Everyone knows the Jersey shore has tons of aquatic wildlife, from tiny sand fleas to giant whales. There are also plenty of national parks and wildlife preserves with magnificent creatures like sea lions, tiger sharks, and black bears (Oh my!). However, if you’re looking for something a little more exotic, NJ still has you covered with world class zoos and aquariums. Here are some of the best Jersey shore zoos and aquariums to hit on your next family vacation!
Cape May County Zoo
Believe it or not, TripAdvisor ranks this zoo fifth in the United States and 13th in the world, even though most people outside of the area have never heard of it. Admission and parking are free for 80 acres housing almost 550 animals year-round. The zoo prides itself in treating animals with respect and educating visitors about wildlife preservation. The zoo has planned an expansion of its rescue and rehabilitation program for marine animals and is currently running an animal sponsorship program. You can ride a train or carousel in the park: we recommend both for the most family fun!
Turtle Back Zoo
Since 1963, this West Orange zoo has been exciting visitors with creatures like penguins and prairie dogs. In 2006, it earned accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, so you know this is a top notch zoo. The original exhibits were based on Hans Christian Anderson’s nursery rhymes as well as other children’s stories. A train took visitors on a mile-long loop around the surrounding forest. The name comes from a rock formation near the zoo named Turtle Back Rock by the Lenni-Lenape tribe. In 2005, the Essex County Animal Hospital was built to keep the zoo’s animals happy and healthy.
There are events every month, including educational workshops, live shows, and awareness weeks. Grab a souvenir like a picture at the photo booth or a pressed penny, the proceeds of which benefit the Zoological Society. Stop by the zoo’s cafe to make sure your family has enough energy to see the breathtaking variety of animals. The Endangered Species Carousel will amaze children!
This aquarium on the Camden Waterfront boasts the biggest collection of sharks along the Atlantic Ocean, including a tunnel where sharks swim in tanks above your head! Kids will love the please-touch exhibits (if they dare to try it) featuring jellyfish, sting rays, and (nonthreatening) sharks. Check out the seal, penguin, and shark shows or, if you’re truly a brave soul, swim with them! Also be sure to learn about sea turtle migration and visit the Amazon waterfall feature and Hippo Haven.
Popcorn Park Zoo
This Forked River Zoo sprawls 7 acres in the Pine Barrens and has been helping sick or abandoned rescued wildlife since 1977. More than 200 animals, including monkeys, lions, tigers, kangaroos, and camels, are on display. You can feed popcorn to farm animals like horses, goats, sheep, or even deer! Hear each animal’s story about how they were rescued to connect with them and raise your awareness of the dangers animals face as a result of human activities. There are frequent events and programs and food, drinks, and treats available for purchase.
Opened in 1934 as a deer exhibit, this is the oldest zoo in New Jersey. It was named for the Lenape people who lived near Bridgeton, where the zoo is located. Try an educational program or adopt an animal for a year to receive a certificate and help give food, health care, and toys to your animal. With 1,000 acres and 200 animals, this is the perfect place to not only learn about wildlife, but hike, have a picnic, and play on the playground – all for free!
Six Flags Safari Off Road Adventure
This Jackson amusement park boasts the biggest drive-through safari (aside from Africa, of course) with 4.5 miles of trail. More than 1200 animals, some endangered, spanning six continents are dispersed in this 350 acre wildlife preserve. Take your own car or use the guided bus tour to save gas while learning more about wildlife conservation. Animals like giraffes, rhinos, monkeys, elephants, lions, kangaroos, emus, llamas, tigers, and more will come right up to your car to pay a visit. What fun!
Between marine life at the shore, forest and swamp dwellers at parks and preserves, and exotic creatures at zoos and aquariums, the Jersey shore is a one-stop vacation for animal lovers. While we think these are some of the best Jersey shore zoos and aquariums, we’re definitely open to a second opinion. Tell us your favorite NJ zoo in the comments below!