A busy city center isn’t the obvious location for collections of exotic animals and alligator-filled swamps, but that’s where you’ll find Audubon Zoo. It’s uptown on the banks of the Mississippi River, at the southern end of Audubon Park.
The zoo is named after the naturalist and artist John James Audubon. It began as an exhibit for the 1884 World Exposition. Over the years more exhibits were added and today the zoo is one the country’s finest, housing more than 2,000 animals in naturalistic enclosures over 58 acres (23 hectares).
This is not a zoo to be rushed through. The 100-year-old oak trees, sculptures and historic art nouveau buildings lend the zoo a stately, relaxed atmosphere. Constructed in 1928, the Sea Lion Pool, with its graceful Neoclassical columns, is one of New Orleans’ prettiest spots. Look out for Monkey Hill. Built during the Great Depression, the 28-foot (8.5-meter) high hill was intended to show the children of flat New Orleans what a hill looks like.
Say hello to the stars of the zoo, elephants Jean and Panya, and the rare white tiger brothers Rex and Zulu. Explore the African Savanna and Asian Domain, but don’t miss the Louisiana Swamp. Pull up a rocking chair and enjoy the steamy ambience of this alligator-filled lagoon, complete with Cajun houseboat, or try out the four story ropes course.
Visit the rattlesnakes, gila monsters and Komodo dragon in the Reptile House. And then meet their ancestors in Dinosaur Adventure, where full-sized dinosaur replicas move and roar.
Don’t forget your swimsuit in the often sizzling New Orleans summer. The Cool Zoo playground with its water jets and slides is the perfect place to cool off. When hunger calls, the Flamingo and Zoofari cafés provide plenty of feed-time options.
Audubon Zoo forms part of the larger Audubon Nature Institute, which also includes the Aquarium and the Insectarium just a short drive away. Buy tickets individually or as a package, which can include entrance to the IMAX Theatre next to the Aquarium.
Audubon Zoo is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s free parking, and it’s accessible by city transportation.