5. Living Coast Discovery Center
> Location: Chula Vista, California
This nonprofit zoo and aquarium is set on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and features more than 350 animal and plant species native to the San Diego Bay. Striving to educate visitors about coastal habitats and conservation, the Center is home to endangered sea turtles, shorebirds, hawks, owls, sharks, stingrays, jellies and more. It also educates with year-round wildlife day camps for kids and teens, interactive animal encounters and talks, critters and crafts programs, composting workshops, cleanups, walking trails through the wildlife refuge, teacher training, and more.
4. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
> Location: Powell, Ohio
Even if you’ve never visited the Columbus Zoo, you may be familiar with its animals, thanks to
director emeritus Jack Hanna and his media appearances, and more recently the Nat Geo WILD reality show “Secrets of the Zoo,” which gives an all-access look at the zoo’s animals and staff. Home to more than 9,000 animals representing 650 species, the zoo is one of the top in the country because of its conservation efforts that include more than $1 million annually to support over 70 conservation projects worldwide. The facility also is notable for its 22-acre Zoombezi Bay water park, 18-hole Safari Golf Club, and Jungle Jack’s Landing amusement park.
3. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
> Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Taking up 160 acres, Omaha’s zoo features both the world’s largest indoor desert. It also boasts the largest aquarium inside a zoo. Though the zoo is ranked among the best in the country, one of its exhibits really stands out: Lied Jungle allows visitors to explore a natural rainforest environment in America’s largest indoor rainforest. The jungle features the sounds of waterfalls crashing and the rainforests of South America, Asia and Africa, with plenty of animals to go along with it — monkeys, tapirs, macaws, pygmy hippos, and more.
2. McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary
> Location: West Palm Beach, Florida
Located on five acres in West Palm Beach, McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary is home to over 170 native and exotic animals looking for a safe haven. Some of the animals have found their way to the rehabilitation facility because of neglect, abuse, or illegal possession, and others were donated by owners who could no longer care for them. These include foxes, tigers, lemurs and alligators, and birds such as pelicans, cranes and owls. Visitors, who require an advanced appointment, can tour the sanctuary and interact with several of the small animals, including a tortoise, parrot, kinkajou, alligator, snake and tarantula.
1. The Living Desert
> Location: Palm Desert, California
This 1,200-acre zoo and botanical garden located 15 miles east of Palm Springs specializes in desert animals and plants. The Living Desert features nature trails, animal shows, and a wildlife hospital. Visitors can experience over 1,600 species of plants and 140 species of animals from the deserts of North America and Africa, including giraffes, mountain lions, zebras and cheetahs, along with over 150 species of free-flying birds, and many species of butterflies and dragonflies. The botanical gardens also include 1,500 species indigenous to the arid areas of North America and Africa and geographic replicas of Baja California’s Viscaino Desert and the deserts of Madagascar. At the wildlife hospital, visitors can interact with staff while they’re helping animals. Children can enjoy the discovery center and desert play park, endangered species carousel, and G-scale garden railroad.