Animals and food at the Cleveland Zoo in Ohio

The Cleveland Zoo (Ohio): Exhibits, Food, and Tips

One of the best attractions in Cleveland, OH is the Cleveland Zoo. Known for its African Elephant Crossing and Rain Forest exhibits, the Cleveland Zoo welcomes visitors to 183 acres of animal exhibits, learning opportunities, rides, and play areas. Plus, there are some great food options, including gluten-free and dairy-free food for those with food allergies (like me!).

Recently, my husband and I made a trip to Cleveland, OH to visit family. We grabbed some Bigmouth Donuts(!) and checked out the downtown area. While we were in Cleveland, we knew we had to check out the Cleveland Zoo! It was the last Ohio zoo for us to check out. We have been thoroughly impressed with Ohio zoos so far! (Some comparing and contrasting of Ohio zoos is at the bottom of this post!)

Does Cleveland Have a Zoo? Where is the Zoo?

Yes, Cleveland has a great zoo!

The city of Cleveland ‘s downtown area is right on Lake Erie. However, the zoo is further south. It’s still in a pretty populated area, but I wouldn’t say it’s downtown.

Cleveland Zoo Address: 3900 Wildlife Way Cleveland, OH 44109

How Much is Cleveland Zoo Parking? Any Tips?

Parking is free! We didn’t pay anything to park.

We arrived right at 10am on a Sunday morning when they had just opened and got to park in the parking lot directly next to the rain forest building (across from the entrance to the zoo). It was a 30 second walk to the entrance of the zoo! If you have little ones, arriving early may be very helpful!

How Big is the Cleveland Zoo?

A tram driving up the hill at the Cleveland Zoo.

The Cleveland Zoo is big! It is pretty spread out and resembles a capital Y with the rain forest area going one way, primates and aquatics area going another, and wilderness area going another… all branching out from the main area in the middle.

I would suggest all families with small children pack a stroller and take some breaks to rest.

Cleveland Zoo Hours

The Cleveland Zoo website says the zoo is currently open 10am-5pm April through October and 10am-4pm November through March.

The Zoo’s Conservation Efforts

The Cleveland Zoo’s website says they target conservation efforts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They work with conservation partners in these areas to protect wildlife, research wildlife science, and teach and strengthen local communities on topics such as illegal wildlife trade, habitat destruction, and more.

A Few Things to Know About the Zoo

The Zoo is Pretty Spread Out

Get ready to do lots of walking! Most of the exhibits are considerably large (which I love for the animals!!), so be ready to walk quite a bit. It’s not as big as the Columbus Zoo, but it’s spread out and not compacted like the Columbus Zoo.

The Rain Forest Building

The Rain Forest Exhibits is actually outside of the park entrance. It is a short maybe 2 minute walk back out the entrance and across the zoo’s street (where you will drive to park). Plan to see this building either first or last while visiting the Cleveland Zoo, but you definitely won’t want to miss it!

Navigating the Zoo and the Cleveland Zoo Map

You’re going to want a zoo map!

We did the African Elephant Crossing, then the Australian Adventure. Next, We jumped on the train by the lion exhibit and headed up to the Primate, Cat, and Aquatics area. We then went over the food court and African Savanna and then up to the Wilderness Trek. We ended with the Rain Forest Quest on the other side of the zoo entrance.

A Cleveland Zoo map

Tip: Take the Tram!

As mentioned above, this zoo is large!

Instead of making the intense walk/hike up the hill to the Primate, Cats, and Aquatics area, take the free tram! Your feet will thank you!

We didn’t feel like the tram was well advertised, but we were so glad we found it before heading toward the Primates, Cats, and Aquatics area! 

The inside of the tram on its way to the Primates, Cats, and Aquatics Building

The tram starts in the middle of the park next to the lion exhibit.  Visitors can jump on, ride to the top of the hill, and then begin exploring the southwest section of the park.

After walking through the building and past the gorillas and cheetahs, you can take the boardwalk back down the hill or jump on a tram again!

Tip: Feed the Elephants at Elephant Crossing!

After heading in the front entrance of the Cleveland Zoo, make sure to go toward the left between the Exhibit Hall and the Elephant Crossing. It felt like we were going the wrong way, but we found a fun lookout area with plexiglass windows that view the elephants!

