Discover 5 Incredible Aquariums and Zoos With Penguins

Written by Lev Baker
Updated: May 22, 2023
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There’s something undeniably captivating about penguins. With their tuxedo-like appearance, waddling walk, and charming personalities, it’s no wonder they’ve captured the hearts of people around the world. And what better way to see these beloved creatures up close than by visiting incredible aquariums and zoos with penguins?

Luckily for penguin enthusiasts, there are several such locations throughout the United States. Each of these incredible aquariums and zoos offers a unique and unforgettable experience where visitors can learn about the different penguin species, their behavior, and their natural habitats. Whether you’re an animal lover, a family with children, or simply seeking a fun and educational outing, a visit to one of these penguin havens is a must.


Penguins are known for their social behavior and often live in large colonies. They are also well adapted to living in harsh environments, with a layer of fat under their skin and a dense layer of feathers that help keep them warm. In addition, their streamlined bodies make them excellent swimmers, and they use their wings to “fly” through the water.

When it comes to eating, penguins are primarily carnivores and feed on fish, krill, and squid. They are excellent divers. One of their species, known as Gentoo, can swim up to 22 miles per hour.

One fascinating fact about penguins is the presence of a gland located near their eyes. This gland filters out the surplus salt from the bloodstream. Therefore, the glands enable them to consume seawater without adverse effects.

Once annually, penguins undergo what’s known as a catastrophic molt, in which they lose all of their feathers at once. While most birds shed feathers throughout the year, penguins lose them all in one go. This molting process can last between 2 to 3 weeks, during which time they are unable to swim or fish. Therefore, penguins consume an ample amount of food to fatten themselves up beforehand to survive this period.

Animal Facts: Penguins

Penguins live in large colonies and can “fly” through the ocean water up to 22 mph.


Evolution of Penguins

According to scientific research, penguins have a shared ancestry with a group of seabirds that includes petrels and albatrosses. It is believed that penguins evolved the ability to dive early in their evolution, much like the puffin. As they adapted to their aquatic environment, they became exceptional swimmers and divers. Therefore, they lost their ability to fly.

Through a recent study, it was demonstrated that changes in global temperature, including fluctuations between cold and warm periods, and the movements of major ocean currents have significantly influenced the evolution of penguins.

The first recorded penguin, Waimanu manneringi, was discovered in New Zealand. This penguin dated back 61 million years. This was approximately 5 million years after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Historically, penguins were significantly larger than the species we see today. For instance, the Kumimanu biceae, which resided in New Zealand approximately 55 to 60 million years ago, stood at an impressive height of around 5 ft 8 inches. Comparatively, the largest existing species, the emperor penguin, is approximately 4 feet and 3 inches tall.

Currently, there are 17 to 20 penguin species in existence, and they can all be found in the southern hemisphere. However, the Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is the sole penguin species that can be found north of the equator.

Aquariums and Zoos With Penguins

Let’s dive straight into discussing the zoos and aquariums that house these amazing creatures.

Woodland Park Zoo — Washington

Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, is recognized nationally as one of the leading zoos in the country to observe penguins. A few years ago, their penguin exhibit received the prestigious Exhibit Achievement Award from the Association for Zoos & Aquariums, therefore, earning its place on the top incredible aquariums and zoos with penguins.

Woodland Park Zoo spans 92 acres and encompasses various bioclimatic zones. Each zone features diverse natural habitats such as humid tropical rainforests, coastal deserts, and temperate rainforests like those found in the Pacific Northwest.

When the Woodland Park Zoo first welcomed 20 Humboldt penguins, they created an exciting new habitat in their 32,000-gallon pool. The pool is temperature-controlled by geothermal wells and filtered through a sand filter that uses natural wetlands to treat the backwash. Additionally, the pool is periodically replenished with collected rainwater, creating a sustainable and eco-friendly environment for the penguins.

The penguin exhibit can accommodate up to 60 penguins at a time. Therefore, it is a great place to see and learn about these fascinating birds.

Originating from the hot, arid coastal regions of Peru, the Humboldt penguins can be observed both above and below water at certain exhibits. These exhibits are designed to replicate the shores of the Punta San Juan Reserve in Peru, which is a wildlife sanctuary. Therefore, visitors can experience the penguins in a setting as close to their natural habitat as possible.

Come and visit the penguin at the zoo any day from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and experience these amazing creatures up close!

Penguins standing on a mound at the Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo is recognized as one of the leading zoos in the country to observe penguins.

©Chang Han Chris Kim/

Monterey Bay Aquarium — California

It’s no wonder that the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, is renowned as one of the best aquariums in the United States, given its impressive collection of aquatic life. It is widely known as a top selection for incredible aquariums and zoos.

One of its star attractions is the penguin exhibit, located in the Splash Zone. Visitors can get up close and personal with the penguins while also learning fascinating facts about these amazing creatures. And, to make the experience even more memorable, visitors can participate in feeding the penguins!

You should not miss the opportunity to observe the thriving African penguin colony. These charming flightless birds offer endless amusement with their grooming, eating, sleeping, waddling, and swimming antics. The exhibit features multiple pairs of mated penguins. Each bird is identifiable by the distinct identification bands affixed to their wings. Take a closer look and get to know penguins by their names!

African penguins are an endangered species and therefore being conserved here through a Species Survival Plan.

The penguins have been gathered from various zoos and aquariums, including the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. One member of the colony, named Bee, was born on March 23, 1999. Bee was brought from the Memphis Zoo in 2010.

The aquarium also provides a live cam featuring the penguins. 

Every day from 3:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., the penguins are fed at the aquarium. This feeding is scheduled to occur during the zoo’s opening hours from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except on December 25, when the zoo remains closed.

