Tag Archives: Zoo

20 Things To Do In San Diego This Summer

If you’re a regular follower of this site, you know that I’m doing a series of posts about things to do in specific cities with kids this summer. I’ve highlighted lots of great activities to do in some major cities across the US. Not only are these great resources if you live in these areas, but they’re also perfect for travel.

I had the opportunity to go to San Diego about 5 years ago and I fell in love. There was absolutely NOTHING that I didn’t Continue reading 20 Things To Do In San Diego This Summer

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20 Things To Do In Seattle This Summer

If you’re a regular follower of this site, you know that I’m doing a series of posts about things to do in specific cities with kids this summer. I’ve highlighted several major cities across the US. Not only are these great resources if you live in these areas, but they’re also perfect for travel.

For a variety of reasons, Seattle is a city that offers some really great options for kids. And, even better, Continue reading 20 Things To Do In Seattle This Summer

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5 Things To Do With Kids In Knoxville, TN

 For years Knoxville, Tennessee has been an important dot on my map. For starters, my husband grew up in the area. Later, I joined him at The University of Tennessee for 4 of the best years of my life. Finally, I spent a year living in Knoxville with an active toddler. To say that the city is special to our family would be an understatement.

However, it’s only recently dawned on me the true impact Knoxville has on travel. Perhaps, one of the major cross-road cities in America, Knoxville connects the North to the South and the East to the West via interstates 75 and 40. Not only that, Knoxville sits just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park- the most visited National Park. Additionally, Knoxville is within a days driving distance from two-thirds of the population east of the Mississippi River!

So it’s not surprising, I’m often asked for family activity ideas in Knoxville. The possibilities are numerous, and there are countless attractions in the surrounding area. However, if you’re spending time right in the city, here are my top 5 favorite things to do with kids:

  1. Knoxville Zoo: The Knoxville Zoo boasts an impressively large collection of animals (over 800!) The habitat designs are both animal and guest friendly. Despite being a contained environment for the animals, the exhibits maintain a very natural look. The Knoxville Zoo also ranks #1 in the world for Red Panda conservation. For more information, visit their website.

    Love all the up-close animal experiences at The Knoxville Zoo!
  2. Ijams Nature Center: There are very few things my children love more than dirt and wide open space. The Ijams Nature Center provides families with an opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous Knoxville landscape and learn a little about the area. Inside, children can visit indigenous animals brought to the center for rehabilitation. Additionally, there are many walking trails, a ropes course, and a butterfly conservatory on property. Visit their website for more details.

    Whether we have an hour or a whole day, the Ijams Nature Center always makes our list when we visit Knoxville.
  3. Sunsphere: In 1982 Knoxville hosted The World’s Fair. Despite being the smallest city to ever host, over 11 million people visited Knoxville that summer. The iconic Sunsphere is one of the only structures remaining from the Fair. Today visitors can ride an elevator up to the observation deck and get 360 degree views of the city and surrounding mountains.

    We love the bird’s eye view of Knoxville.
  4. University of Tennessee Sporting Event: Knoxville has a phenomenal sports scene. I realize there is a tiny chance that statement is a tad bias, but in all seriousness- it’s pretty fantastic! Neyland  Stadium, home of UT Football, consistently ranks among college’s best venues. In addition to football, Knoxville offers countless other sporting events. The city is also home to The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Nothing better than a football Saturday in the fall!
  5. Three Rivers Rambler: I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t love trains. In fact, I’m not sure I know an adult that would turn down an opportunity to ride a train. The Three Rivers Rambler takes guests from Downtown Knoxville to the start of the Tennessee River (and back, obviously!) The steam train provides families a way to enjoy the beautiful Tennessee landscape. For information, visit their website.
    It’s a great day when you get to go for a train ride!


    What is your favorite thing to do with kids in Knoxville?

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Riverbanks Zoo- Columbia, SC

Riverbanks Zoo

My kids love nothing more than animals. In fact, some days they want to BE animals they love them so much. Naturally, as we travel, we make a point to visit zoos. The Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina has an amazing reputation. I’d heard nothing but great things about the zoo, so I knew we needed to check it out.

Starting our day at The Riverbank Zoo
Starting our day at The Riverbanks Zoo

Right off the bat, I realized how the beautifully designed layout accommodates families with children of all ages. The entrance is centrally located, and then there are two wings to the zoo. Families can easily make the two loops; however, the entrance location allows for a quick trip out to the car midway through.

