A favorite summertime activity was started long ago in 1859. The first to entice us, the Philadelphia Zoo.

Most states now have them and we continue to love visiting them. From the unique animals, our favorite sightings, animal interaction; something about animals bring out the child in all of us. We all have our favorite zoo, and following are a few of the top rated zoos from Arizona to around the globe. Our experiences still continue since the 1859 to today in escaping to lands unknown to us.

Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix, AZ ~ http://phoenixzoo.org
The largest non-profit zoo in the United States, the Phoenix Zoo covers a 125 acre complex with a unique twist - the wide sprawling park allows rollerblades and bicycles. Four long trails cover the native wildlife of Arizona, Africa and more showcasing more than 1,200 animals, and visitors can also visit the touch-tank called Stingray Bay. In 1973, the Phoenix Zoo gained worldwide attention for its Asian Elephant named Ruby who came to the zoo after being in Thailand.

San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA ~ http://www.sandiegozoo.org
One of the largest zoos in the world with over 4,000 animals and more than 800 species, the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park will provide you with exhibits that are designed around a particular habitat from an African Rain Forest to the Artic Taiga and Tundra. There are exhibits that are in a more “natural” state providing an open air feeling with invisible wires, darkened blinds to view birds, and pools and open-air moats for large mammals. Complete with rolling landscapes of exotic plants, winding pathways and natural exhibits occupying 100 acres along with a safari-style Wild Animal Park on the outskirts (separate admission necessary).

Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, DC ~ http://nationalzoo.si.edu/
Founded in 1889 and know as one of the oldest zoos in the United States and commonly known as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. This Washington, DC landmark is also part of the Smithsonian Institution where admission is free. Here, the 163 acres are easily accessible via the DC metro system, and you will find all-day educational exhibits, activities, and lots of animal viewing.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando FL ~ http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/animal-kingdom
As part of Walt Disney World Resort, the Animal Kingdom is home to 1,7000 animals which represent 250 different species on 500 acres. Here you will find lush landscape, rivers, waterfalls and natural animal exhibits that create an atmosphere of walking through their pristine nature. Take a ride on the Kilimanjaro Safari and witness animal life through the African Savannah Animals and nature or view the wildlife from their rafts. See the 14-story Tree of Life carved with images of over 300 different animals. The rides through the park make is easy to see lots of animals in a shorter time. The park also includes parades, performances and live musical shows.

Lowery Park Zoo, Tampa, FL ~ http://www.lowryparkzoo.com
Lowry Park Zoo is the only zoo in the country with an accredited preschool and kindergarten on-site. Parents magazine voted this zoo as “Best Zoo for Kids” as children are able to interact with the animals. With so many interactions to do from brushing a goat’s fur, feeding birdseed lollipops to parakeets, riding on a llama, a camel, feeding the giraffes, a white rhino, stingrays and walking down paths while kangaroos and wallabies hop in front of them, this zoo is certain to provide fun and education.

Lion Country Safari, West Palm Beach, FL ~ http://www.lioncountrysafari.com
For a unique and altogether different realm of a safari, visit Lion County Safari, the nation’s original open-road animal attraction. Here you enter in your own vehicle and drive over 5 miles of road. During your tour you will see zebras and giraffes roaming freely, while certain animals such as the lions and chimpanzees are contained in fences for your safety. Lion Country Safari also hosts the traditional zoological attractions as well as carnival rides for its visitors.

Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu, Hawaii ~ http://www.waquarium.org
The Waikiki Aquarium may not be your typical zoo, but this is one too good not to miss. Located next to a living coral reef, the aquarium will bring you face-to-face with colorful tropical fish, reef sharks, living corals, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea jellies, squid, octopus and everything else that swims up to meet you. The exhibits are centered around the aquatic life of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific. There are over 2,500 organisms in exhibits representing more than 420 species of aquatic animals, including 201 species of fish and 223 species of invertebrates.

Maryland Zoo, Baltimore, MD ~ http://www.marylandzoo.org, http://www.aqua.org
Established in 1876 as The Baltimore Zoo, the now named in 2004 as the Maryland Zoo is the third oldest zoo in the country. The 160 plus acres houses more than 1,500 birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and represents nearly 200 species. In addition, the zoo has partnered with the National Aquarium in Baltimore with over 16,000 sea creatures.

Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, MN ~ http://www.mnzoo.com
One of the first zoos to organize its animals by their living environment instead of organizing the animals according to their species. The Minnesota Zoo has exhibits that are divided into five themed areas with three themed walking trails and is located in a suburbanizing rural area.

St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO ~ http://www.stlzoo.org
Visit a zoo that is recognized as a leading zoo in animal management, research, conservation and education and you have the St. Louis Zoo. Admission is free but there are some fees for some of their features such as the Zooline Railroad. This small passenger train encircles the zoo and stops at the more popular attractions.

Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, LA ~ http://www.auduboninstitute.org
The Audubon Zoo dates back to the early 20th century and is one of the country’s top ranked zoos offering an exotic mix of animals from around the world. Here you will find natural habitats, lush gardens, resting spots, the mystical Louisiana swamp where you can see the zoo’s famous white alligators. They offer hands-on animal encounters, a large aquarium, and an IMAX Theatre. Note that all exhibits are closed on Mondays.

Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, NB ~ http://www.omohazoo.com
To see the largest rainforest in the world, visit this zoos Lied Jungle which opened in 1992 featuring this rainforest which occupies an 80 foot tall building that span 1.5 acres.

Bronx Zoo, New York, NY ~ http://www.bronxzoo.com
Setting on 265 acres and home to over 4,000 animals, the Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the country. In addition, this oasis is only a short subway ride from Manhattan and boasts the largest man-made rainforest in the world, with a monorail ensuring accessibility. It’s also the first zoo in the world to teach students from preschoolers to 12th graders with an offering of 20 courses with the material translated into Chinese, Spanish, and African languages, and its curriculum is used in every state and 15 nations. Another win-win reason to visit is that a portion of your admission helps to fund the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, OH ~ http://cincinnatizoo.org
Opening in 1875, this zoo is the second oldest zoo in the United States with The Reptile House being the oldest zoo building in America, dating back to 1875. The Cincinnati Zoo was unofficially nicknamed “The Sexiest Zoo in America” for its world renowned breeding programs, especially for cheetahs. The zoo hosts a vast collection of endangered species, plants, macaws, Indian rhinos, cheetahs, Brazilian ocelots and Western Lowland gorillas.

Columbus Zoo, Columbus OH ~ http://www.columbuszoo.org
The zoo has continuously been open since 1927 and has its exhibits divided into eight regions of the world with home to 5,00 animals and over 700 species. In addition to the zoo, located just south of the zoo is an 18-hole golf course (Safari Golf Club), a water park (Zoombezi Bay), and an amusement park (Jungle Jack’s Landing). The Columbus Zoo is home to one of the most notable animal experts in the world, Jack Hanna and is home to “Jungle Jack”.

The Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, PA ~ http://www.philadelphiazoo.org
Opening in 1875 the Philadelphia Zoo was chartered in March of 1859 making it the oldest zoo in America. With 42 acres to explore and 1,300 animals, this family friendly zoo is a revered historic site celebrating the many years of zoology in the United States. Another first for this zoo is it is the first in the country to “go green”. It has implemented a carbon offset program, “Footprints” which sets standards to make the zoo operation eco-friendly and to counteract global climate change. The zoo also teaches visitors how to participate in the conservation effort through planting trees, recycling and how to use recycled products.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Glen Rose, TX ~ http://www.fossilrim.org
This 1,700 acre wildlife center is dedicated to preserving and protecting endangered and threatened species and is accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center features more than a dozen exotic big game species and visitors are able to take a guided tour of the park or do a driving tour on their own. Another perk is that visitors also have overnight lodging and other accommodations available at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. (See below for more overnight accommodations at zoos)

Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, TX ~ http://www.fortworthzoo.org
Accredited as “The Top Zoo in the Nation” by Family Life, USA Today and the Los Angeles Time, this zoo was founded in 1909. With more than 500 species from every continent (except Antarctica), this zoo features a special tribute to the native flora and fauna of Texas. Their featured exhibit, Texas Wild, enables visitors to learn about the diverse wildlife of the Lone Star State with a historic look back at the turn-of-the-century Texas in an authentic town recreated from the early 1900’s.

Houston Zoo, Houston, TX ~ http://www.houstonzoo.org
This zoo stands out for its surprisingly modern facilities and it’s exhibits that have been renovated within the past five years. With a couple choices on how you see the park, the Houston Zoo offers you options. You are able to set off on your own or you can make reservations to plan a private tour that will take you beyond the normal visitation parameters and get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes, watch feedings, see the animal hospital and even see some animal training.

Some worldwide ventures take us to:

Tiergarten Schonnbrunn Zoo, Vienna, Austria ~ http://www.zoovienna.at/en/zoo-and-visitors/visitor-information/
Established in 1752 this is the oldest zoo in the world. Centrally located, the Tiergarten Schonnbrunn Zoo has kept its historical charm along with world class ultra modern facilities. With exhibits that are home to nearly 500 species you will most certainly be visiting one of the world’s leading zoos.

Zoo Praha, Prague, Czech Republic ~ http://www.zoopraha.cz/en
As one of the best zoos in Europe, you will be visiting 111 acres and approximately 4,600 animals with 630 different species all on 5 Euros for the day (a great value). With a great diversity of animals, you will also see the Indonesia Jungle and Monkey Island.

The Beauval Zoo, France
Voted one of the 15 most beautiful zoos in the world and is just outside the village of St. Aignan, France. The zoo originally opened in 1980 and houses over 2,000 birds. Ten years later other animals were introduced and the zoo has now grown to over 4,000 animals.

Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Nagoya, Japan
This 150 acre zoo dates back to 1937 and offers a complete nature experience. With a botanical garden, an amusement park and a zoo with approximately 550 species, you will find yourself with a day full of fun. This is the largest zoo in Asia and you are now able to see panoramic views of the area with their recently built Higashiyama Sky Tower complete with observation decks and a restaurant 100 meters off the ground.

Singapore Zoo, Singapore ~ http://www.zoo.com.sg/
For an open concept and accessible zoo visit this 70 acre rainforest landscape where the animals are kept in large landscaped open air areas that are separated from visitors by hidden barriers. The spectacular beauty of the Singapore Zoo is enhanced with pathways including the hidden barriers to include vegetation, streams, moats and rocks.

National Zoological Gardens, Pretoria, South Africa
Better known as the Pretoria Zoo, this National Zoological Gardens is the largest zoo in South Africa with 3,117 animals and the largest inland marine aquarium in the country as well as a reptile park and the third largest collection of exotic trees. They offer and “Adopt an Animal Scheme” that helps provide support for the animal’s food and care for a full year - this also enable you free admittance to the zoo as often as you desire. There are aquarium tours, camping tours (aka - a sleep over) and night tours, which are perfect for spotting owls, elephants, lions and red pandas.

Zoologischer Garten, Basel, Switzerland ~ http://www.zoobasel.ch/
One of the greatest zoos in the world famous for breeding endangered species in captivity. The zoo was established in 1874 and is Switzerland’s largest zoo covering approximately 30 acres and is the second most visited attraction in all of Switzerland. There are more than 6,000 animals including Somolian wild donkeys and dwarf hippopotami.

For the animal in all of us a growing number of zoos are offering some thrilling after dark experiences and even some with overnight stays. The Philadelphia Zoo offering the “Roars and Snores” overnight program to the most popular program of the “Night Flight” where children age five to twelve sleep in the zoo’s tree house. The Houston Zoo offers “Wild Winks” for ages seven and above. Here you will spend the night for a totally unique after hours experience including interactive activities, touchable animals, a pizza dinner, continental breakfast, and free admission to the zoo on the following day. The San Diego Zoo also offers a Safari Sleepover and along with so many other zoos that are now offering these programs.

Be sure to check with your local zoo to see if they offer some after hour experiences for the wild child inside of you.

Photograph by Mark Bodnar  http://www.markbodnar.com/ from http://lionsandtigers.bunchofmonkeys.com/