The Houston Zoo is the second most popular zoo in the US, right after the San Diego Zoo. Anyone who has ever visited the Houston Zoo won’t be surprised to learn this fact. There are around 6,000 animal residents, from warm-blooded lions and giraffes to underwater cutie pies such as sea turtles and Clownfish.
What’s more, families can visit the Children’s Zoo and have an interactive zoo experience. This 55-acre zoo is enormous, so we decided to make a list that will help you make the most of your next visit.
Consider this: if you buy $129 family membership, it will pay for itself in only two visits. With the family membership, you get unrestricted access to the zoo for two adults (with the same address) and three children. Also, on every month’s first Saturday, you will be able to access the zoo one hour earlier than everyone else.
Use the Metro Rail Line to Get There
Since it is situated in the Museum District and isn’t far from Rice University, the Houston Zoo is reachable via Houston’s metro. Although parking is free, we prefer taking the rail, as it is a lot of fun. Instead of taking the Memorial Hermann Hospital/Houston Zoo, take the Red Line to Hermann Park/Rice U stop. You will get a better scenery to look at.
For those who still want to drive, do plan ahead. Make sure to arrive at the zoo either early or late. When the zoo opens at 9 AM, you will easily find a parking spot. The same goes for late afternoons when most of the crowds have left. But don’t be too late, the last entry is at 5 PM.
Pack Your Lunch
It is best to bring your own lunch if you want to stay healthy and save money. There are numerous picnic tables where you can enjoy your food. If you don’t like preparing food, visit one of many cafes inside the zoo. Our favorite one is Pinewood Cafe, which is located just outside the zoo. Prices are more reasonable than in cafes inside the zoo.
Check Out the Natural Encounters Exhibit
There is so much to see, and people easily get overwhelmed, especially when the temperature is high. Even though the Houston Zoo has plenty of shade, Houston summers are very hot, and no amount of shade will save you during the hottest months. Luckily, you can cool off at the Natural Encounter exhibit, located near the front zoo entrance.
You will find a wide variety of endangered animals, otters, meerkats, and plenty of fish. We love the fact that we can get really close to the animals. You can even crawl in a see-through tunnel and enjoy being surrounded by fish. Since the exhibit is indoors, and it’s somewhat dark inside, one can really cool off during hot summer months.
Tigers, Bears, and Lions
Near the primates, at the center of the zoo, you’ll find one of our favorite exhibits: the carnivores. If you catch the bears when they aren’t resting, you will have an unforgettable up-close experience.
The best part is surely the lion-viewing tunnel. You can either view the lions safely from afar or choose a more adventurous option. Climb down a set of concrete stairs and explore the tunnel that is surrounded by the exhibit on both sides.
The view from the tunnel isn’t always the best, but running down the stairs and through the tunnel is always a lot of fun. You’ll wait with excitement, trying to spot the lions. Furthermore, you’ll burn off some energy while using the stairs.
Lastly, don’t forget to say hi to Shasta, the cougar. Shasta is the mascot of the University of Houston.
Meet the Gorillas
A relatively new addition to the Houston Zoo and a must-see are the gorillas. They are hidden in the back of the zoo, in the African Forest exhibit. After an 11-year pause, this exhibit returned with a massive habitat and seven gorillas. The habitat includes both an outdoor and indoor area.
Don’t be Close-Fisted – Pay for the Extras
Unfortunately, when you buy your zoo ticket, it doesn’t include some of the fun bonuses. However, members can pay $2 and non-members $3 to take a spin with their child on the carousel. To get really close to animals, you’d have to pay $7 to feed the giraffes. This option is available every day from 11 AM to 2 PM.
Tour the Children’s Zoo
Whenever we visit the Houston Zoo, we make sure to make a stop at the Children’s Zoo. A playground, a petting zoo, and a swap shop will make everyone’s day. Children can pet or brush the farm animals, and interact closely with them. At the swap shop, your kids can bring some items they have found in nature and exchange them for other similar items in the swap shop.
See also: 6 Best Amusement Parks in Texas
Additional Tips for Your Visit
- Following a schedule at the zoo isn’t very fun, but we always remember to stop and see the elephants bathing at 10 AM.
- If you are feeling hot, you can cool off at the Katherine McGovern Water Play Park. It is open from the beginning of April to the end of October, and kids truly enjoy splashing around. Don’t forget to bring a change of clothes, though.
- In order to learn about special events and find out about occasional talks, remember to check the daily schedule.
- Sign up for membership. Every family that plans to go to the zoo at least twice a year should get the membership. It allows more laid back visits, as you don’t have to cram everything in a single visit.
Admission & Hours
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