We started our day at the brand new exhibit, Sea Lion Landing.

Sea Lion Landing opened in May 2016
Sea Lion Landing opened in May 2016

 We found Sea Lion Landing to be one of the best sea lion exhibits that we’ve ever visited! My children could have easily spent all day standing at this large viewing window.

Sea Lion Landing offers phenomenal viewing spaces
Sea Lion Landing offers phenomenal viewing spaces

Other highlights of the Riverbanks Zoo included the opportunity to be up close and personal with many of the animals.

My crazy girl loved feeding the birds.

Don't miss the bird sitting on her head
Don’t miss the bird sitting on her head

Although she might have been the only one of us who appreciated the birds, we all had fun at the giraffe feeding.

The pictures don't adequately display their size. The giraffes were huge!
The pictures don’t adequately display their size. The giraffes were huge!

We also got to walk (or hop, as my kids chose to do) through the kangaroo exhibit. There is nothing more thrilling for a child from the U.S. to know that there’s a chance a kangaroo might cross our path (literally!)

Smart kangaroo- he hoped in the opposite direction of my children
Smart kangaroo- he hopped in the opposite direction of my children

The Riverbanks Zoo displays over 2,000 animals. The awesome layout I mentioned earlier makes viewing all of these animals during a visit manageable. Additionally, the habitats were built fairly close together and in groups. This allows guests to easily transition from one exhibit to the next without a lot of walking.

Love all these beautiful animals
Love all these beautiful animals

Perhaps one of the most surprising parts of our day was how interactive all of the animals acted towards the guests. You could genuinely tell they enjoyed all the attention!


In addition to a wonderful collection of mammals, The Riverbanks Zoo also has a wonderful (and very large) aquarium.

After seeing Finding Dory 3 times this summer, my kids couldn't get enough of this particular tank. Miller kept repeating "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."
After seeing Finding Dory 3 times this summer, my kids couldn’t get enough of this particular tank. Miller kept repeating “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

Also, another fabulous feature of The Riverbanks Zoo is the the Botanical Garden. This 70 acre piece of property could be an attraction all by itself! Besides the amazingly beautiful plants, the garden offers a splash pad (Waterfall Junction) with a giant sandbox (Dino Dig.)

Don't miss the Botanical Gardens
Don’t miss the Botanical Gardens

To access the gardens, catch the tram that runs about every 10 minutes. I highly recommend doing the garden when you arrive at the tram stop. We saved it until the end and needed to do quite a bit of backtracking through the zoo.

To plan your visit to the Riverbanks Zoo, visit their website.

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North Carolina Zoo


Many things stand out from my recent visit to the North Carolina Zoo; however, if I had to pick a common theme it would revolve around the spacious and beautiful land. Located in Asheboro, North Carolina, the NC Zoo has over 500 acres of “natural habitat.” This amount of space makes it one of the largest walk through zoos in the world.

From the moment we stepped through the gates, we were overwhelmed with the beautiful scenery (and actually, the parking lot was pretty too!)


Everything about the North Carolina Zoo was natural in appearance. The whole time we were there I felt as if I were in a forest preserve or state park, rather than a zoo.


The zoo consists of 2 main areas: North America and Africa. Most days you can park and enter on either side.

North America is broken up into several different areas. A few highlights include:

The Swampland…

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The Rocky Coast, which includes several species of bears (a highlight for my children!)…

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The Southwestern Desert, with it’s brand new animal- the Ocelot- and a dome full of other desert animals…


The African Side is also broken down into several different plains.



Although the North Carolina Zoo is very spread out, the animals themselves are very easy to see. The way that their spaces are designed allows for viewing from multiple angles and minimizes the distance you are from the animals.

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Although we visited on a hot day, a lot of the animals were very active. We enjoyed getting to see their playful side! Others were resting in the cool water…


Special design features of the NC Zoo that we loved were the binocular stations. For $ .25 we were able to view many of the animals close up. My kids really enjoyed being able to see their detailed features!


There were also lots of steps for my children to stand on to get a better view. I SO appreciated not having to hold them up to the glass!


The zoo is very spread out so I highly recommend that you bring a stroller. My 4-year old has never been a big fan of being in a stroller, but he was not complaining at all! Even my 8-year old asked if she could take a turn.

There is a very nice playground and lots of great places to eat (I recommend the BBQ, it’s delicious!!!)


