I worked at the National Zoo in Washington DC this summer, and three years ago I picked up kangaroo poop at Australia Zoo near Brisbane. I realized that I have prowled around more zoos as an adult than I care to admit, so here is my zoo guide to the best five zoological parks you should visit before you die. Zoo Lovers unite.
A preserved Victorian heirloom, this zoo has polar bears AND penguins 45 minutes from the US capitol. They also have adult-size swings, free peacock feathers and the best zoo popcorn you’ll ever have. They run a Beer Night every summer, which is basically a three hour long Oktoberfest inside the zoo (animals are always kept at a safe distance from the drunkards, worry not). It was such a hit that it was the inspiration for similar alcohol-fueled charity zoo nights all over the country. So eat a crab, grab a brew, and go zaboomafoo in Baltimore Zoo.
If you ever make it down under, take a hike to Beerwah, Queensland. Here you will find Kangaroo Heaven where you can literally cuddle with kangaroos while feeding them sour smelling packets of kangaroo crack (the sight of a joey sneaking his paw out of his mama’s pouch is worth the 16 hour plane trip). There are also wallabies, koalas, wombats, elephants and crocodiles. A notable highlight is their beautiful Asian tigers, who have their own 300 acre backyard that you can trample through with them (with a guide/tiger keeper, of course). Their customer service is on point down there too – I once spent two hours pulling a wombat in a red racer wagon just so that said wombat wouldn’t have to walk/he’d make it early to his scheduled keeper cuddle time. It’s an amazing place. In all honesty, it’s less of a zoo than a major nature complex that you can pay a visit to. The only downside is that the zoo’s mascot is the late Crocodile Hunter, whose face is on every building, commemorative mug, and picture background. It’s an obvious marketing ploy, and if you aren’t skeeved out by a dead person’s image being shamelessly manipulated, then this zoo is for you!
I worked in the marketing department at the National Zoo, and we dubbed San Diego the home of the most successful zoo instagrammers in the world. Their seal pup photos are death-worthy. Their park is gorgeous, and they have pandas, tigers, and a recent people pleaser, the arctic fox. They also have a round the clock Tiger Cam, so in case you’re too far away to feel that California sun you can still get a zoo dose wherever you go. And if you do get a chance to visit, they are a MUCH better conservationist option than Sea World, their atrocious Shamu-owning neighbours.
This is a (relatively) close one for St Andreans. Dublin Zoo was once home to the famous MGM lion, Leo, whose roar was heard round the world. Now it’s still home to tons of great animals, and is just a bus ride away from Dublin city center. They have hippos, seals, giraffes, sloths and snow leopards. I was especially jazzed about their red pandas. It’s definitely worth a visit and as they happily advertise, it’s the most popular attraction in Ireland! (I’m a bit skeptical given every else that’s in Ireland, but whatever floats their boat).
I’m biased with this one, because I spent my childhood rolling down its hills and sticking my face to the glass of the Seal Swim exhibit. The National Zoo is an amazing place for many reasons, but we’ll begin with the fact that it’s free. It’s subsidized by US tax money, so unless you’re in the market for a stuffed lion, you won’t be spending mucho dinero. National Zoo is the best example you can use when people question zoo morality. All of their charity fundraisers go to worldwide conservation efforts (notably with elephants and lions), and keepers spend years lovingly raising animals like their children. Our pandas are a main attraction, and their accompanying 24/7 Panda Cam (where you can watch baby pandas all day every day, unless there is a government shut down. But we won’t go into that). We have a re-created Amazon rainforest building, a brand new Elephant Trail, and a new Seal Center with an interactive enclave that bubbles icy water for mid-zoo cooldowns. It also has concerts and parties throughout the year: The Fray recently performed at Rock-N-Roar in front of Lion/Tiger Hill, and they have a yearly food tasting event called ZooFari every February. So the next time you’re in DC, hit us up, and be a loyal FONZ (Friend of the National Zoo) for life. That’s all of them. Go forth and go zaboomafoo!
Images sourced from Pinterest