Woodland Park Zoo vs. Point Defiance Zoo

Which is the better zoo and why?

There are few more popular ways to entertain the kids for a day (without going out of town) than a visit to the local zoo. If you live in the Seattle-Tacoma area, you’ve got two zoos to choose from—Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. If you live closer to one or the other, the decision of which zoo to visit may be an easy one. But if you live in between or if you’re debating whether both are worth visiting, read on for a comparison of Western Washington’s two zoos and what’s unique about both of them.

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Types of Animals

white wolf in the wilderness

TripSavvy / Noah Kreyenhagen 

Both Point Defiance Zoo and Woodland Park Zoo have a wide array of animals. Both zoos have animals from all over the world, but Woodland Park definitely edges out Point Defiance in a number of critters living within its bounds. Woodland Park has more “traditional” zoo animals if there is such a thing. If you want to see lions, tigers, bears (oh my!) and giraffes, you’ll find more of these in Seattle than Tacoma. Woodland Park’s primate population is also impressive with gorillas, orangutans, siamangs, macaques and more.

Point Defiance has a slightly heavier emphasis on animals from the Northwest and West Coast of the U.S. but does have tigers, elephants and primates too. In fact, Point Defiance's tigers are prolific with usually a couple new tigers born at the zoo each year or so. Because of that, there are usually a few tigers to visit.

Either way you go, you’ll likely not be disappointed in this department by either zoo. The animals at the zoos are slightly different, but also have a lot of overlap.

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Woodland Park Zoo

TripSavvy / Noah Kreyenhagen 

In terms of size, there’s no contest. Woodland Park Zoo spans over an impressive 92 acres with 65 of those dedicated to public space. Point Defiance is much smaller at 29 acres. If what you seek is an expansive zoo, the choice is clear. However, Point Defiance's size can be more manageable if you have small children.

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Woodland Park Zoo

If you’ve got kids or otherwise plan to visit the zoo often, membership is a great way to go. So which zoo offers the better membership deal? Judge for yourself.

Woodland Park Zoo’s regular membership gets you unlimited admission for two named adults, their children, and grandchildren; half price for up to two guests per adult member and five free carousel rides. Or upgrade to the Conservation Partner membership and you'll get four half-price guests per adult member per visit, four free guest passes, four up-close experiences with the animals, and more.

Point Defiance Zoo’s memberships have more flexibility with several levels of membership as well as a partnership with Northwest Trek. Choose the membership that fits your family size and you’ll get: free admission, discounts on camps, 10% off the gift shop, half off Zoolights, 20% off Northwest Trek, a free newsletter, and discounts for extra guests.

You can also get a zoo/Northwest Trek combo membership. You’ll get all the same benefits as zoo membership, but you’ll get them at both Northwest Trek and Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

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Camps and Programs for Kids

Seattle Zoo Camp
Rajiv Pillai / EyeEm / Getty Images

Both zoos have programs for everyone from small children to adults so the contest is pretty even in this area.

Woodland Park Zoo has camps for kids during the school year and summer. During the school year, kids can take part in one-day camps or school vacation camps. During the summer, camps operate for kids from 4 to 14 years old, divided into groups by age. The zoo also has child and family classes available for kids as young as tiny babies on up, including classes for home-schooled kids and Parents’ Nights Out, to watch and entertain kids for an evening.

Point Defiance Zoo has an equally varied camp and program lineup. Highlights include summer camps for kids from preschool age to 17, discover nature programs, Zoo Snooze overnights, and adventure camps.

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Holiday Events

WildLights at Woodland Park Zoo

Ryan Hawk

Woodland Park has WildLights. Point Defiance has Zoolights. For these events, both zoos put up Christmas light displays sure to please visitors. While Zoolights has been around for a lot longer, both displays have about 500,000 individual lights each. Both have a mix of seasonal and wildlife exhibits. Both have some animated and many static displays. In short, this point is a draw. Go to the display closer to you and it's sure to be a hit!

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Northwest Trek and Seattle Aquarium

Seattle Aquarium
Design Pics / Jeff Cruz / Getty Images

Perhaps you’ve been to both zoos and are hoping for something new and different. Also worth checking out are the other animal attractions in the area - Seattle Aquarium and Northwest Trek.

The Seattle Aquarium has many of the same types of exhibits as Point Defiance’s aquarium, but is larger and solely an aquarium (no tigers here!).

Northwest Trek is located in rural Pierce County, about a 40-minute drive outside of Tacoma, and is the most unique of the area’s animal parks. Almost all of the animals at the park live in an open area rather than enclosures. Visitors can take a tram ride through the park to see animals living in their natural habitat. Predators, of course, are in enclosures!

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