, this Orlando park will not disappoint. It offers in-habitat alligator viewing, educational shows, alligator pettin, and even an opportunity to straddle a real gator. But the coolest thing at Gatorland is the 90-minute night-time tour (reservations required) — travel to the breeding marsh by flashlight and see hundreds of eerie gator eyes glowing back red.
The Lincoln Park Zoo is free, and while you might not expect much as a result, you'll be pleasantly surprised. North of downtown, just off Lake Shore Drive and offering a fantastic view of the Chicago skyline, the zoo is home to thousands of animals, from flamingos to bears. Don't miss the amazing Regenstein Center for African Apes, where playful chimpanzees and giant gorillas eat and play almost close enough to touch.
Discover some of the wondrous plants and animals that make their homes in deserts in North America, Mexico and Africa at this combination zoo and botanical garden in Palm Springs. Animal lovers will marvel at the creatures in the Africa section (including gazelles, camels and zebras) of the Living Desert Zoo, then be even more amazed by those in the North America section (including mountain lions, bobcats and wolves). The plants are spectacular as well, but for kids, the animals steal the show.
Polar bears, panda bears, and meerkats, oh my! The Memphis Zoo allows some seriously up-close interaction with its inhabitants, from the polar bears chilling out in their icy pool to lions who often lounge just a few feet away from a fascinated audience. The panda exhibit at this Memphis attraction is also fun, with pandas LeLe and YaYa frolicking in their outdoor play area. Everyone will love the adjacent carousel with its intricately-carved Chinese animals.
The Nashville Zoo has become one of the country's "best zoos" in the past few years. Here you can view African elephants and Red River Hogs close up, watch the antics of African wild dogs and feed Lorikeets from your hand. Thanks to innovative exhibitions like a 14-foot catwalk in the giraffe barn and an "all-access," behind-the-scenes tour, this Nashville zoo allows kids to get up close and personal in ways they never have before.
From the road, this looks like another kitschy roadside attraction in the Black Hills — and it is. But there's also a lot to see at the Reptile Gardens. There are rock and fossil specimens; a sky dome with free-roaming lizards, frogs, birds and snakes; a huge reptile collection; and the largest venomous reptile collection in the world. Look for the giant land tortoises (and pictures of them with other visiting kids — in the 1950s). But it houses a few surprises, too.
One of the best-known zoological parks in the world, the San Diego Zoo is packed with fun. From an aerial tram ride to a close look at dik diks, there is something to intrigue everyone in your family. The zoo in a San Diego is so big, and there's so much to see, that many visitors plan to go over two days.
The elephants may fling things at you when you're in the Elephant House at this Atlanta attraction, but the Zoo Atlanta is a favorite for families. There's a rock wall to climb, a train to ride, an old-fashioned carousel, a playground, flamingoes and some animals you won't find at most zoos, like meerkats and kangaroos. An air-conditioned reptile house is home to an impressive collection of native and exotic snakes, turtles and alligators.