Big Animals, Big Fun: The Best Zoos in Texas

Jen Cullerton Johnson Avatar
Elephants play at the Houston Zoo
Elephants play at the Houston Zoo. Photo credit: Houston Zoo

From Fort Worth to Houston, the great state of Texas has some of the biggest, hippest and best zoos in the USA. You’ll find interesting exhibits and learn about exotic animals you may never get to see in their native habitats. Get Insta-worthy pics and have safari style fun as you explore via zipline or train rides across lush acres of native plants and botanical gardens.

Whether traveling with friends, family or as a solo traveler, visiting Texas zoos is an exciting and educational way to spice up a Lone Star vacation. Many of the state’s zoos are committed to animal conservation and visitor satisfaction. Spending time wandering the Fort Worth zoos by myself, I enjoyed watching the orangutans, gorillas and monkeys play in their native habitats and experiencing animal encounters like bathing elephants,

Sometimes, when I’m in Houston, I meet with girlfriends and we have a girls’ day at the zoo. We love to hike, zipline, go on a drive-thru safari, grab a tasty bite from a zoo food truck and then finish the day with zoo shopping. Who doesn’t love art made by sea lions?

Here are the 10 best zoos in Texas.

Read More: 25 Best Zoos in the USA

Rhino at Ft Worth Zoo, one of the top zoos in Texas
What is the rhino looking for at the Fort Worth Zoo? Photo credit Fort Worth Zoo

1. Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth

For me, the Fort Worth Zoo is the best zoo in Texas. It is fun for families, couples and solo travelers. As a solo traveler, I found the African and Asian exotic animal exhibits a must-see. Taking the zoo’s Yellow Rose Express train, I could hop on and off in different sections of the zoo.

Having up-close encounters with the animals while learning about them in a beautifully designed zoo made me want to return with my husband next time. My friend’s five-year-old daughter loved feeding the giraffes and petting the stingrays. Afterward, she joined more children to listen to a zookeeper chat at the outdoor learning theater and then splashed in Safari Splash, the children’s water playground. Be sure to wave hello to the Galapagos tortoises and komodo dragons.

Showcasing the natural habitat of the diverse and endangered animals, there are plentiful opportunities to learn about the animals, from zookeeper chats to behind the scenes experiences like being a farmhand for a day. Enjoy the unique stage shows where a zookeeper goes in depth about animals like rhinos, hippos and black bears.

Highlights of Fort Worth Zoo

  • Several dining options are available: full service, cafe, snack court and areas for a picnic
  • Ample play and rest areas with easy and shaded paths
  • Large, well-stocked gift store with the opportunity to Adopt an Animal

Read More: 19 Fun Free Things to Do in Dallas

Family feeding giraffe at zoo
Feeding the giraffes at the Dallas Zoo. Photo credit Dallas Zoo

2. Dallas Zoo, Dallas

If you like B-I-G zoo fun, the Dallas Zoo is the biggest in Texas. Stroll through 106 acres filled with diverse and endangered species from around the world. First, see African lions, giraffes and warthogs in a recreation of their natural habitat, the African savanna. Then, with multiple zookeeper chats daily, learn about the Asian elephants. The Dallas Zoo is divided into five sections, including a fun interactive children’s playground and petting zoo.

My girlfriends recommend the Birds Landing, a unique and interactive aviary where they saw nearly two dozen species of birds worldwide. Of course, who doesn’t love hand-feeding birds? Not to be missed are the Wonders of the Wild shows, where zookeepers introduce penguins and birds of prey. Also fun is watching the otters swim

Highlights of Dallas Zoo

  • Zoo rides include a mini-train and carousel
  • Several dining options including full service, cafe and snack bar
  • Giraffe, bird and penguin feedings
Tiger at Austin Zoo one of the best zoos in Texas
Tiger at the Austin Zoo. Photo credit Austin Zoo

3. Austin Zoo, Austin

Leave it to Austin to have the hippest zoo in Texas. The Austin Zoo is a rescue zoo where each animal has survived abuse and is now living a peaceful respite.  Enjoy this private and mighty zoo if exotic animal rescue rehabilitation and education are essential to your zoo experience. It is home to over 300 animals living on 16 acres. Zoo-goers will learn about the background of these animals, such as African lions, tigers, cougars, monkeys, bears, lemurs and porcupines.

