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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Go Wild at One of These Carolina Zoos!

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As a kid, we had all sorts of traditions to celebrate the holidays and seasons. Once a year, my mom drove us from Eastern Long Island to the Bronx Zoo, stopping in Queens to get my grandma. When I moved away from New York, I was drawn to the local zoos. In Washington, D.C. it was the National Zoo. Now that I live in Charlotte with my own children, our zoo excursions include the Greenville Zoo, North Carolina Zoo and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. We’ve continued the tradition and pick up my mom on the way.


Safari Santa and his elf at Greenville Zoo

Greenville Zoo, Greenville, S.C.

Which is your favorite animal at the Greenville Zoo? Is it the giant anteater, Aldabra tortoises, black headed spider monkey or the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig? There are 14 acres to easily explore. There are free activities for children on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Holiday Highlights

Kick off the holiday season at the zoo on Dec. 7 with Safari Santa. Guests can purchase tickets to have breakfast with Santa. You can also take your photo with Santa and enjoy a free cookie while you explore the zoo. The event is open to all ages and included with your admission.

Must See

Meet the zoo’s giraffe family – Autumn and Miles, their daughter Kiden and the newest addition, a baby boy giraffe, named Kellan, born this summer.

What’s new

A pair of bat-eared foxes has recently joined two Ruppell’s griffon vultures in the vulture exhibit in the African section of the zoo.

Pro tip

Slide or climb at Greenville’s Cleveland Park, a huge playground outside the zoo’s front gate before or after your visit.


Greenville Zoo Foundation offers a 20 percent discount on Friend’s Society Membership for AAA Members!


Make it a weekend getaway to Greenville. Check out a Peace Center performance or one of Greenville’s music festivals. Your AAA Travel Agent can help you plan your stay.


North Carolina Zoo photo opportunity!


North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro, N.C.

In the heart of North Carolina, wild animals roam at the North Carolina Zoo. It’s the world’s largest natural habitat zoo and animals have room to explore in spaces that look and feel like their typical environment. Visit Africa and North America within the park’s 2,600 acres. Get ready for a new region in 2023: Asia.

Holiday Highlights

During the winter months, polar bears and arctic foxes are in their element. Plan a visit during the zoo’s annual Believe event (Dec. 14 and 21, 2019). The zoo is festively decorated for the holidays, and guests can enjoy seasonal menu items, holiday music and family activities. Santa and Mrs. C. will also make a guest appearance!

Must See

Discover the 40 acres of Watani Grasslands in the Africa continent. Rhinos, gazelles, elephants and other animals live on one of the largest elephant habitats in North America. Find rhino babies Nandi and Bonnie who are well over 1,000 pounds each at only 18 months old.

What’s new

Wait until spring to stroll through the Kaleidoscope Butterfly Garden with wildflowers and exotic butterfly exhibits. Open April through October.

Pro tip

Pick one region to visit per day especially if you have small children with you. Consider bringing or renting a stroller to give young ones a break from walking.


Receive a AAA $2 discount on admission for up to six people with ID and your valid AAA Membership card. The zoo also offers a Veterans Day discount the entire week of Nov. 11.


Stop in downtown Asheboro for a bite to eat or visit the North Carolina Pottery Center in Seagrove.


Jingle Bell Bonfire at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden


Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, S.C.

Riverbanks is 170 acres and home to more than 2,000 animals. It also has one of the nation’s most beautiful botanical gardens. Attend one of the daily animal demonstrations and feedings with the sea lions, penguins and gorillas.

Holiday Highlights

Nearly one million twinkling lights and holiday displays, a Christmas parade and nightlight visits with Santa are just a few treats awaiting visitors on select nights in November and December. The zoo’s Lights Before Christmas experience also includes festive foods, hot cocoa and s’mores available for purchase.

Must See

No need to head west to see Pier 39 in San Francisco for the sea lions and harbor seals. A reproduction of the pier called Sea Lion Landing was opened in 2016. The habitat brings awareness to wildlife issues.

What’s new

Enjoy the newly expanded Riverbanks Farm with an interactive walk-in yard, play structures for human kids, climbing structures for goat kids, and plenty of hands-on family fun.

Pro tip

Head to Koala Knockabout. Riverbanks is one of only 10 zoos in the country to care for koalas.


Show your AAA membership card and ID to receive a $3.95 discount for each adult and child ticket.


Head to one of Columbia’s breweries: Conquest Brewing Company, River Rat Brewery or Swamp Cabbage Brewing.


Red Panda of Western North Carolina Nature Center


WNC Nature Center, Asheville, N.C.

Longtime Asheville residents likely remember the original Asheville Zoo, which had been a popular attraction since the Great Depression. Visitors could see elephants, lions, monkeys and other exotic animals there. After the zoo closed due to financial struggles, Friends of the WNC Nature Center was created in 1974 to showcase the region’s natural history, fauna and flora. Today, it’s home to more than sixty species of wild and domestic animals, as well as hundreds of plant species.

Holiday Highlights

The Nature Center’s annual holiday celebration: A Winter’s Tail! takes place Dec. 14. Visitors can enjoy games and make winter crafts like antler headbands and bird feeders. Take your photo with Santa from 12 p.m.- 2 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. (bring your own camera).

Must See

Head to the red wolf habitat at 2:30 p.m. There will be a special unveiling of a limited-edition casting of an American Red Wolf and pup, called “just Settling In.”

What’s new

Red Pandas, Leafa and Phoenix, came to the WNC Nature Center in February 2019. Their habitat is the first of the center’s Prehistoric Appalachian exhibits, showcasing the animals who lived in our region millions of years ago. Fossils of the red panda’s ancient cousin, the now-extinct Bristol’s Panda, have been found in Gray, Tennessee. Red pandas are fans of cooler weather, so the winter months are a great time to see them being active (and adorably cute) in their habitat!

Pro tip

A great time to catch the animals being most active is when the center opens at 10 a.m. and around 4 p.m. They also offer daily animal enrichment programs at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.


AAA members receive 50 cents off ticket price. Tickets are $10.95 (adults) $9.95 (seniors), and $6.95 (youth). Children two years old and younger are admitted free.


The Asheville Recreation Park is located right next to the WNC Nature Center. Make a day of it and enjoy their playgrounds. Also, Asheville is known for its kid-friendly breweries. Several popular breweries (including Highland Brewing, New Belgium and others) are less than 12 minutes from the Nature Center!

Which zoo will you visit first? Visit AAA.com/GoTravel to plan your road trip.

For more travel inspiration, check out these posts:

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