3. Oklahoma City Zoological Park and Botanical Garden
SIZE: 1,520 animals on 110 acres
Tara Henson/OKC Zoo
- Hosts a monthly stroller safari, a guided tour for toddlers given by a naturalist who examines insects, leaves, plants, and other things at their eye level
- Hands out a free family-activity packet designed to fine-tune children's observational skills, such as finding colors and patterns throughout the zoo
- In April, opened a new Jungle Gym, a $1.1 million playground with a slide resembling an elephant's trunk with ears on both sides, a giant bird's nest where kids can pretend to fly, underground tunnels for burrowing like a groundhog or snake, and a climbing wall kids can scale alongside a snow leopard sculpture
- Is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with special events and attractions, including swan paddle boats, a centennial choo-choo, a new enclosed house for butterflies, and zoo keys, which kids can use to unlock boxes within the exhibits to learn animal facts and hear jingles
One of only a handful of zoos with certified botanical gardens, Oklahoma City puts its 539 animal species in enchanting settings. For instance, in its 2 1/2-acre children's zoo and discovery area, the flamingo pond is surrounded by an azalea garden for a burst of color that's unmatched in the springtime. In the lakeside butterfly garden, more than 15,000 plants -- including such nectar-producing flowers as penta, lantana, and verbena -- attract hundreds of the winged creatures. And in the "Great EscApe" exhibit, a tropical rainforest is re-created with fallen trees, waterfalls, and pools. "Kids love it because it feels like they're in another world and they can see gorillas, orangutans, and other animals up close," says Bert Castro, the zoo's executive director.
The zoo even gives a purpose to trees that are no longer living: They're used to make beautiful animal carvings, such as a striking one of an eagle with wings spread. Other art includes bronze sculptures that children love to climb. "Toddlers just hop on our baby rhino, modeled after the one born at the zoo in 2001," says Castro. "They think it's great fun."
Contact information: 405-424-3344; www.okczoo.com