One Tripadvisor reviewer thought the signs describing the animals’ situations were “very enlightening for my children, it was educational not just about the animals but about our relationship–and responsibility–to them.” The zoo is divided into five areas with a variety of animals: aviaries, big cats and bears, hoofstock reptiles and primates.

Highlights of Austin Zoo

  • Train for children
  • Vending machine, concession stand and picnic areas
  • Feeding zoo for children

Read More: Best Family Road Trips in Texas

Elephants play at the Houston Zoo. Photo credit: Houston Zoo

4. Houston Zoo, Houston

Enjoy over 55 acres filled with more than 6,000 diverse and endangered animals from the African savanna like rhinos, hippos and giraffes to alligators, American bald eagles and whooping cranes in the Texas wetlands. Children will enjoy the petting zoo and a ride on the wildlife carousel.

The paths at the Houston Zoo don’t disappoint. One Tripadvisor reviewer commented, “There are a lot of shaded areas/walkways, which was impressive. There are also several air-conditioned buildings to view animals, so that helped keep us keep cool.”

Not to be missed are the unique and eco-friendly animal encounters. Feed animals like gorillas, sloths, giant tortoises and okapi. Bathe an elephant. Walk with a cheetah. Make memories painting with a sea lion.

Highlights of Houston Zoo

  • Several dining options include full service, food trucks, cafes and concession stands
  • Buy Art by Animals paintings done by animals like sea lions
  • Ample play and rest areas

5. Cameron Park Zoo, Waco

A stopover in Waco means a couple of hours of play at the Cameron Park Zoo. Enjoy the lush natural vegetation and ponds surrounding the 52-acre natural habitat zoo. Check out Zoolights at night with a wild animal scavenger hunt through the zoo. And Lemur Island, where you can watch the lemurs play. From South America to the African savannah, see giraffes, zebras, parrots, jaguars, hippos, rhinos and more.

Don’t miss the Asian forest exhibit with orangutans and Asian elephants. Step out of the sun and enjoy the shade. One Tripadvisor member commented that there are “lots of shaded and indoor A/C areas, but you will still get hot during the summer, bring water and wear sunscreen. Don’t miss the red barn building, which has nocturnal animals… most people walked by without realizing it was an exhibit with lots of animals you rarely see.”

Highlights of Cameron Park Zoo

  • Zookeeper Talks and Behind the Scenes Tours
  • Special Zootique gift shop stocked with souvenirs
  • Dining options include a cafe and picnic area

6. El Paso Zoo, El Paso

One of the cool things to do in the hot town of El Paso is to head over to the zoo. Settled on 35 acres, the El Paso Zoo is home to 220 diverse species of animals, including endangered ones like the leopard and Aruba rattlesnake. Enjoy daily season lion shows and expanded exhibits like the new African exhibit featuring lions, zebras and giraffes.

Adventure awaits at the El Paso Zoo’s attractions, especially for children. While on the way to Mexico, my best friend’s family stopped in and loved the zoo attractions. Their five-year-old twin boys roughed it up at the aerial play, rode the train, took spins around the carousel then cooled off in the children’s water park. Always great to have time with family, enjoy the zookeeper talks and interactive children’s play.

Highlights of El Paso Zoo

  • Several dining options, from full-service cafes to concession stands
  • Downloadable map of the zoo
  • Wheelchairs, wagons, single/ double strollers and E.V.C. rentals
Hippo feeding at the San Antonio zoo, one of the best zoos in Texas
Family feeds hippo at the San Antonio Zoo. Photo credit: San Antonio Zoo

7. San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio

Join a guided tour or explore on your own. The San Antonio Zoo is situated on more than 50 acres with more than 750 species, some of which are endangered or extinct in the wild. Families will love this zoo. Kids will adore the up-close views of the diverse animals. Couples will dig the zoo keeper talks and connections to animal conservation.

