From giraffes to sea lions and bears to butterflies, there are many places nearby to view and interact with nature's creatures.
So whether you prefer to stroll through a zoo setting, take a dive underwater at an aquarium, drive through a bear's natural habitat or be surrounded by thousands of fluttering butterflies, Arizona has your opportunity.
As one of the nation’s largest nonprofit zoos, the Phoenix Zoo is home to more than 1,400 animals, including endangered and threatened species—see elephants, lions, jaguars, lemurs, giraffes, bighorn sheep and more.
At Monkey Village—the only walk-through exhibit of its kind in the United States—watch squirrel monkeys play as you wander through the open exhibit. Next, head over to Red Barn, where you can pet and brush goats. Kids who need to cool off can stop by the splash pad and water play areas. Other zoo experiences include a 4-D theater, camel rides, Stingray Bay, the Safari Train and carousel rides (some have an extra fee). 455 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix; 602.286.3800
Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park
Find Arizona's largest collection of exotic and endangered animals at this destination in Litchfield Park, which houses more than 6,000 animals. Admire the rare white alligator; view the cheetahs, buffalo, white rhinoceros and kangaroos; explore the aquariums and then hop on over to the Kangaroo Walkabout.
In addition to the large variety of sea creatures and animals, there are animal feeding stations, shows, a kids' petting zoo and a stingray feeding area. Rides are also plentiful here and include a zip line, roller coaster, boat ride, flume ride and more. Some activities have an extra fee. 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park; 623.935.9453
When you enter the lobby at this aquarium—the largest in the Southwest at 200,000 square feet (with more than 30,000 animals!)—make sure to look up. Massive aquatic orbs suspended from the lobby ceiling are filled with schools of fish. And that's just the beginning—the aquarium features everything from fish to sharks and sea lions to penguins.
There is also a 3-D theater, rotating carousel theater and a touch pool. And, a giant submerged escalator allows guests to descend deep into the "ocean" while surrounded by thousands of sea creatures. Those who want to get into the water for a more up-close experience can purchase the SeaTREK underwater ocean walking activity. And make sure to check out the bathrooms in the lobby—the windows above the sinks let you watch sharks swim by! 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale; 480.219.8000
Wander amongst thousands of butterflies from around the world at the largest indoor butterfly pavilion in North America. The rainforest conservatory is filled with lush tropical plants and flowers, a koi pond, and sidewalks perfect for meandering as you watch the butterflies flutter by and land on the abundant foliage. A 3-D theater shows "Flight of the Butterflies," a short film about the creatures, and another must-stop is the Butterfly Emergence Gallery, where you can watch live chrysalis emerge into beautiful butterflies. 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale; 480.800.3000
Sea Life Arizona Aquarium
Spend time shopping at Arizona Mills mall before or after you visit this aquarium located at the mall's northeast corner. Designed specifically for kids, there are seahorses, sharks, turtles, tropical fish, jellyfish and more shown in 30 displays. Experiences include touch pools, a Dive Adventure Quiz Trail and a 360-degree ocean tunnel. 5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle, Tempe; 1.877.526.3960
Out of Africa
Just over an hour drive from Phoenix is Out of Africa, a replicated African Bush Safari. See lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, giraffes, antelopes, zebras, water buffalo and more. Hop on a bush safari tour, complete with a guide and narration, and watch the animals roaming the Wildlife Preserve. Your guide will also provide treats so you can feed some of the animals.
Other experiences include a predator feed and giant snake show (where you can touch and hold snakes). You can also view animals during a zip line adventure, feed a tiger or take a VIP behind-the-scenes tour (extra fees apply). 3505 W. SR-260, Camp Verde; 928.567.2840
Guests can view and interact with dolphins at this lagoon facility. Watch the dolphins from afar or hop in the water for a swim-with-the-dolphins adventure. There is also a dolphin trainer experience. Dolphinaris' mission is to "amaze, educate and empower." 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale; 480.407.5154
A Short Drive From The Valley...
A few hours north of Phoenix is Bearizona, a 160-acre facility where visitors can drive through the Ponderosa Pine Forest and view North American animals in their natural habitat. Spot mountain goats, wolves, bison and black bears.
Fort Bearizona, located in a separate area of the park, offers a more zoo-like setting. Stroll through and view baby animals and smaller animals on exhibit, check out the Bearizona Barnyard petting zoo, and step up to the viewing glass to peek into a bear's den.
Bearizona is also home to the High Country Raptors, a nonprofit dedicated to raptor conservation. The birds—such as hawks, owls and falcons—are shown three times during the day (excluding January and February). 1500 E. Route 66, Williams, 928.635.2289