This is a place of justifiable civic pride that delights even non-zoo fans—small enough to be manageable, but big enough to cover all the important zoo bases including elephant and orangutan exhibits with some bonuses, like the amazing white tiger and Malayan sun bears. Some 15,000 animals (including rare and endangered species) live in natural habitats of subtropical plants, waterfalls, lagoons, and a Louisiana swamp replica complete with rare white gators. 

There are some great hot-day diversions for kids, including a wading pond for the little ones, and the Cool Zoo splash park with the Gator Run lazy river for inner-tube floating. So bring swimsuits and towels if the weather warrants (open seasonally; check website). There are misters and shady oaks for humans of all ages, but hot is hot: For maximum animal action, plan your visit to avoid midday, when the animals are sleeping off the heat. We like taking the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to Audubon Park, where a free shuttle from the park to the zoo departs every 20 to 30 minutes. If you’re visiting both the zoo and the Audubon Aquarium, a round-trip shuttle bus is also available.