Originally posted August 28, 2012. Updated May 23, 2014.
Whether you're making your first trip to the world's #1 zoo, or a season pass member like me, here are twenty-six things you must see on your next visit:
- Heart of Africa: The newest attraction at the Columbus Zoo opens today and promises to be a major draw for years to come. The Heart of Africa offers visitors a unique look at 165 exotic animals that include lions, wildebeests and gazelles as well as hands-on features like camel rides and a giraffe-feeding tree-house station.
- Polar Bears: Located in the back of the North America Region. Watch the polar bears dive for fish and play with floating water toys from above or below water via the underwater viewing area located under their icy pool.
- Gibbons Monkeys: Located in the Australia Region. These monkeys have a huge outdoor exhibit with an island tree-house surrounded by a river. If you're lucky you'll even get to hear the gibbons "song".
- Western Lowland Gorilla: Located in the African Forest Region. The gorillas can be seen in their expansive outdoor exhibit during good weather, generally late spring through fall. The outdoor area features multiple levels in a round structure featuring ropes, earthen mounds and other fixtures on which to climb, swing, and rest. Indoors, the gorillas have access to a 360 degree exhibit which "encloses" the visitors in the inside! Large artificial trees and climbing structures offer many horizontal and vertical challenges for the gorillas.
- Baby Bonobos Monkey: Located in the African Forest Region. The bonobos are always extremely active, swinging and playing in their jungle-gym-like habitat. They even know how to turn on the water spicket and get a drink by themselves! And if you're lucky you'll get to the relationship between a mother and its baby.
- Stingray Bay: Located in between the Zoo and Zoombezi Bay. This new "petting zoo" is a real treat for children. And even pretty cool for adults. Stand around the huge pool and touch the stingrays as they pass by.
- Polar Grille. Located in the back of the North America Region near the polar bear habitat. This is hands down the best "shack" for food in the zoo. Try the chili cheese fries, amazing!
- "Hank" the Elephant: Located in the Pachyderm building near the Asia Quest Region. This exhibit provides one of the largest indoor spaces for elephants and rhinos at any zoo. The size and configuration of the outdoor yards makes it possible for elephants to spend the night outdoors. And if you get a chance to see "Hank" (the biggest of the elephants) play in the pool of water out back you're in for a real treat!
- Humboldt Penguins: Located in the Shores Region, the naturalistic Humboldt penguin exhibit allows guests to see the penguins swimming underwater in their semi-circular 9,000-gallon pool or burrowing holes for nesting in the artificial rock.
- West Indian Manatees: Located in the Shores Region, in the Manatee Coast building. Manatee Coast is an immersion exhibit modeled after the 10,000 Islands region of Florida. Visitors walk down the pathway, along the acrylic tank which holds 190,000 gallons of water. From the side, visitors can observe the manatees swimming.
- Australian Boat Ride: Located in the Voyage to Australia and the Islands. Take a "boat" ride on a lazy river that runs around the Gibbons monkey island and throughout Australia. It's the best way to see the monkeys and some of the other Australian exhibits.
- Tiger Cubs: Currently located near the entrance. The adults are located in the Asia Quest Region. The tiger's exhibit features a large pool with a heated and air conditioned area adjacent. This makes a comfortable place for the tigers to spend some time and also be close for visitors to see. They also have a large heated/air conditioned cave which is a favorite hang out spot! The covered viewing area offers information about tiger populations in the wild, both past and present. A conservation coin wall is nearby and rewards donors with special tiger sounds when they contribute. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this coin drop go to support conservation of animals in mainland Asia. But the cubs are the real attraction right now.
- Brown/Grizzly Bears: Located in the forest section of the Zoo's North America Region, each animal has its own exhibit space with natural surroundings composed of rocks, logs to climb in and over and pools for the bears.
- Red Kangaroos: Located in the Voyage to Australia and the Islands Region, Australia side. The red kangaroos can be found spring through fall in a walk through yard. Visitors must stay on the path but kangaroos can hop anywhere they please!
- Bald Eagles: Located in the North America Region. This region depicts North American habitats of grasslands, forests and prairies. The bald eagle exhibit is found between the forest and wetland sections and has a large aviary with tree limbs placed strategically to assist the rehabilitated eagles in climbing to the upper levels of the space.
- Giant Fruit Bats: Located inside the Asia Quest Region. These giant bats hang upside down from the caging above most of the day. I can only imagine what this cage is like at night. Either way, you won't believe the size of these creepy creatures.
- Carousel: Located just beyond the Shores Region. This old-fashioned carousel will cost you a little extra money to ride but its well worth it for the pictures you'll get of your kids.
- Frozen Bananas: Also located in the back of the North America Region near the Polar Grille. This is hands down the best dessert/snack the zoo offers and incredibly perfect for a long hot summer day at the zoo.
- Train Ride: Located in the middle of the North America Region. Pay a few extra dollars to take your kids on the train tour around "North America" and see some things you can't see on foot!
- Bonnethead Shark: Located in the Shores Region, in Discovery Reef. Discovery Reef is a 110,000 gallon salt water tank depicting a coral atoll. 1,200 pieces of man-made coral and special wave-producing equipment combine for a beautiful and always captivating experience.
- Pose with Statues: There are a handful of animal statues located around the zoo (polar bears, shark, elephant, and more) that are a perfect place for a family photo or new profile pic.
- Yell in the Tunnel: Located in between the front half and back half of the zoo. This tunnel under the highway echoes loudly making it nearly impossible to not yell a quick yodel-ay-eee-oooo!
- Leopard: Located in the African Forest Region. The African Forest Region immerses guests in the culture and environment of an African rainforest. Field journal entries from wildlife researchers also guide you along the journey. The leopards enjoy an outdoor exhibit with a large fallen tree, their favorite spot to stretch out and sleep! When you visit our leopards, see if you can spot the artificial duiker in the tree. This is an example of how leopards protect their food from other predators.
- Burmese Python: Located in the Shores Region, in the Reptile Building, one of the oldest buildings at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. This building was opened in 1968 and renovated to be more interactive in 1998. Home of the Reptile Keeper Lab where you can learn about reptiles in an up-close encounter. Check for scheduled times on the zoo map when you arrive.
- Wildlights aka Zoo Lights: If it wasn't for most of the animals being inside for the winter, this would be in the top 10 for sure. Staring in mid-November the entire zoo is decorated for the holidays. Don't miss one of the most amazing Christmas light exhibits you'll ever see!
- Zoombezi Bay: And 6 months later make sure you check out the new waterpark!
Click here to download a map of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
And if I missed any of your favorites, feel free to add them in the comments below: