Austin Zoo, a lovely animal sanctuary nestled in the Texas Hill Country

A recent Groupon for the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary caught my attention so, along with some friends, my kids and I decided to check it out this MLK/Inauguration holiday.

Maybe I should have kept the kids home for some important lessons about our country’s history and government, but we’d already had several conversations about the accomplishments and legacy of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the beauty and importance of Inauguration Day. The weather was supposed to be gorgeous–70 for a high with partly cloudy skies–so outdoors and northward we headed. The scenic Hill Country route from San Antonio to the Austin Zoo up 281 north and east on 290 took just over an hour.

Texas Hill Country Zoo

First Impressions

Founded in 1990 as Good Day Ranch and originally home to domestic farm animals, the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary expanded its number and types of animals over the years and became a zoo in 1994. This Hill Country attraction seems more like nature and animal preserve than a zoo. But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, our group of kids (ranging in ages from 5-7) and moms loved the country setting, shady grounds, plentiful winding paths, and lack of concrete walkways. And, while the Austin Zoo has far fewer animals than the San Antonio Zoo and other zoos we’ve visited, the variety of animals and the ability to get up close to them makes this one of our favorite Texas zoos.

Austin Zoo Tiger

What Makes It Stand Out

  • The animal enclosures are spacious and natural. Again, there was very little concrete, but plenty of trees, grass, water features and shade for the animals to enjoy.
  • Zookeepers frequently cleaned the enclosures and fed the animals in front of us. We witnessed both the male and female lions “hunting” for the raw chicken and other assorted meat the keepers had strategically hidden around their enclosures.Austin Zoo Lion
  • The Austin Zoo is very shady and situated on a hill where it catches lovely breezes, which certainly come in handy during those sweltering Summer months.
  • We loved that we could get up close to the animals. They appeared to be well cared for and looked healthy, active, and happy.
  • Although there were fewer animals than larger zoos we’ve visited, the array of animals was great. Some of our favorites were the tigers, a male and a female lion, wolves, a  leopard, a black panther, and all of the different monkeys.
  • The Austin Zoo is a true sanctuary and animal rescue. Most (if not all) of the animals there were rescued from less than ideal conditions or were surrendered by their owners. The peaceful and caring environment we saw during our visit convinced me that the animals at the Austin Zoo are very fortunate. They all seemed very content with their current living arrangements.


  • Go early to get good parking. The Austin Zoo opens at 9:30 a.m. We arrived at 10:30 and parked pretty close to the entrance. When we left around 2:30, parking was at a premium.
  • Pack a lunch. There is a tiny concession stand that sells hot dogs, nachos, candy, etc. but there is no restaurant on site. Picnic areas are shaded and there are lots of them. Peacocks, roosters, and chickens wander about and may want to become friends while you eat. Don’t feed them (or so the sign says).
    Austin Zoo Picnic areas
  • Be ready for educational lessons to emerge at any time. Nature is wild! While checking out one of the tiger exhibits (there are three different ones!) we heard a strange grunting noise. I looked over to see large tortoises copulating. Not only did this amusing scene turn all of the adults present into giggling and pointing 10-year-old boys, but it resulted in barrage of questions from our young kids that we weren’t necessarily expecting to answer that day. The simplest explanation we could give them? The boy tortoise was planting a seed in the female tortoise to create an egg she would eventually lay. Say what you will, but that was enough to quiet their curiosity. And, thanks to the Austin Zoo, I now have a snapshot to illustrate a more detailed Birds and the Bees conversation when the time is right.

birds and the bees lessons at the zoo

We loved our visit to the Austin Zoo and we can’t wait to go back. The Austin Zoo is open 363 days a year (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas) and admission ranges from $6 – $9.

View our full set of photos from our visit to the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary.