Home blog Hawaii Travel The Honolulu Zoo: A Unique Tropical Oasis in the Heart of Honolulu

The Honolulu Zoo: A Unique Tropical Oasis in the Heart of Honolulu

The Honolulu Zoo: A Unique Tropical Oasis in the Heart of Honolulu

Nestled between the iconic landscapes of Waikiki and Diamond Head, the Honolulu Zoo stands out as a mesmerizing tropical oasis amidst the bustling heart of Honolulu.

As the largest zoo in Hawaii with over 1,230 animals across 42 acres, it provides a one-of-a-kind wildlife experience in the islands.

With roots tracing back to a royal land grant in 1876, though not specifically for a zoo, it has a unique history unlike any other zoo in the country.

Drawing 400,000-500,000 visitors per year according to recent data, this beloved attraction continues to be a top destination for both tourists and locals seeking to admire exotic species against the backdrop of Oahu’s natural beauty

The Honolulu Zoo – Key Ideas

Unique Location The Honolulu Zoo is situated between Waikiki and Diamond Head, making it a tropical oasis in the city.
Historical Significance Established in 1877 by King Kalākaua, it’s the only U.S. zoo originating from a monarch’s royal lands.
Diverse Animal Collection The zoo is home to over 1,230 animals, covering various regions of the world.
Zoo Zones & Exhibits The zoo is organized into distinct zones, such as the African Savanna and Asian & American Tropical Forest, making navigation and exploration systematic.
Conservation Efforts Beyond being a tourist attraction, the zoo plays a vital role in the conservation of endangered species through breeding programs and education.
Interactive Elements Visitors can engage with animals through activities like the lorikeet feeding station and the giraffe feeding platform.
Operational Timings & Pricing Open daily from 10am to 4pm, the zoo offers an affordable experience with prices at $21 for adults and $13 for kids.
Special Events The zoo regularly hosts events like Twilight Tours and Summer Nights to provide unique experiences for visitors.
Visitor Tips It’s recommended to plan ahead, dress comfortably, engage with staff, and consider guided tours for a comprehensive experience.
Post-Visit Engagement Visitors are encouraged to follow the zoo on social media, share their experiences, and provide feedback.


  • The origins of the zoo trace back to 1876, with King Kalākaua dedicating a segment of the expansive 300-acre Kapiolani Park.
  • Initially, it served as an aviary, displaying the King’s prized bird collection.
  • Evolution of the zoo saw animals being added in 1914 by the park’s inaugural director.
  • It was in 1947 when it officially received the moniker “Honolulu Zoo,” with its present 42-acre structure chalked out in the 1984 master plan.

Animals & Exhibits:

  • Over 1,230 animals call the Honolulu Zoo home, making it a treasure trove of wildlife.
  • Divided meticulously into zones such as:
    • African Savanna – Home to majestic giraffes, lions, rhinos, and more.
    • Asian & American Tropical Forests – Where one can spot fierce tigers, intriguing komodo dragons, and playful monkeys.
    • Pacific Islands – Featuring native marvels like the nene birds and vibrant tree frogs.
  • Special sections include the enchanting bird sanctuary and the Keiki Zoo, a hit among children for its ponies and tortoises.
  • Among the plethora of species, the zoo proudly showcases rarities like komodo dragons, Bali mynahs, pygmy hippos, and the state bird, nene.
  • Conservation stands at the heart of the zoo’s mission, with successful breeding endeavors for endangered beings like the Matschie’s tree kangaroo.

Honolulu Zoo Sun Bear

Honolulu Zoo Sun Bear
Scruffy. (Photo courtesy of City and County of Honolulu)

The Honolulu Zoo’s sun bear exhibit lets visitors observe a unique reunion and learn about an endangered tropical bear species native to Asia. Scruffy and Blackie serve as animal ambassadors highlighting the need for sun bear conservation.

