Kids love animals and Virginia has highly rated places to encounter them.
We looked at the popular review site, TripAdvisor, to round up the best of the best for your family explorations. Don’t forget the camera!
VIRGINIA LIVING MUSEUM, NEWPORT NEWS
Highlighting the animals from Virginia’s mountains to the shore, the VLM presents them in habitats that resemble those they would naturally be found in. For example, in the Appalachian Cove exhibit, visitors will see a waterfall flowing into a “river” stream teeming with fish while native birds take flight over the plant life above. Outside on the Boardwalk Trail, you’ll see woods and wetlands with animals like turkeys, skunks, vultures, fox, and coyote.
But wait, there’s more! Arrive bright and early for a Walk with the Keeper to see the boardwalk animals emerge for the day and have breakfast. You may even hold one or two of the animals.
Virginia Living Museum
FORT CHISWELL ANIMAL PARK, MAX MEADOWS
Located in southwest Virginia, this 45-acre attraction offers safari tours aboard a bus, putting you up “nose-to-nose” with its residents: zebras, antelopes, buffalo, camels, ostriches, and more. A petting zoo area has llamas and pygmy goats; they’ll be excited to meet you!
Fort Chiswell Animal Park
VIRGINIA AQUARIUM & MARINE SCIENCE CENTER, VIRGINIA BEACH
At the Virginia Aquarium, there are more than 800,000 gallons of aquariums to bring you eye-to-eye with aquatic life. Additionally, two touch tanks and more than 300 hands-on exhibits let you interact in ways you may not have before. Stroll the nature trail and enjoy the birds in the aviary before chilling out with a movie in the National Geographic 3D Theater.
But wait, there’s more! Behind-the-scenes tours with sea turtles and harbor seals are delightful experiences that create long-lasting memories. The ultimate experience is Seal Splash, which puts you in the water with the seals during a training session.
Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center
VIRGINIA ZOO, NORFOLK
Fifty-three acres of beautiful landscape is home to elephants, kangaroos, tigers, bears, red pandas (including some new babies!), binturongs, rhinos, prairie dogs, meerkats, orangutans, giraffes, zebras (baby alert!) and more! Into snakes and reptiles? There are plenty to check out, including geckos, pythons, constrictors, monitors, and frogs aplenty.
But wait, there’s more! Have a once-in-a-lifetime experience when you splurge for Elephant Painting, a memorable opportunity where an elephant “paints” for you and you take home the finished canvas. Want to adopt an animal? There are patron levels to make you (or your kid) a Zoo Parent.
THREE LAKES PARK AND NATURE CENTER, RICHMOND
This free nature center is relatively small, but a fantastic find for families in Central Virginia who are looking for an afternoon trip with a packed picnic. A trail around the main lake reveals two additional lakes while the Nature Center provides an aquarium feel by showing visitors residents of the fresh water. On exhibit inside the Nature Center are reptiles and amphibians.
LEESBURG ANIMAL PARK, LEESBURG
On 21 acres in Northern Virginia is this sanctuary home of llamas, sheep, deer, camels, serval cats (see the new babies!), giant tortoises, gibbons, sloths, and more. When the weather allows it, pony and wagon rides are available.
LURAY ZOO – A RESCUE ZOO, LURAY
There are more than 250 animals at Luray Zoo, Virginia’s only rescue zoo, which is privately owned but permitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries. The animals come from a variety of places, including other zoos, if the animal has been retired. You’ll find tigers, wallabys (be sure to look for Flash, the rare albino wallaby born in 2014), monkeys, and alligators, as well as one of the East Coast’s largest venomous snake collections.
But wait, there’s more! Take a Discovery Tour to interact with and feed select animals. Tours are available by reservation only. As Luray Zoo is privately owned, donations and memberships keep things going. Won’t you Adopt-A-Friend to contribute to loving these rescued creatures?
CREATION KINGDOM ZOO, GATE CITY
This very popular southwest Virginia zoo includes rare sloth bears, hyenas, marmosets, squirrel monkeys, lemurs, wallaroos, leopards, tigers, kinkajou, wildebeests, a variety of snakes, and quite a bit more (baby camel, wildebeest, scimitar horned oryx, or coatamundis, anyone?).
Creation Kingdom was created from a private breeding and conservation effort, and opened to the public as a zoo in 2010. It is 100% self-funded and participates in the Species Survival Program thanks to its large collection of endangered species and high-performing reproductive program. An average of four new exhibits are presented annually, which is directly attributed to their breeding center.
But wait, there’s more! Visit the zoo after dark with Safari Nights. The zoo is softly lit for you to see how the animals behave in the evening (8-10:30 p.m. on summer Saturdays).
METRO RICHMOND ZOO, MOSELEY
Take a safari train ride around the eight-acre African Savannah at this zoo south of downtown Richmond. Some of the animals you’ll find here are a variety of monkeys, orangutans (meet baby RJ!), bongo, bison, sloths, leopards, cheetah, and more. Several times in three years the Metro Richmond Zoo has welcomed cheetah cubs, which is quite a feat for the captive endangered species.
— MILL MOUNTAIN ZOO | ROANOKE —
A fully accredited zoo, Mill Mountain opened in 1952 and is the five-acre home to leopards, red pandas, wolves, exotic birds, and more. Twenty-one vulnerable species and seven endangered species can be found here. Be sure to ride the mini model G-16 Zoo Choo train for a ride around the zoo.
But wait, there’s more! Check the Zoo calendar for monthly Breakfast with the Animals opportunities. Each month features a different theme, so there’s always something new.