When I was a little girl, I used to love visiting Audubon Zoo with my mom. Watching the chimpanzees frolic on their wooden structure, riding a runaway elephant in hot pursuit of a wayward peacock, searching for hidden alligators in the Louisiana Swamp exhibit – I never got bored observing the animals in their habitats – even in the humid summer months, when they spent most of their days napping. Even asleep, the lions and tigers were fascinating – and just a little bit scary.
Ever since then, I’ve relished visiting zoos across the country – from the San Francisco Zoo  (Sloat Blvd. and Great Hwy., 415/753-7080, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily mid-Mar.-Oct., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Nov.-mid-Mar., $12-15 adults, $7.50-12 seniors over 64, $5.50-9 children 4-14) to the Brookfield Zoo  (First Ave. and 31st St., Brookfield, 708/688-8000 or 800/201-0784, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $12 adults, $8 seniors over 64 and children 3-11) near Chicago. While I realize that some people disapprove of viewing animals in captivity, I’ve always appreciated the opportunity that zoos afford those interested in wild creatures but unable to visit them in their natural habitats. I’m especially fond of zoos that strive to provide the animals with spacious enclosures and suitable landscapes.
That’s why, despite all the wonderful zoos I’ve seen throughout America, Audubon Zoo  (6500 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504/581-4629 or 800/774-7394, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun., $13 adults, $10 seniors over 64, $8 children 2-12) is still one of my absolute favorites. Nestled within the verdant Uptown district, between historic Magazine Street and the Mississippi River, Audubon Zoo has come a long way from the circus-style animal cages depicted in the film Cat People (1982). Today, this award-winning zoological park boasts several world-class habitats, including the Asian Domain (where the lions, tigers, and elephants roam), the African Savanna (where the rhinoceroses and giraffes dwell), and the Jaguar Jungle (home to the jaguars, sloths, and spider monkeys). Of course, you’ll also spot a wide array of gorillas, orangutans, snakes, tropical birds, Komodo dragons, sea lions, and flamingos – not to mention a petting zoo, a carousel ($2), a rock-climbing wall ($5), and a kid-friendly knoll affectionately called Monkey Hill.
It might come as no surprise that my favorite area in the zoo is the Louisiana Swamp, which explores the state’s unique creatures, from cougars to albino alligators. Every fall, the zoo celebrates this abundant region as well as Cajun culture with the Louisiana Swamp Fest, a two-day event (free with zoo admission) that offers cultural demonstrations, music, food, crafts, and special animal feedings. Throughout the zoo, you’ll find gift shops, eateries, and misters for the really hot days. You can either tour the park aboard the Swamp Train ($5) or stroll the pathways on foot (which is what I usually do). Parking is free – and so is the colorful zoo map that you can pick up at the front entrance.
The Audubon Nature Institute, which operates the zoo, also oversees the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas  (1 Canal St., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun., $18 adults, $14 seniors over 64, $11 children 2-12), the Audubon Insectarium  (423 Canal St., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun., $15 adults, $12 seniors over 64, $10 children 2-12), and the Entergy IMAX Theatre  (1 Canal St., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun., $9 adults, $8 seniors over 64, $6 children 2-12). For one low price ($33 adults, $20 seniors over 64 and children 2-12), you can see all four attractions – a great deal indeed.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss my other favorite American zoo. In the meantime, what’s yours?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.