The beloved zoo at the southwest corner of Central Park is somewhat an accident of history. As the nearby Arsenal Building fell into disuse in the 19th century, people like PT Barnum and General George Sherman began storing exotic animals there. As the menagerie grew in size and popularity, it became clear that a formal site had to be dedicated to house them, and the state-chartered America's second publicly owned zoo. A visit to the expansive Bronx Zoo makes Central Park's feel small, but seeing sea lions, penguins and Grizzly Bears steps from Fifth Avenue is something to be experienced.

Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave
- Penguins, Madagascar

What You Will See

Classic zoo standbys--elephants, lions, hippos, and giraffes--are too large for a Manhattan zoo. But what the Central Park Zoo may lack in mega-fauna, it makes up for in ambiance and variety. In just 6 acres, the zoo manages to create several distinct habitats, both indoor and out, on land, in water, and in the air. The intention is not an exhaustive catalog of the earth's animals, but rather a carefully selected sampling for a brief tour of the earth. See penguins from the Antarctic, Snow Leopards from Asian mountains, Sea Lions from the Pacific Coast, Grizzly Bears from the Rocky Mountains and birds from around the globe.

Why You Should Go

When you need a full zoo day, go to the Bronx Zoo. When you need just a zoo snack, head to the much more convenient Central Park Zoo. But convenience and centrality are far from the only assets of the zoo. Many of the habitats have become world-famous symbols of New York City, particularly the playful sea lions, the colony of penguins, and (until his 2013 death) the polar bear Gus--New York City's unofficial mascot and climatological bellwether. On an island whose wildlife population has been reduced to rats, pigeons and the occasional raccoon, a quick reminder of the beauty of tropic birds or the grace of a snow leopard is necessary and invigorating.