There, visitors can pay to give the elephants a few peanuts! One of the elephants was really excited for those peanuts!

African Elephant at the plexiglass window

Cleveland Zoo Animal Exhibits!

Okay! Now, let’s talk about the animals!

African Elephant Crossing

The Cleveland Zoo is known for having a wonderful, large elephant exhibit. I love elephants and found this exhibit to be my favorite at the zoo! There were several elephants all very active. Some were reaching up high to eat. One was playing with a stick and later drinking the water right in front of us. 

And, of course, there was the elephant by the plexiglass begging for peanuts!

Elephant Crossing Area at the Cleveland Zoo with three elephants in the photo

Australian Exhibit

Ride a camel, go down the snake slide, or check out the wallabies and kangaroos in the Australian Exhibit. This is also the area that the train encircles. 

You can also head toward the main entrance (across from Outback Aviary) to see the koalas and a tree kangaroo! 

Wallabies in an open field
A koala asleep in a tree at the Cleveland Zoo

In this area, we really enjoyed the koalas. There are not many koalas at the zoos around us. And the Cleveland Zoo set up the exhibits so the koalas could enjoy peace and quiet while the visitors could still be reasonably close to view them. 

There was also a petting zoo area and a tree house with a “Snake Slide” for kids in this area!

A snake slide available for kids to play on at the zoo

Primates, Cats, and Aquatics

Make sure you jump on the tram (tip above), because the hill up to this area is ROUGH!

The indoor section holds several types of primates and nocturnal animals including lemurs, mandrills, spider monkeys, aye ayes, endangered fossa, piranhas, clownfish, lionfish, stingrays, and more.

Visitors can look through walls of glass to the monkeys’ indoor area. However, they also have outdoor spaces to explore.

Spider monkeys swinging and running at the Cleveland Zoo's indoor exhibit

The outdoor section holds gorillas, cheetahs, red pandas, and more. This is also where you can find a playground for children to enjoy.

A family of gorillas playing with hay at the zoo

We enjoyed watching the spider monkeys swing and jump around their exhibit. They have so much energy!

Also, I loved watching the gorillas, especially the babies. But I personally feel like their exhibit was not large enough, even with the indoor section available to them. Their outdoor space is larger than what’s photographed here, but there was a large gorilla family that probably could have used at least a little more space.

African Savanna

This area is really conveniently located while still giving the animals ample room to move around. As mentioned above, this zoo is spread out. There were a few savanna viewing areas, so visitors should still be able to see most of the animals.

Animals here include zebras, giraffes, ostriches, lions, and rhinos.

There is also a giraffe feeding area here.

I love rhinos, so I was especially excited to see a baby rhino!

A mother and baby rhino at the Cleveland Zoo

Wilderness Trek

Wilderness Trek requires a bit of a trek to get there! Go past the African Savanna and about 400 feet later (only gradually inclined) you’ll reach the Wilderness Trek.

The Wilderness Trek holds tigers, sea lions, bison, snow leopards, red pandas, and bears, including a grizzly bear, black bear, and even South American bears.

A grizzly bear asleep at the Cleveland Zoo

I was impressed by the space the bears had (these pictures show only a small section). It was considerably larger than at some zoos. My husband loved seeing the bison. They reminded us of our Indiana state park that has bison.

Cleveland Zoo Rain Forest Building

As mentioned above, the rainforest area is actually outside of the entrance to the zoo. You will have to show your tickets before entering. 

Rain Forest Building

I love orchids, and this area reminded me so much our time in Costa Rica!

Trek your way through the rainforest plants and into the two-story main exhibit areas. Animals in the indoor section include poison dart frogs, snakes, turtles, crocodiles, a clouded leopard, orangutans, and more.

Turtles and crocodiles at the rain forest building at the Cleveland Zoo

Cleveland Zoo Food: Does the Cleveland Zoo Have Anything for Those (Like Me) Who Avoid Gluten and Dairy?

The food court at the Cleveland Zoo had many food options, including pizza, chicken, burgers, salads, and more.

I was really impressed to see they had some gluten-free and dairy-free meal options!

While we only walked through (I had food packed in the car expecting them to offer very little), I noticed the food court (specifically at Tenders Love and Chicken) and Wilderness Trek (at Wilderness Grill) offered gluten-free buns for hamburgers. They also had salads at Safari Express (at the food court) that may work.