Behind-the-scenes encounters are top-notch at the zoo. Have breakfast with the hippo or a nighttime tour with the jaguar. Meet kangaroos, okapi and rhino. Feed giraffes and flamingos. One Tripadvisor highly recommended feeding the flamingos: “My favorite! You get a small bowl with some water and flamingo food in it. Then you hold it over the fence, and the flamingos come running to gobble it up. So much fun!!” I  recommend you double-check the website to schedule your animal encounter.

Highlights of San Antonio Zoo

  • 4 D theater with zoo-mazing movies
  • Children’s zoo and petting zoo
  • Attractions include: a train ride, carousel, children’s play and rest areas

8. Exotic Resort Zoo, Johnson City

One of Texas’s most unique zoo experiences, Exotic Resort Zoo offers several types of safaris, from fully guided to on your own. It’s a privately-owned and operated safari park with over 600 animals and 45 exotic species. Ride a tractor-tram ride through the park and see diverse and endangered wildlife. Don’t miss the petting zoo, where children can feed and pet domestic animals.

A Tripadvisor member recommended taking the guided tour because you have lots of opportunities to feed the animals and take pictures with and next to them. They have plenty of gazelle, antelopes, deer, ostrich, emu, buffalo, camels, yak, kangaroo, sheep, goats and wallabies. “Don’t forget to feed the camel from your mouth. You won’t regret it.”

Highlights of Exotic Resort Zoo

  • Reserve safari-style cabins rooms and stay overnight
  • Ample picnic grounds and shaded rest areas
  • Large gift shop
Tortoise at the Caldwell Zoo, one of the best Texas zoos
Tortoise at the Caldwell Zoo. Photo credit: Cadwell Zoo

9. Caldwell Zoo, Tyler

The town of Tyler, Texas, has a lot to offer, including the Caldwell Zoo, where family fun begins with wild animal encounters. Tour behind the scenes and experience elephants, giant tortoises and bobcats, to name a few. Walking paths wind through up close moments with bears, armadillos and lions.

Caldwell Zoo is on my zoo list for its aviary. I love aviaries, so the next time I’m in Texas, I plan on reserving my ticket for the Wild Bird Walkabout experience, where wild birds fly free and can be hand fed. I can’t wait to hear the bird calls and watch them soar above.

Highlights of Cadwell Zoo

  • Petting zoo and children’s playground
  • Giraffe feeding
  • Zookeeper talks

Read More: 15 Best Family Resorts in Texas

Monkey at Gladys Porter Zoo, one of the best zoos in Texas
Monkey at Gladys Porter Zoo. Photo credit: Gladys Porter Zoo

10 Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville

A family-friendly zoo, the Gladys Porter Zoo hosts more than 1,600 animals living on more than 28 acres. It is known for the breeding of endangered species like the ape Harambee. One Tripadvisor reviewer remarked, “Take the children to learn about animals we’d otherwise probably never see in our lifetime. It is a nice place to stroll, learn and hang out with family or friends. Picnicking afterward at the park across the street is also fun.”

Enjoy the Starlight Safari Sleepover for children ages 7 and up, where they have fun learning about animals while they stay overnight at the zoo. I recommend a visit to the Gladys Porter Zoo for its botanical gardens. On my last trip, I saw their newest exhibit featuring the plants and animals of southern Texas. My daughters loved the extensive play at the Clubhouse and Toddler boat. Everything was clean, fun and zoo-tastic.

Highlights of Gladys Porter Zoo

  • Zookeeper talks
  • Children’s play areas with zoo rides
  • Giraffe feeding
As an educator, creative writer and Digital Media Specialist at Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange (CCRx), I apply my M.Ed. in Curriculum and Development and my passion for eco-social justice to create and manage impactful content that promotes the reuse of creative materials for education and community benefit. I have over four years of experience in developing, executing, and overseeing communication and writing strategies that support the values and goals of CCRx and its partners, such as Books on Benches and Green I have a proven track record of identifying and resolving communication challenges, fostering a collaborative mindset, and initiating change management plans that enhance the effectiveness and appeal of CCRx’s content. I also provide thought leadership and best practices for content development, optimization, and alignment with educational institutions and environmental stewardship. Additionally, I have published multiple books and teaching units on the inspiring story of environmentalist Wangari Maathai and the importance of green literacy for young readers.
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