The Ohio Zoos Children Love!

Jen Cullerton Johnson Avatar
Up close of a gorilla
See gorillas while at one of the best zoos in Ohio. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

What are Ohio’s oldest, best and most popular zoos? Tricky question, but Traveler’s Choice Award and USA Today claim that impactful animal conservation, wildlife adventure and meaningful ecological connections happen in Ohio zoos. Discover primates in Cincinnati, zebras in Columbus and rhinos in Cleveland. Mix conservation with family fun adventures, like safaris, zoo rides and unique animal encounters.

When we visit family in Ohio, we mingle with wild animals– the ones at the zoos. Experiencing animal encounters is a favorite way to spend quality time. Learn about diverse and endangered species like rhinos, giraffes, Giant pandas and gorillas. Then rev up the adventure at the zoo attractions.

Read More: 25 Best Zoos in the USA 2022

What’s best about visiting Ohio’s zoos is their dedication to animal conservation projects. Each of these Ohio zoos is a haven of care and sustainability. Visit the birthing center at the Cincinnati Zoo and meet the newest baby rhino. Observe the famous hippo Fiona swim and play. Pet the stingrays. Feed giraffes. Whether it is the exciting animal encounters or delicious dining options, here’s our list of the most popular zoos in Ohio.

two flamingos come close to the camera during a Cincinnati zoo overnight, one of the many unique opportunities offered by the zoo
During an overnight stay at the Cincinnati Zoo, two flamingos came to say “Hello!” Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman

1. Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cincinnati

While the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is the second oldest zoo in North America, it is our family’s top zoo in Ohio. Winner of the USA Today best zoo contest of 2022, this zoo is a gamechanger. With over 2000 wild animals and 3,00 plant species, discovery beckons. Go behind the scenes with opportunities to bathe elephants or schedule a private encounter with giraffes or feed sloths or penguins. Don’t miss the remarkable Fiona, the famous underwater swimming hippo.

What’s the best thing about the Cincinnati Zoo? We love it because it cares for different species like rhinos and primates. The zoo has a birthing center. In August 2022, a baby hippo arrived healthily. Check out the new cuties on the zoo cam. Plan an all-day fun adventure.

Highlights of Cincinnati Zoo

  • Delicious dining options like full-service restaurants, food trucks and snack shops serving various dietary needs, including vegan.
  • Exciting zoo rides like a train, carousel, ‘Kanga climb mini mountain climb.
  • A self-guided Tour with special Zoo Keys that activate a recording that teaches about the animals and the zoo’s history.

Read More: Best Indoor Waterparks in Ohio for Family Fun

 Up close portrait of a giraffe
Say hello to the giraffe at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Photo credit: Adobe stock

2. Clevelnd Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland

Love orangutans? Dig chimpanzees? Into gorillas? If you want to see the most extensive collection of primates in one place, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is one of the best zoos in Ohio and all of the USA. See the silverback gorilla strut and swing from the tree branches in his natural habitat. At 183 acres of land, the zoo houses more than 3,000 animals. Enjoy zoo rides, fun attractions and in-depth zoo keeper talks with generous space for children’s play and learning.

What draws us to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is its mission for wildlife conservation that makes a difference in saving endangered species. Don’t forget to listen closely to the birdsong. Consider walking the trails while immersing in Cleveland’s natural urban beauty. Plan on staying two-three hours.

Highlights of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

  • Seven dining options, from full service to food trucks, cater to various dietary needs.
  • Special youth programs like Become a Zookeeper and Inside Track where youth help develop animal conservation interests.
  • Golf cart cruise: tour the Zoo on a golf cart with a staff-led tour.
  • Bike, hike and walk the trails within and surrounding the Zoo

Read More: 11 Fun Things to Do in Port Clinton, Ohio with Kids

Lions on the prowl in their natural habitat at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Lions on the prowl in their natural habitat at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. Photo credit: Columbus Zoo

3. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Powell

With more than 7,000 animals representing 800 species, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium amazes its millions of visitors each year. Famed zoologist Jack Hanna lent his expertise to animal care programs and conservation efforts at the Zoo. From remarkable encounters like Cheetah Runs to petting a stingray or playing a round of golf at the Safari Golf Club, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium is a powerhouse zoo. Designed in sections, visit Heart of Africa, the Congo Expedition, Asia Quest, Australia and the island. Don’t miss the North American section that showcases polar bears, American Bald Eagles and the Bob Evans Barn Exhibit.