Ocean view of Monterey Bay Aquarium

Audience members can participate in feeding the penguins at Monterey Bay Aquarium.


Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies — Tennessee

At the Gatlinburg, Tennessee location of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, visitors can enjoy a wonderful opportunity to observe African penguins up close and personal at the “Penguin Playhouse” exhibit. This exhibit offers a range of penguin activities and experiences that are sure to delight any visitor.

One must-try experience at the “Penguin Playhouse” is the unique and exciting “Painting with Penguins” activity. This activity allows visitors to engage in a fun and creative session with these fascinating birds.

For a truly unique souvenir, visitors of the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies can purchase an original penguin painting created by the aquarium’s very own penguins.

With the opportunity to view the penguins from both above and below the water, this interactive exhibit is truly one of the best in the world. To make the experience even more unique, visitors can pop up on the penguins’ private beach. This gives visitors a nose-to-beak encounter with these adorable creatures. It is no wonder why this tops the list of incredible aquariums and zoos with penguins.

You can also meet the newest addition, Fleury, who was born on January 7, 2018. Additionally, you can meet the oldest resident, Jerry, who was born on November 28, 1992.

This exclusive encounter is available for ages 4 and up, and the cost per person is $49.99. Please note that times and dates for this experience may vary, so be sure to check with the aquarium for availability. 

Ripley's Aquarium in the Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the best aquariums and zoos with penguins.

©Christopher Forker/

St. Louis Zoo — Missouri

At the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri made it on the list of incredible aquariums and zoos because of its sizeable area designated for the penguin displays known as “Penguin and Puffin Coast.” The exhibit comprises six distinct penguin and puffin species, and they are distributed throughout Penguin Cove and Puffin Bay, each with its own simulated habitat.

Visitors can witness artificial waterfall drops, rough coastlines, and cliffs that create a natural environment for the penguins to inhabit. Penguin and Puffin Coast in St. Louis Zoo have three distinct habitats.

  1. Dennis & Judy Jones Family Humboldt Haven for Humboldt penguins.
  2. Lichtenstein Penguin Cove for king penguins, gentoo penguins, and rockhopper penguins.
  3. Taylor Family Puffin Bay for tufted puffins and horned puffins.

Each of these unique species has its own distinctive characteristics and features. This adds to the variety and excitement of the exhibit.

The Saint Louis Zoo is taking steps to help penguins by joining the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. This plan aims to boost the population of several types of penguins. The zoo is doing its part to assist the cause.

With a commitment to animal welfare and conservation efforts, the Saint Louis Zoo offers exceptional care to more than 16,000 animals on site. Additionally, the zoo is involved in initiatives that help support wildlife and habitats globally. This further demonstrates its dedication to preserving and protecting animal species beyond its own facility.

Magellanic Penguin walking on sand

The St. Louis Zoo is making efforts to preserve penguins by joining the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan.

©David / Creative Commons

Indianapolis Zoo — Indiana

At the ocean exhibit of the Indianapolis Zoo in Indiana, various penguin species, including the king penguin, can be observed by visitors. With the aid of a specially designed glass bottom area, visitors can get an up-close and personal look at how penguins live in their natural habitats.

The Indianapolis Zoo has an extensive collection of videos featuring their playful penguins. These videos can be found on their official YouTube channel.

You can enjoy watching Penguin Cam throughout the year. Additionally, you can even have the chance to own a unique painting crafted by none other than the penguins themselves.

The Indianapolis Zoo houses three types of penguins: rockhopper, gentoo, and king. These penguins are indigenous to the southern hemisphere, where the climate is opposite to Indiana’s. To support their natural breeding patterns, the zoo recreates the southern hemisphere conditions within the exhibit.

As summer approaches the Oceans exhibit, the penguins’ annual breeding season reaches its peak. This period offers an excellent opportunity for enthusiasts to observe distinctive behaviors among penguins.

Indianapolis Zoo’s Animal Amigo initiative provides financial assistance for the upkeep of the animals housed in the facility. The program covers various expenses like food, medical attention, equipment, and habitat development.

By donating $100 or more, one can support a penguin at the zoo and become a sponsor. Along with sponsoring a penguin, the donor will also receive a special collector card, a plush toy, a certificate, and their name featured on the Animal Amigo donor board, acknowledging their contribution to the program.

The Indianapolis Zoo operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, it’s important to note that the opening times may vary, so checking before planning your visit is always advisable.

Profile view of a king penguin

A king penguin is among the penguin species that can be found at the Indianapolis Zoo.

©Mark Dickson / Creative Commons

Summary of 5 Incredible Aquariums and Zoos With Penguins

Here’s a recap of five amazing aquariums and zoos which house penguins that we took a look at:

NumberAquarium / ZooLocationPenguin Type
1Woodland Park ZooSeattle, WashingtonHumboldt penguins
2Monterey Bay AquariumMonterey, CaliforniaAfrican penguins
3Ripley’s Aquarium of the SmokiesGatlinburg, TennesseeAfrican penguins
4St. Louis ZooSt. Louis, MissouriHumboldt, rockhopper, king, and gentoo penguins
5Indianapolis ZooIndianapolis, IndianaRockhopper, gentoo, and king penguins

The photo featured at the top of this post is © ChameleonsEye/

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About the Author

Lev is a writer at AZ Animals who primarily covers topics on animals, geography, and plants. He has been writing for more than 4 years and loves researching topics and learning new things. His three biggest loves in the world are music, travel, and animals. He has his diving license and loves sea creatures. His favorite animal in the world is the manta ray.

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