Top 10 Zoos and Aquariums
1. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha, NE
"I've been to many zoos in much larger places, and this is one of the best in the U.S.," raved a mom from Iowa. Maybe that's because this zoo thinks big: three of its exhibits -- the indoor desert, indoor rain forest, and nocturnal animal hall -- rate among the world's largest. Add to that an aquarium that invites you to walk on the ocean floor as sea creatures shimmy around you, and you can understand why the only complaint we heard was that there's too much to do here in a single day.
2. Toledo Zoo, Toledo, OH
Founded more than a century ago, this 74-acre zoo has been going through a growth spurt. In the past 15 years, it's added four substantial exhibits: Tembo Trail (which allows visitors to see elephants eye-to-eye), Nature's Neighborhood (an award-winning children's zoo), Africa! (featuring acres of animals, plus town, village, and bush areas), and Arctic Encounter (with polar bears and seals, in and out of the water). An Ohio family cheered: "The improvements in this zoo are awesome!"
3. Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, IL
This sprawling 216-acre zoo has more than 20 separate exhibits highlighting many of the world's major wild habitats, from the Swamp, with its crocs, snakes, and North American river otters, to the Fragile Rain Forest, home to such rare species as the clouded leopard and the even rarer binturong, a nocturnal tree dweller native to Southeast Asia. Families love the zoo's emphasis on education -- there are docents everywhere who offer fascinating tidbits about the animals -- and its parklike atmosphere (it's also a botanical garden). "It only improves with time," one Illinois family told us, "and it's so great for kids and adults, educational and tons of fun."
4. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL
It may be a national historic landmark, but Shedd Aquarium is far from behind the times. Recent additions to this venerable institution include a $45 million Wild Reef exhibit, comprising 26 interconnected habitats, and Amazon Rising, which traces the seasonal cycles of the Amazon River floodplain.
5. SeaWorld, San Diego, CA
San Diego celebrates SeaWorld's 50th anniversary this spring with the opening of Explorer's Reef, a multimillion-dollar renovation that includes four touch pools with a total of 26,000 gallons of water teeming with sharks, rays, skates, horseshoe crabs, and other sea creatures.
6. SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando, FL
Part adventure ride, part simulation, and part animal encounter, SeaWorld Orlando's newest attraction -- Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin -- transports visitors into an icy habitat housing nearly 250 penguins from four species.
7. Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, TX
Two baby elephants and a jaguar cub, all born last year, join perennial favorites, such as the Texas Wild exhibit, housing eight acres of native species, and the Museum of Living Art, a 30,000-square-foot reptile and amphibian facility opened in 2010.
8. Bronx Zoo, Bronx, NY
Stroll the world's richest habitats -- from the African plains to the Himalayan highlands to the island of Madagascar -- without leaving the city in this 265-acre zoo.
9. San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA
With more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals and a botanical collection of more than 700,000 exotic plants, the San Diego Zoo occupies a prime location -- in Balboa Park -- adjacent to a host of museums, gardens, recreational facilities, and other attractions.
10. SeaWorld San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Home to the educational Animal Connections Conservation Center, this San Antonio park features many of SeaWorld's most popular rides and attractions, plus a few you'll find only here, including Alligator Alley and Flamingo Cove.