Join in on the fun at River Cove Adventure Park with several theme park rides for the whole family to enjoy. One Tripadvisor loved that “there are some unusual animals such as an OKapi, Manatees and Hawaiian Nene that you don’t typically see in a zoo.” Don’t miss the Animal Art program, where you can buy an original painting made by a Rhino or a chimp with help from a friendly zookeeper. Plan on a whole day of adventure.

Highlights of Columbus Zoo

  • Huge waterpark with slippery slides and a lazy river at Zoombezi Bay
  • Engaging zookeeper talks
  • Petting Zoo, ample children’s play areas and rest spots throughout the Zoo
  • Memorable experiences like Kangaroo Walkabout and Tide Pool Touch
  • Various Dining options include full service to food trucks
Green sea turtle swims at the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium
A green sea turtle swims at the Toledo Zoo and Aquarium. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

4. Toledo Zoo & Aquarium, Toledo

Get out your To Zoo List because the Toledo Zoo has it all. Exotic animals? Check. Amped-up adventure? Done. Animal conservation? Absolutely. Toledo Zoo & Aquarium hosts more than 10,00 diverse and endangered animals, like gorillas, zebras, elephants and otters. It also has an immense aquarium with stingrays, turtles and sharks. We loved the behind-the-scenes experiences with animals, like feeding a stingray or meeting a Red Panda. For overnight fun, we recommend Snoozin’ at the Zoo, where you experience the zoo overnight, including animal encounters and zoo keeper lectures.

There is so much fun to do that we recommend downloading the Zoo’s app, which will give you a map and bio details on the animals. One Tripadvisor member commented, “If the kids get tired of looking at animals, there is a kid’s zoo exhibit with a playground and a fake stream the little ones can get into. Besides this area, there is a separate splash pad area for kids near the aquarium.” Plan on visiting or a full day of fun.

Highlights of Toledo Zoo & Aquarium

  • Hand feed the Masi giraffe at Tower Bridge.
  • Tour the museum of ProMedica Natural History with exhibits on animal development
  • Special seasonal events like birding and gardening workshops
  • Aerial adventure course and Zoo rides like safari train, carousel and adventure trail
American buffalo stands in his natural habitat at African Safari Wildlife Park.
American buffalo stands in his natural habitat at the African Safari Wildlife Park. Photo credit: African Safari Wildlife Park

5. African Safari Wildlife Park, Port Clinton

Dubbed The Ohio Safari Wildlife Park, this is a one-of-a-kind safari experience. Here you can do safaris two ways. First, you can walk a safari and see animals like African warthog, parrots, wild turkeys, giraffes, kangaroos and lemurs. Don’t forget to notice the 300 native plants and shrubs throughout the Safari Wildlife Park. Check out the various educational talks about natural habitats and animal behaviors to enhance the experience.

Secondly, you can take a more traditional driving safari where you see zebras, camels, bison and American bald eagles. In both the walk and drive safaris, enjoy feeding the animals, petting them and learning about their natural habits. One Tripadvisor member said,” we spent about three hours here. Drove through twice—the best part of the day by far. If you get there early, the animals are hungrier and many more come to the car. Especially the bison. Make sure to save food for the giraffes at the end.” Plan on a visit for two to three hours.

Highlights of African Safari Wildlife Park

  • Gem mining activity for young people
  • Ample play areas for kids
  • Safari Cafe serves food for various dietary needs
  • Wild Gifts is a well-stocked gift store
Close up of a jaguar at Akron Zoo
Posing like a pro, the jaguar at Akron Zoo. Photo credit: Akron Zoo

6. Akron Zoo, Akron

Voted Traveler’s Choice by Tripadvisor in 2022, the Akron Zoo is a 79-acre small zoo compared to the Cleveland, Cinicante, Columbus and Toledo zoos. Highly rated for its exhibits from Africa and Asia, there are over 1,00 animals at the Zoo and an abundance of native plants at the Leather Family Garden Zoo. From komodo dragons to jaguars and snow lions, grizzly bears and bald eagles, enjoy the beauty of the wild.

While the Akron Zoo is on our “To Zoo” List, we’ve been checking out their Boo at the Zoo and Zoo Lights holiday celebrations. No matter the season, we know that we’ll be visiting. One Tripadvisor shared,”my mom and I visited at the end of the day and could see everything in less than one and a half hours. There are many new areas like Asia and Africa, and more expansions and updates seem to be in the works.”

Highlights of Akron Zoo

  • Exceptional photography passes with close-ups of diverse and endangered wild animals.
  • Unique animal experiences such as Rise and Shine Safari, where you get the chance to feed the animals in the morning
  • Adventure rides include: train, carousel, virtual reality
  • Ample and varied play areas for children
  • Outstanding Educational Program with virtual and in-person opportunities
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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