St. Louis Zoo earns spot among best in the world

Sea lions lounging on top of the tunnel at Sea Lion Sound
A look at sea lions lounging on top of the tunnel at Sea Lion Sound.

Ranked among the world’s best, it’s easy to see why people enjoy visiting the St. Louis Zoo. From viewing some of North America’s popular animals to standing an arm’s length from penguins, you can see why the zoo rates so highly. Considered one of the top three zoos in the United States, it continually battles Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and the San Diego Zoo for top billing.

I’m a fan of sculptures and other public art forms, and the zoo offers a multitude of animal and attraction statues. I could run a story based on statues alone, but I thought seeing animals would be more entertaining.

Meerkat statues at St. Louis Zoo
Meerkat love. The animals are among several statues greeting zoo visitors near the entrance.

Located in historic Forest Park, the St. Louis Zoo is divided into six sections, offering unique views of animals. Lakeside Crossing gives people an opportunity to look at sea lions from a variety of angles. From watching them swim topside to viewing them from inside a tunnel, Sea Lion Sound is popular with visitors, especially children. In addition to sea lions, ducks, geese and swans populate the area’s lakes. During warm weather, visitors can get up-close with sting rays at Caribbean Cove.

A sea lion checks out a family inside the tunnel at Sea Lion Sound.
A sea lion checks out a family inside the tunnel at Sea Lion Sound.

Outstanding penguin exhibit

Penguins lead the popular animals in the Wild section. Penguins are housed inside Penguin and Puffin Coast, which is a nice place to cool off during warm days. Home to four types of penguins – Humboldt, Rockhopper, Gentoo and King – the penguins roam and swim about in displays in an open area, just a few feet from visitors. I love that you can get close to the penguins without glass separating you. Puffins also call the exhibit home.

Penguins are in an open area at the exhibit
Visitors are only a few feet from the penguins inside Penguin and Puffin Coast.

Possibly the most popular area of the zoo, several animals call the Wild home. Polar bears, flamingos, apes, prairie dogs and a red panda reside here. Each animal entertained visitors with their basic movements or their beauty.

Red panda at St. Louis Zoo
The elusive red panda at the St. Louis Zoo. Our daughter Mallory claims the animal doesn’t exist because when we usually visit a zoo, we don’t see it. That ends with the St. Louis Zoo.

A couple of brown bears entertained visitors at Grizzly Bear Ridge. They had a nice space to run and climb, as well as a cave to relax in. One enjoyed spending time playing with a log and later resting on it.

Brown bear rests head on a log.
A brown bear rests after being active.

Big cat love

Lisa loves big cats, so she enjoyed our walk through Red Rocks. Home to cats, such as lions, tigers and pumas, we enjoyed the grace of each animal. The section features several animals found in Africa and Australia, including kangaroos, okapi, giraffes, zebras and camels.

A cougar licks another cougar at the big cat exhibit
Two cougars cuddle in the big cat attraction. I wanted to name them Lassiter and Shawn, because they reminded me of our two youngest kitties at home.

As you tour the zoo, once you reach the halfway mark, you may be ready for a break. The St. Louis Zoo offers a variety of concession stands. We found a stand that creates pineapples, featuring adult beverages, as well as virgin-style. A whole pineapple is cored, and the mix drink is poured inside the pineapple. The fruit remains are sliced up and served to you as a healthy snack. These were so refreshing! We enjoyed the treats.

A pineapple smoothie was delicious
A pineapple smoothie with a side of pineapple chunks offered the perfect break snack.

Back on the trail, River’s Edge hosts animals from four continents – North America, South America, Africa and Asia. The section is home to endangered animals, such as the Black rhino and Asian elephant. Other animals from the continents include African painted dogs, bush dogs, hyenas, hippos, cheetahs and Andean bears.

Hyena playing in the water
A hyena plays in the water during a warm spell.

Historic Hill’s attractions center around the Herpetarium, a 1927 Mediterranean-style stucco building built as a reptile house. Housing reptiles and amphibians, the building was renamed in honor of former zoo director Charles H. Hoessle. We found the lizards entertaining as they seem to pose for pictures or scurry about their exhibits.

Large lizard at St. Louis Zoo
What you lookin’ at?!

Why did it have to be snakes?

As we strolled through the snake area, Lisa appeared to take pleasure in my discomfort, as I’m not a fan of snakes. In fact, if I see one in the public or even with a handler, I tend to turn and hurry away in the opposite direction. Somehow, I accept a few inches of glass as a safe spot. We were enthralled with an anaconda that was about 14 feet long. A young girl was admiring the snake, as it looked back at her. I worried it was pondering how to get out because the dozen or so people around the exhibit offered an enticing smorgasbord.

Anaconda and little girl look at each other through the glass
A stare off. A girl and an anaconda look each other in the eyes.

Historic Hill’s primate center is located inside a renovated Spanish-style building built in 1925. Apes, lemurs and monkeys entertain with their animated moves and humanlike tendencies.

Monkey at St. Louis Zoo
Not a happy camper this day.

Built as part of the 1904 World’s Fair, birds are the stars at the Flight Cage and Cypress Swamp. The aviary offers a close look at several birds living around the pond. You can find an ibis sharing the water with ducks, as well as other birds.

Ibis strolling through the swamp.
Ibis strolling through the swamp.

The last section of the zoo is the Discovery Center. Designed for children, it features a children’s zoo, play area and an insectarium. We liked the insectarium, with an ant farm and butterfly house.

An ant farm looks at the insects working along a vine.
An ant farm looks at the insects working along a vine.

Free admission, extras

As we were leaving the zoo, I remembered that Marlin Perkins was once the zoo’s director (1962-70) and host of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” on television. I loved that show as a child.

Admission to the zoo is free, but you do need to pay for parking. Also, some exhibits and attractions are extra, including the Zooline Railroad, Stingrays at Caribbean Cove, Conservation Carousel, Sea Lion Show and 4-D Theater. A full list can be found at

The Zooline Railroad
The Zooline Railroad chugging along.

We enjoyed our visit to the St. Louis Zoo and can see why it’s considered one of the top zoos in the country. We recommend visiting when in the St. Louis area. Plan to spend a full day at the zoo for maximum fun. If you want, you could spread it out over two days.