The Houston Zoo Turns 101!

Celebrate the zoo’s history and learn what new animals and activities it has in store for the future.

By Nicholas Roma

We look back at the zoo’s history and what new animals and activities it has in store for the future.

Image: Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo has been a staple in the city for 101 years now. Nestled snugly within the confines of Hermann Park’s vast 445 acres, the zoo is home to more than 6,000 permanent wildlife residents and welcomes more than two million guests each year. Its popularity and longevity are in large part based on its commitment to educating visitors about habitat loss and the impact of climate change, while also being a leader in the global movement to save wildlife. 

To mark its Centennial, the zoo completed a handful of additions to its 55-acre grounds, including a renovated main entrance, an updated orangutan exhibit, a remodel of McGovern Plaza, and a new South America’s Pantanal, which, as the zoo's website states, "allows guests to explore the tropical wetlands of Brazil.” One of the most exciting new additions set for this year is the Galapágos Islands exhibit.

Rendering of the Galapágos Islands exhibit, one of the most anticipated additions set for early this year.

Image: Houston Zoo

The zoo offers a wide range of experiences for visitors of all ages. Come and marvel at the majestic elephant herd, including the adorable babies Winnie and Teddy, as they splash and play in their pool. Get up close and personal as you feed a giraffe, and feel the excitement of seeing a jaguar walking overhead in the South American Pantanal exhibit.

Settled in Hermann Park Conservancy the zoo is surrounded by plenty of fun and engaging activities for the whole family to enjoy. In addition to the Centennial Gardens, there is the Japanese Garden, pedal boats, and a number of barbecue grills for a good old fashioned picnic in the park. 

Below is everything you need to know to celebrate the Houston Zoo’s centennial.

What’s new at #HouZoo?

The largest initiative in the Houston Zoo’s Keeping Our World Wild Centennial campaign is the new Galápagos Islands exhibit, set to open early this year, the first major exhibit of its kind to showcase the remarkable wildlife of the legendary island chain.

Rendering of the state-of-the-art habitat for Humboldt penguins, as part of the Galápagos Islands exhibit.

Image: Houston Zoo

As part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan (SSP), the Galápagos Islands exhibit immerses visitors in a unique landscape and oceanic habitats, including a state-of-the-art environment for Humboldt penguins, and programs featuring sea lions, giant tortoises, sharks, and more.

Which animals can be found at the Houston Zoo?

With over 6,000 animals, you can see everything from San Esteban Island Chuckwallas to Southern White Rhinoceros. Other highlights include giant anteaters, Chilean flamingos, Asian elephants, Northern white-cheeked gibbons, king cobras, and Komodo dragons. 


Image: Houston Zoo

Does the Houston Zoo host any special events and activities?

Yes! One fun experience the zoo offers is an overnight program, which immerses participants in after-hours animal visits. The program includes scheduled activities like night hikes and close encounters with ambassador animals, as well as an evening snack, light breakfast, and next-day admission to the zoo.

The overnight program is open to individuals ages 6 and up, and one adult chaperone is required for every five children between the ages of 6-17. The program can accommodate groups of 20-60 individuals on select Saturdays from 5:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. If you choose to stay at the zoo, bring comfortable walking shoes, a filled water bottle, weather-appropriate clothes, bug spray, a sleeping bag (or cot), and any personal items for staying comfortable.

It is also important to follow all Houston Zoo guidelines for food and drink items. Glass bottles, alcohol, and straws are prohibited. Visitors should plan to eat prior to arrival or pack a ready-to-eat picnic dinner as there is no scheduled time for dinner.


Image: Houston Zoo

Another memorable activity is experiencing an Animal Encounter, which includes bathing elephants on Thursday mornings, feeding anteaters and gorillas on Thursdays, and taking selfies with the Galápagos tortoises on Sundays and Tuesdays.

Can you volunteer at the Houston Zoo?

There are a variety of volunteer opportunities available, all geared towards providing excellent guest service and engagement. Some of the options include Guest Engagement, Education Program Assistant, Zoo Events, Animal Encounters, Interpretive Volunteer, Keeper Aide, Animal Handler, and Horticulture. 

Join a team of more than 350 adult volunteers, 18 and older, and help make the zoo an even more amazing place for visitors and animals. Not only will you receive training, support, and invitations to special volunteer appreciation events, but you’ll also get discounts on concessions, a zoo membership, and of course, the opportunity to make some new furry friends!

As of right now volunteer applications are closed, but future recruitment sessions will be available. Make sure to check the volunteer page for updates on joining the Houston Zoo volunteer family. 


Image: Houston Zoo

Can I shop and get a meal at the zoo?

The recently opened Cypress Circle Cafe, certified by the Green Restaurant Association, is a must-visit for those looking for locally sourced and sustainable fare. The cafe allows for easy pick-up of pre-ordered meals for those in a hurry. 

The zoo also boasts several themed food trucks, each offering a unique culinary experience. The Masakan truck, located near the jaguar habitat, serves Asian-inspired dishes, while the BBQ Americana trailer offers classic smoked meats and sides. 

Sweet tooths will be pleased with the Albert & Ethel Herzstein Trading Post, offering Dole Whips and a variety of other snacks, including cookies, pretzels, and popcorn. The Trading Post also serves soda, juice, and Saint Arnold beer for its 21 and up visitors. 

For those looking for a sit-down meal, the Twiga Cafe is the perfect spot. It serves hamburgers, salads, and chicken tenders, along with a variety of other options in its spacious air-conditioned dining room. There’s even a terrace where you can watch the giraffes and rhinos while you eat!

After a fun day of adventure, you can take home a reminder of your trip by visiting the zoo’s many gift shops as you exit. With so many options to choose from, the Houston Zoo is a one-stop destination for an unforgettable day out. 


Image: Houston Zoo

How much is admission to the Houston Zoo and what are the hours of operation?

Online reservations are required for all non-member guests, and tickets will not be sold on-site. Ticket prices start at $23, and kids under two get in free. If you’re a member, you’re no longer required to make a reservation and can present your digital membership card upon arrival. Become a member for as low as $149, and save with free admission for 12 months. For all the different membership prices, visit their website.

The Houston Zoo has also implemented Flex Pricing on ticket purchases, providing guests with more price options depending on the date and time of visit. This allows guests to plan a visit that best accommodates their budget and schedule, and also allows the zoo to spread attendance throughout the year to control crowds and improve visitor experience. 

The zoo is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last entry at 4 p.m. 

Where is the Houston Zoo Located?

The Zoo is located in Hermann Park, near the Texas Medical Center and the Museum District. The main entrance is at 6200 Hermann Park Drive in Hermann Park.

What is the parking situation like?

The zoo doesn’t have its own parking lot. Free parking is available in Hermann Park, but on busy days, the lots can fill quickly. Guests can park in Lots G, F, E, H, and as indicated on the Hermann Park Parking Map

An additional parking option is the Centennial Gardens, Lot C on the parking map. It is limited to three-hour parking and is accessible from outside the park at Hermann Dr. and Crawford St.


Image: Houston Zoo

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