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 that opened in 2015. Some 1,800 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 also reptilian replicas in the animatronic Dinosaur Adventure—not exactly Jurassic Park but delightful for the young’uns (a bit kitschy for everyone else).

The latest attraction is Kamba Kourse, a pretty fabulous ropes course for the well-balanced, with increasingly challenging heights and agility elements (there’s a mini-version for tykes). There are also some great hot-day diversions for kids, including a wading pond for the little ones, and on summer weekends the Cool Zoo splash park with the Gator Run lazy river for inner-tube floating. So bring swimsuits and towels if the weather warrants. 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.