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Decoded: Houston Zoo

 

The Houston Zoo welcomed over 2.55 million visitors in 2016, making it the No. 1 attraction in Houston and the No. 2 most-visited zoo in the country. Founded in 1922, the zoo is home to more than 6,000 exotic animals representing more than 800 species within its lush 55-acre Hermann Park area. Check out our list of all the best tips to know before you head to the Zoo, whether it's your first time or your 500th.

WHEN TO GO

The Houston Zoo is open year-round from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (7 pm during the summer). Weekday mornings are the best times to go to the zoo so as to avoid crowds and school field trips. Parking is free, but the surface lot can fill up quickly during peak hours. Due to the large size of the Zoo, no matter what time you decide to go you’ll have plenty of room to explore and enjoy the exhibits. Zoo hours extend during the holiday season so visitors can take in the famous Zoo Lights exhibition: over 2 million LED lights, festive caroling, and hot chocolate.

Be sure to check the official zoo daily schedule for “meet the keeper” animal encounters, feedings, and other hands-on activities. The Zoo also offers special overnight after-hour experiences that include guided flashlight tours, zookeeper activities, pizza, and a continental breakfast. The program is $55 for family nights and $60 for parents night out. Be sure to check out Camp Zoofari every summer for children 4-16 years old.

houston zoo

WHAT TO DO

The Houston Zoo is made up of more than 12 different sections comprised of animals from all over the globe. If you’re headed to the park on a particularly hot day, don’t forget to stop by the splash pad or refreshing misters located throughout the park.

Head to the the three-acre McNair Asian Elephant Habitat first thing in the morning to see some of the zoo’s eight elephants receiving morning baths from zookeepers in the 7,000 square-foot elephant barn. The Habitat also includes a 80,000 gallon pool and shaded, 200-seat demonstration area to hear keeper talks from the elephant care team.

You won’t want to miss the recently renovated African Forest, a 6.5 acre, $40 million addition featuring Western Lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, white rhinos, and Masai giraffes. The primate exhibit showcases a variety of interactive learning stations and floor to ceiling observation windows to get up close and personal. The Giraffe feeding platform gives you the chance to go face to face with the towering animals as you feed them leafs of lettuce.

houston zoo

The Kipp Aquarium underwent a $500,000, 10 month renovation that included new lighting, design, and 10,000-gallon tanks. Home to over 200 species and 2,000 individual fresh and saltwater fish, the aquarium features favorites like the giant pacific octopus, great white shark, and rescued sea turtles.

The McGovern Children’s Zoo is the perfect place to end a day with the family. Little ones can pet goats in the petting zoo, go underground with meerkats, play on a zoo-themed playground or get to know native Texas farm animals.

WHAT TO EAT

The Houston Zoo offers a variety of casual lunch options inside the park. The Macaw Cafe, Cypress Circle, and Twiga Cafe each feature a selection of deli sandwiches, fresh salads, pizza, burgers, and kids options. The Museum District and Rice Village are both a short distance from the Zoo and offer some of the best restaurant options the city has to offer. Guests are also free to bring in their own picnics in coolers and bags.

houston zoo

WHAT TO PAY

The easiest way to experience the Zoo is with a CityPASS. The pass gives visitors the option to check out many of the other world-class museums located within Hermann Park. The Zoo also offers very affordable annual passes with great perks like early park entry, event and gift shop discounts, free Wildlife Carousel tickets and much more.

Though parking is free, consider using the METRORail from the Fannin South Park and Ride lot to avoid long parking lot lines. For METRORail information, visit www.ridemetro.org.

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