The Best New Jersey Zoos and Aquariums to Visit with Kids

Hang out with the giant hippos at Camden's Adventure Aquarium. Photo by Kaylynn Chiarello Ebner
Hang out with the giant hippos at Camden's Adventure Aquarium. Photo by Kaylynn Chiarello Ebner
5/19/24 - By Margaret Hargrove

If you're wondering, "Are there zoos near me in New Jersey?" then look no further: We've rounded up the best places in the Garden State for kids to have an up-close-and-personal encounter with animals of every kind.

At these day trip-worthy spots, little animal lovers can meet their favorite furry friends, check out exotic wildlife from other continents, or swim with the sharks (yes, really!). 

Looking for more animal encounters? Find the best zoo in all 50 states to inspire more exploration.


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1. Adventure Aquarium – Camden

Most aquariums have tropical fish, penguins, seals, or sea lions, but not all have the amazing touch tanks offered at this all-star aquarium. Nearly every exhibit has a touchable component (think sharks and jellyfish). In total, the Adventure Aquarium houses 8,500 aquatic species in 2 million gallons of water, including the largest collection of sharks on the East Coast. Perfect for preschoolers, the KidZone also features a sea-themed playground for little guppies to work out the wiggles. The aquarium offers FREE admission to guests on their birthday with proof of birth date. Open daily; admission also includes live shows.

2. Bergen County Zoological Park – Paramus

Conveniently located within the day trip-worthy Van Saun Park, little zookeepers-in-training can explore wild and domestic animals such as bison, lions, reptiles, birds, and farm friends throughout the smaller-scaled, shady grounds. There’s also a zoo train, pony rides, and a carousel. In July and August, the zoo’s outdoor amphitheater presents live animal shows. The zoo is home to a 10,000-square-foot exhibit featuring rare red wolves. Open year-round; admission is discounted in non-peak months. Bergen County residents receive reduced admission at all times.

3. Cape May County Park & Zoo – Cape May Court House

Enjoy free admission and free parking year-round at the Cape May County Zoo. A well-known haven for several endangered species, the zoo is committed to conservation. Beyond visiting the animals, you can buy tickets to take a spin on the carousel, try the treetop ropes course and zip lines, or enjoy a scenic train ride around the park. Kid-friendly programming includes scavenger hunts, critter crafts, and junior zookeeper camps.

4. Six Flags Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure – Jackson

Lucky for us, NJ hosts the largest drive-through safari outside of Africa! You'll board open-air vehicles and embark on a 45-minute interactive journey with your guide. Along the 4.5-mile trail, you'll meet 1,200 animals from six continents, including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions, and several newborn babies, including four giraffe calves, two Siberian tiger cubs, an Asian water buffalo calf, and a rare African bongo calf. The safari is open for the season starting mid-March, and you can purchase tickets online. New for 2024 is an unforgettable glamping experience at a resort located right in the safari.

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See the gracebul flamingos and more at the Turtle Back Zoo
The graceful flamingos are always a favorite at the Turtle Back Zoo. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala

5. Turtle Back Zoo – West Orange

Lions and tigers and bears…oh my! Those are just a few of the animals you’ll find at this world-class zoo, which has a modernized new entrance. There are also penguins, butterflies, and now giraffes. Kids can interact with horses, goats, and pigs at the Essex Farm exhibit, hop on the zoo train for a scenic ride through the beautiful South Mountain Reservation, take a spin on the carousel, or ride a pony. Additional fees apply for the train, carousel, and pony. The zoo is open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day) and hosts a slew of seasonal family-friendly programming, including summer zoo camp and holiday lights. Parking is always FREE.

6. Popcorn Park Zoo – Forked River

An animal refuge for abandoned and injured wildlife, this spacious park in the heart of the Pine Barrens is home to more than 200 animals and birds. Residents include black bears, bobcats, camels, and wallabies, as well as reptiles and tortoises. Every animal here was rescued from suffering or exploitation and rehabilitated, and you’ll learn their stories as you explore the zoo. The park is open daily, with early closings on holidays.

7. Cohanzick Zoo – Bridgeton

Billed as NJ’s first zoo, this 1,000-acre facility located 45 minutes from downtown Philadelphia and Atlantic City features more than 200 animals. Some of the exotic species include a white-nosed coati, a Brazilian porcupine, and an African serval. The enclosures at the Cohanzick Zoo are smaller, making the animals more easily visible, and allowing families to get up close and personal with them. Open daily every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day; admission is FREE. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grove overlooking the scenic raceway that runs through the park. There’s also an adorable, animal-themed splash pad nearby.

8. Space Farms Zoo & Museum – Sussex

Just as cool as its name suggests, this 100-acre complex is home to more than 500 wild animals, including leopards, jaguars, lemurs, buffalo, monkeys, llamas, and snakes, making it the largest private collection of North American animals in their natural surroundings in the U.S. Stroll the grassy grounds with free-roaming chickens, ducks, and geese, and stop by special-access areas where kids can feed the animals. Space Farms is open daily beginning at the end of March (weather permitting), and admission also includes entry to the museum, which contains more than 50,000 artifacts of American and Native American history.

9. Jenkinson’s Aquarium – Point Pleasant Beach

There’s more to Point Pleasant than sun, surf, and sand. Step right off the boardwalk into this aquatic oasis featuring sharks, penguins, alligators, seals, and plenty of fish. An interactive touch tank allows kids to get hands-on with sea stars and stingrays, though animal feedings are currently suspended. A wide range of educational programs held throughout the year includes behind-the-scenes tours, animal encounters, and annual events celebrating World Oceans Day and Shark Week. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

10. Insectropolis – Toms River

Welcome to the “bugseum” of NJ! Designed like a giant, bug-themed city, Insectropolis introduces you to many of the world’s smallest animals. Learn bug basics at the Bug University exhibit, watch insects eat in the Caterpillar Café, and take a tour of the Hive Airport, home to a live honeybee hive. Insectropolis is open Friday-Sunday during the school year and on weekends in the summer, and live touch presentations are held daily. 

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a wolf at the Lakota Preserve in spring
An observation area lets you watch the wolves at the Lakota Wolf Preserve. Photo courtesy of the preserve

11. Lakota Wolf Preserve – Columbia

The preserve is home to four different packs of wolves. See and learn about the wolves, their habitat, and their habits on a 75-minute Wolf Watch Tour. Tours are held twice daily, and online reservations are required. Enjoy a scenic, 30-minute hike from the parking area to the preserve, or hop on the shuttle bus. An observation area allows you to watch the wolves in their natural environment while being safely tucked away.

12. The Raptor Trust – Millington

This hidden treasure is one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the U.S. Primarily a medical facility for injured birds (it treats up to 6,000 birds every year), it's also a forever home for birds that cannot be safely returned to the wild. Currently, there are about 50 hawks, eagles, and owls in residence, and visitors have the opportunity to observe these gorgeous creatures at close range. Open daily for FREE self-guided tours; staff-led tours ($100 for groups of up to eight) are available by online reservation.

13. Sea Life Aquarium – East Rutherford

Last year, the larger-than-life American Dream Mall added a Sea Life Aquarium to its ever-expanding lineup of kid-friendly destinations. Embracing its location, the Sea Life Aquarium takes on a "City Under the Sea" theme, paying homage to its across-the-Hudson neighbors in a big way. Most notably, the main tank, a 186,000-gallon enclosure housing more than 1,000 fish, sharks, and even an octopus, is styled after the New York City skyline. There's also a jellyfish tank, touch tank, and water-enclosed tunnels that allow you to get up close to the sea creatures.

14. SeaQuest Aquarium – Woodbridge

Make a splash in Middlesex County at SeaQuest Woodbridge, a 24,000-square-foot, hands-on global sea life education and entertainment experience. Kids can travel all around the world, from the Caribbean to the Mayan jungle, a rainforest to an Icelandic fishing village, and even to the Great Wall of China, all while meeting and greeting the animals that call these habitats home. SeaQuest is just one of several family-friendly attractions at Woodbridge Center, which also boasts a Dave & Buster's and All In Adventures escape room center.

This article was first published in 2010 and is updated annually.

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