The food court offers gluten-free buns on their menu
Wilderness Grill in the Wilderness Trek area at the Cleveland Zoo also has gluten-free food options

Outside of the Cleveland Zoo, the gluten-free and dairy-free dining options in Cleveland may include Boss ChicknBeer, Barrio Tacos, Aladdin’s Eatery, The Twisted Olive, Bigmouth Donut Company, and Propaganda Coffee.

How Long Does It Take To Walk Through the Zoo?

You could walk through the Cleveland Zoo in about 3 hours if you were really rushing. If you have children and/or plan to stop for lunch, I suggest planning 4 or more hours.

We spent about an hour in the main area, one hour in the Primates, Cats, and Aquatics area, 45 minutes in Wilderness Trek, and 45 minutes in the Rain Forest area. We did not have children with us or stop for lunch.

Cleveland Zoo Asian Lantern Festival

We were there during the zoo’s Asian Lantern Festival. It looks to be an annual thing that takes place in the evenings during the event.

Unfortunately, we were not there in the evening to see the lanterns lit up, but we were really impressed at how many decorations they had up for the event! The zoo website says they are also doing live, acrobatic, evening performances each hour during the event. And there was a dedicated Asian food hall for the evening event unavailable to us during the day.

Asian lantern festival decorations at Cleveland zoo

Comparing and Contrasting Ohio Zoos

The Cleveland Zoo was the last of the Ohio zoos for us to visit. We’ve loved Ohio zoos and knew this one likely wouldn’t be any different!

Best For Elephants, Bears, and Rain Forest Animals

I will write a separate post on all of the Ohio Zoos, but wanted to say the Cleveland Zoo is probably the best zoo for elephants and bears. The exhibits are reasonably larger than at the other Ohio zoos. Additionally, the Cleveland Zoo has a wonderful rain forest exhibit, similar to the Jungle Trails at the Cincinnati Zoo with less primates and more reptiles and amphibians.

Most Similar to Cincinnati and Columbus Zoos

In many ways the Cleveland Zoo reminded me of a mixture between the Cincinnati Zoo (especially with the rain forest building and all the hills) and the Columbus Zoo (with a larger African Savanna area and greater amount of animals).

Considerably Large

The Cleveland Zoo is also large! It’s 183 acres. The Columbus Zoo is actually much bigger at 580 acres! In fact, the Columbus Zoo is the largest zoo in the United States currently! It took us all day to see all of the exhibits and ride the rides.

But the Cleveland Zoo, however, is more hilly. In some ways, especially if you don’t take advantage of the tram up to the Primates and Aquatics area, you may find the Cleveland Zoo more physically taxing. You’ll want to wear good walking shoes at both of these zoos!

Summary of the Cleveland Zoo

Similar to other Ohio zoos, the Cleveland Zoo impressed us with its overall quality and care for the animals. The Cleveland Zoo prides itself on its elephants, bears, and rainforest animals exhibits. A large and hilly zoo, visitors will want to take advantage of the tram and wear a good pair of walking shoes. Those who follow a gluten-free and dairy-free diet also have some great lunch options at the zoo!

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6 months ago

I really enjoyed reading about the Cleveland Zoo and the pictures were great! I have visited a lot of zoos in my lifetime, but this one seems really well planned out with so many activities….plus I am really impressed with all of the food options! That might be my favorite part haha!

6 months ago

I love that the Cleveland Zoo works with animal refuges in Africa. Saving animals in their natural habitate is as important as protecting dwindling species in zoos.

6 months ago

I like that the Cleveland Zoo has an Australian exhibit. Did you see the Koalas awake? I’d catch the tram up and down the hill to get around the zoo to see the animals, too.

Lisa Manderino
Lisa Manderino
6 months ago

I would love to see the Koalas. That looks like a great zoo!

6 months ago

Zoo are very educational. I like that they help animals that need rehabilitation.

6 months ago

I actually follow Cleveland Zoo online and love seeing all the animals they have! Especially when new babies are born! The zoos we have here are nothing compared to that in America – our local one is, for lack of a better term, cruel!

Lisa, Casey, Barrett Dog
Lisa, Casey, Barrett Dog
6 months ago

The Cleveland Zoo is on our list to visit. The pictures are amazing!