One final highlight of the NC Zoo is it’s close proximity to several major cities. Located almost in the center of the state, it is a very close drive from Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte!

For more information on the NC Zoo, and to plan your visit, visit their website.

**The NC Zoo hosted our family, but the opinions and photographs are all our own!**

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Standing Behind The Zoo


This was a sad weekend in our country. Ironically, on the weekend set aside to honor our fallen soldiers, a much different story of a fallen one emerged. A gorilla named Harambe was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 4-year old boy fell into the gorilla habitat.

Following the incident, the media has been flooded with harsh opinions on the situation. Many people are finding fault with the Zoo’s decision to kill Harambe. Additionally, there has been an outpouring of criticism for the parents of the child who fell into the enclosure.

I wasn’t at the Cincinnati Zoo that day. But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I stand behind the Zoo’s decision. I’m sure it was one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. But I’m also pretty certain that the decision itself was not hard.

A child’s life was in danger. At any moment that gorilla could have ended the child’s life. Yes, it was a guessing game of “would he?” But it certainly wasn’t a question of “could he?”

There was no other option for the Zoo, but to save the child. They didn’t need to weigh the pros and cons. They didn’t need to asses the quality of parenting skills displayed by the child’s mother. This was worst case scenario, but it was something they had trained to do.

Cincinnati Zoo director, Thane Maynard, confirms “Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe.” Also worth noting, he stated “That child’s life was in danger. People who question that don’t understand you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla — this is a dangerous animal.”

Our family loves zoos…and aquariums, and ranches, and pretty much any place where we can observe and study animals. We firmly believe that all facilities with accreditation are doing their part to both promote animal safety, and educate the public.

Our family will continue to go to zoos knowing that they are doing everything they possibly can to keep our family safe. As the mother of a 4-year old boy, I cannot read this story without thinking of my own son. My heart goes out to the family as they deal with the trauma and backlash from the situation.

I also pray that in the coming days the stories and posts resulting from this event will be less judgmental, less critical, and with less blame.

Along with The Cincinnati Zoo and all those who loved Harambe, our family will mourn the loss of such a beautiful animal.

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Zoo Atlanta- Georgia


Atlanta is a city known for many things. A few things that come to mind: Coca-Cola, great sports teams, bad traffic, the 1996 Summer Olympic games, and its famous animals. Located just outside of downtown, Zoo Atlanta is home to 4 of the United States’ 12 pandas, a historic collection of gorillas and thousands of other plants, animals and reptiles.

We arrived at Zoo Atlanta early to maximize our day and also to catch the animals in the cool morning hours. My kids were thrilled with the colorful maps. Immediately they began to plan our route to their favorite animals. Throughout the day they were able to refer back to their maps and easily navigate us around the zoo.

We were barely in the gates when we saw the flamingo. After about 10 minutes of staring at the beautiful birds, I had to remind the kids that we had A LOT more animals to see.

One of the best parts about Zoo Atlanta is how clearly all of the animals are labeled. Because they have so many different species, it’s easy to have trouble identifying them all. Multiple signs are located around every habitat and besides the name, you can also learn facts about the animal.


Of course, one animal needed no identification! We could not wait to make our way to the pandas.

It’s really a good thing we planned a long day at the zoo- we spent almost an hour watching the pandas without even realizing it. They are SO playful and fun! And I love how photogenic they are. At times it really felt like they were posing and smiling for my camera.

This one did a forward roll every time she walked in front of my daughter. It was hilarious!


When we finally tore ourselves away from the pandas, we found the gorillas equally entertaining.

One of the awesome things about Zoo Atlanta is that there are multiple viewing areas for many of the animals. We were able to observe the gorillas from several different vantage points.

What better way to view Naked Mole Rats than to climb right into their tunnels…

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Other family favorites included:

The Komodo Dragon


The Bear sleeping with his tongue out


The Red Panda

The Lions


Our last stop of the day was at the brand new Reptile HouseDSC_2717

My kids LOVE creepy crawly creatures. They could not tear their eyes away from this snake that was most certainly trying to get out of his cage to get me!


While my children and husband soaked in every little snake and creature in the room, I chose to study the awesome facts. Zoo Atlanta did a fantastic job with the education piece of their exhibits.

Our visit to Zoo Atlanta was one of the highlights of our visit to a wonderful city. The zoo is clean, well laid-out, and it beautifully incorporates the animal habitats. The animals were also easy to view.

*Our visit was hosted by Zoo Atlanta*

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