Best Animal Parks and Zoos

VIA readers share their favorite stops for viewing wildlife.

Gorilla at San Francisco Zoo, image

A gorilla plays Tarzan at the San Francisco Zoo.

Arizona

Arizona–Sonora Desert Museum Tucson, Ariz. “Everything about this place is first class,” says Michael Stone of Hillsboro, Ore. “The mammal, bird, reptile, and insect exhibits are in a natural environment in an area with large stands of saguaro cactus. Make sure you see the winter–spring raptor show.” (520) 883-1380, desertmuseum.org.

CALIFORNIA

Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary Folsom, Calif. “Not your typical zoo,” writes Barbara Schroeder of Rancho Cordova, Calif. “The rescued wild animals include golden eagles, hawks, coyotes, cougars, ‘hoof stock,’and even feral cats.” (916) 351-3527, folsom.ca.us/depts/parks_n_recreation/zoo.

Oakland Zoo Knowland Park, Oakland. “A magical, family-friendly place,” says Virginia Wong of Corte Madera, Calif. “There are 660 native and exotic animals; during the holidays the zoo is open in the evening and you can walk the lighted paths listening to seasonal music. There’s even a train families can ride.” (510) 632-9525, oaklandzoo.org.

Sacramento Zoo William Land Park, Sacramento. “All the must-see zoo animals are here, except elephants,” says Karen Mizuno of Tracy, Calif. “And there are extra attractions—river otters and a reptile house. Plan a full day, with a picnic lunch in the park.” (916) 808-5885, saczoo.org.

Safari West Santa Rosa, Calif. “You can’t beat the thrills among this park’s 800 animals, including giraffes and cheetahs,” says Diane Carlin of Reno. “You’re driven through in open vehicles as if you’re on an African safari.” (707) 579-2551, safariwest.com.

San Diego Zoo Balboa Park, San Diego. “The most beautiful zoo,” says Karyl Woolsey of Pollock Pines, Calif. “The flora is as interesting as the fauna, and the Elephant Odyssey, which has elephants, lions, and other animals, will take your breath away.” (619) 231-1515, sandiegozoo.org.

San Francisco Zoo San Francisco. “You can feel that the animals are well cared for,” says Jenny Strickland of San Ramon, Calif. “You’ll never forget feeding time for the grizzlies and penguins, or the steam train and carousel.” (415) 753-7080, www.sfzoo.org.

idaho

Zoo Boise Julia Davis Park, Boise. “There are a couple of hundred animals at this great place, but my family’s favorite spot for visits is the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit,” says Meg Glasgow of Eagle, Idaho. “It’s a large flower-filled greenhouse in which hundreds of butterflies fly free; you get to walk right through it.” [Butterflies in Bloom is open from May through Labor Day.] (208) 384-4260, zooboise.org.

NEVADA

Animal Ark Reno. “This small wildlife sanctuary offers close-up views of rescued animals including bears, wolves, tigers, mountain lions, and many others,” says Heidi Littenberg of Reno. “It also hosts cheetah runs every couple of months that are both informational and exciting.” (775) 970-3111, animalark.org.

Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas. “I can sit for hours watching the dolphins play and interact with people here,” writes Kathy Brennan of Las Vegas. “It’s incredibly calming.” (702) 791-7188, miragehabitat.com.

OREGON

West Coast Game Park Safari Bandon, Ore. “A family-friendly educational adventure,” says Toni Jacobson of Gresham, Ore. “We’ve held baby snow leopards and tigers, other baby big cats, an opossum, and even a baby skunk. Many animals have grown up here, including a tiger who had been raised with a dog.” (541) 347-3106, gameparksafari.com.

White Wolf Sanctuary Tidewater, Ore. “Ten rescued arctic wolves live here, all born in captivity,” says Carol Gladwin of Corvallis, Ore. “Some are quite social and some are shy. Daily tours in the afternoon include a talk about wolves.” (541) 528-3588, whitewolfsanctuary.com.

Wildlife Safari Winston, Ore. “Wins my vote, paws down,” writes Marlene McCormack of Eugene, Ore. “Youcan drive through this 600-acre preserve past rhinoceroses, elephants, curious ostriches, and lions who live in a habitat like their native one. Another plus: It’s easy to reach from Interstate 5.” (541) 679-6761, wildlifesafari.net.

UTAH

Wheeler Historic Farm Salt Lake City. “This beautiful place has every kind of farm animal,” says Cindy Terrill of Midvale, Utah. “There are wooded trails around a pond and a creek—and admission is free.” (385) 468-1755, wheelerfarm.com.

Photography by Rick Murphy/San Francisco Zoo

This article was first published in November 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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