RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC
Thanks to the fantastic zoos in NYC, most of which are backed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, families have the opportunity to see animals from across the globe without ever leaving the city. From the massive Bronx Zoo (one of the biggest in North America) to the petite Central Park Zoo, these family attractions invite kids to learn about numerous species through storytimes, art activities and hands-on interactions with nature. A few NYC zoos are even outfitted with petting zoos and critter-themed carousels to keep your gang entertained all day. Don't forget to hit up the New York Aquarium with kids who are fascinated by marine life!
Zoos in NYC
The massive institution is home to more than 5,000 creatures in myriad exhibits, including an outdoor baboon reserve, a sea lion pool and an exhibit dedicated entirely to Madagascar, where you'll encounter lemurs, fossa, Nile crocodiles and a Madagascar tree boa. Visitors can ride the Wild Asia Monorail, which tours 38 acres of exhibits that house elephants, Indo-Chinese tigers, red pandas and rhinos. In the African Plains, tots can catch a glimpse of zebras, African wild dogs and a family of lions, while the Big Bears exhibit lets them get acquainted with polar bears and grizzlies. At the World of Reptiles, your clan can spot anacondas, poison dart frogs and alligator snapping turtles—a large breed with powerful jaws. Don’t forget to drop in at the newly renovated Children’s Zoo ($5, plus zoo admission) from May through October for interactive family fun. On rainy days, step into any of the indoor attractions: the World of Birds, World of Reptiles, Congo Gorilla Forest or Mouse House, where little ones will coo over fennec foxes, shrews and fuzzy chinchillas.
More than a million visitors a year flock here for quality time with some 130 species that inhabit this 6.5-acre corner of Central Park. Don't miss the Allison Maher Stern snow leopard exhibit, where tots can look for the critically endangered cats in a rocky evergreen landscape meant to replicate the mountainous regions of Central Asia. Visit the frigid Polar Circle to watch four varieties of penguins waddle around, and look for the adorable California sea lions in the pool near the Central Garden—you can even witness their feeding and training sessions at select times. In the Tropic Zone, children can observe poison-dart frogs, emerald tree boas and tons of other critters that reside in the rainforest. Your fam can also explore the outdoor Tisch Children's Zoo: It houses more than 30 species, including potbellied pigs, sheep, goats and the city’s only. Pop into the 4D Theater for immersive screenings of flicks like Ice Age: No Time For Nuts, complete with built-in sensory effects (ages 6 and up).
Get an up-close look at the creatures swimming offshore at NYC’s own aquarium. Curious kids get to see a living re-creation of the Pacific coastline and catch sight of various East River species. Each day, there’s a lively sea lion show at the Aquatheater, plus feedings for the sea lions, sea otters, penguins, seals and walruses for families to watch. Visit Glover's Reef, a 150,000-gallon tank stocked with about 35 species of marine life from the coast of Belize, including jawfish and moray eels and take a peek at the cownose rays in the Conservation Hall. Pop into the 4-D Theater to watch “The Great Jelly Rescue,” starring Spongebob SquarePants (open daily, shows run approximately every 15 minutes), and head over to the temporary Sharks, Rays & Turtles exhibit to get excited for “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!,” a much larger scale tank which will open in 2017.
At this interactive wildlife center, kids can walk along the Discovery Trail and come face to face with adorable North American river otters, handsome dingoes, massive emus romping around in their unique habitats. South African scops owls—recognizable by their bright white faces—roost in the aviary along the trail. On spring days, you might also find a commotion at the sea lion court: the graceful swimmers like to entertain onlookers by diving, high-fiving their keepers and chowing down on fishy food (training sessions occur three times daily). Three major indoor exhibits keep visitors occupied year-round: Barn and Garden, where kids can walk among alpacas, goats, sheep and other friendly beasts; the Animal Lifestyles building, where they can trade funny faces with Golden lion tamarin monkeys, and hoot and holler with the boisterous hamadryas baboons; and the Hall of Animals, which allows aspiring zoologists to observe animals that adapt to their environment in diverse ways, including creatures that use their colors either to attract attention or deflect it. On weekends, step into the Discovery Center for hands-on nature experiences where kids can conduct a pretend vet check-up and learn awesomely gross facts about animal droppings.
This outdoor institution focuses on the wildlife of the Americas. Spot pronghorn antelope mingling with the bison and the Roosevelt elk calf—one of the largest North American mammals, weighing up to 1,100 pounds as adults. Keep an eye out for the Southern pudu as well, an endangered species of deer that’s only 14 inches tall at the shoulder! In the Domestic Animals exhibits, little ones get to meet amazingly soft Flemish giant rabbits, belted Galloway cows, four-horned sheep and Texas longhorns, and they can expect to see some hugs pass between the zoo's South American spectacled bears (you can identify them by their black fur and beige facial markings). Before you leave, make sure to check out the zoo's aviary—a geodesic dome originally designed for the 1964 World's Fair that visitors can duck in to see some feathered friends, including the gorgeous Scarlet macaw and blue-beaked Argentine ruddy ducks in the marsh area.
Among the inhabitants of this eight-acre haven, you'll find cat-like fossas, which make their home in the Africa Wing, next to the tiny tenrecs—nocturnal, hedgehog-like animals that are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and may have up to 42 teeth. The Reptile Wing, occupied by more than 200 cold-blooded critters, houses an extensive collection of North American rattlesnakes, as well as a viper, pythons and anacondas. The animal kingdom has also expanded to include the Amur Leopard Habitat, a 4,500-square-foot outdoor environment resembling the Amur River valley between Siberia and China where the species thrives. Don’t forget to take a spin on the Conservation Carousel ($2 per ride), where typical horses are replaced with endangered and vulnerable animals like an elephant, tiger, komodo dragon or poison dart frog.