Key facts about the sun bears at the Honolulu Zoo:

  • The Honolulu Zoo is home to two Malayan sun bears – a male named Blackie and a female named Scruffy.
  • Blackie arrived at the zoo in November 2008. He previously lived with Scruffy at the Cleveland Zoo for a period of time over a decade ago.
  • Scruffy arrived at the Honolulu Zoo in November 2022 from the Cleveland Zoo. She is about 30 years old and weighs around 73 pounds.
  • Scruffy and Blackie were reunited at the Honolulu Zoo after over 10 years apart. The reunion video shows them greeting each other through the gate.
  • Although the bears know each other, they have not been identified as a breeding pair due to their advanced age.
  • Sun bears are the smallest bear species and are native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. They are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
  • At the Honolulu Zoo, visitors can see Scruffy and Blackie in the sun bear exhibit located at the base of Diamond Head next to the butterfly wall.

Honolulu Zoo Komodo Dragon

Honolulu Zoo Komodo Dragon
Photo by Mario Pineda

The Honolulu Zoo’s Komodo dragon exhibit provides a rare chance to see one of the largest and most powerful lizards on Earth. Doc and T.W. serve as animal ambassadors for their vulnerable wild counterparts.

Key facts about the Komodo dragon at the Honolulu Zoo:

  • The Honolulu Zoo is home to two Komodo dragons named Doc and T.W. They arrived at the zoo in 1993 and were some of the first dragons hatched at the National Zoo breeding program.
  • At over 30 years old, Doc is one of the oldest Komodo dragons living in captivity in the United States. The zoo celebrated his 31st birthday in September 2022.
  • Komodo dragons are the largest living species of lizard and can grow up to 10 feet long. They are native to several Indonesian islands.
  • The Komodo exhibit lets visitors safely observe the dragons up close. Komodos are apex predators with serrated teeth and venomous bites.
  • In the wild, Komodos are generally solitary and territorial. At the Honolulu Zoo, Doc and T.W. are kept separately due to their solitary nature.
  • Komodos are carnivorous and can eat very large prey like pigs and deer. The zoo dragons are fed rats.
  • Komodo dragons are classified as vulnerable to extinction. Zoos like Honolulu help educate visitors about protecting this iconic lizard.

Visitor Experience:

  • The zoo operates daily from 10am to 4pm, making it an ideal day outing.
  • Admission fees are set at $21 for adults and $13 for kids aged 3-12, ensuring an affordable experience.
  • With a nominal parking charge of $1.50/hour, and easy accessibility via the Waikiki Trolley, the zoo is effortlessly reachable.
  • Beyond the daily visual treats, the Honolulu Zoo also rolls out special events:
    • Twilight Tours offer insights into animals’ bedtime routines.
    • Summer Nights engulf visitors in local music vibes, delicious food, and enticing prizes.
    • Snooze at the Zoo is an overnight camping escapade for the adventurous souls.

Why Visit The Honolulu Zoo?

  1. Unique History: The only zoo in the U.S. established from a monarch’s royal lands.
  2. Exotic Animals: Home to over 1,230 animals, including rare species like the komodo dragon and the nene (Hawaiian goose).
  3. Conservation Efforts: From breeding endangered species to educating the public, the zoo plays a pivotal role in wildlife protection.
The Honolulu Zoo Map
The Honolulu Zoo Map

Download High Resolution Map

Before Your Visit

  1. Plan Ahead: Check the zoo’s calendar for special events like twilight tours or summer nights. These events offer unique experiences and can be a highlight of your visit.
  2. Dress Appropriately: Wear comfortable shoes for walking, and don’t forget sun protection – a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are must-haves in the tropical climate.
  3. Pack Essentials: Bring along a refillable water bottle, snacks, and a camera to capture memories.

During Your Visit

  1. Start Early: Mornings at the zoo are less crowded and cooler, making it the best time to watch the animals when they’re most active.
  2. Follow a Route: The zoo is divided into zones – African Savanna, Asian & American Tropical Forest, and Pacific Islands. Following a route ensures you don’t miss out on any exhibits.
  3. Interactive Elements: Engage with interactive spots like the lorikeet feeding station and the giraffe feeding platform.
  4. Keiki Zoo: If visiting with children, the Keiki Zoo offers hands-on experiences with a petting area and wildlife encounters.
  5. Rest & Rehydrate: There are designated resting spots and eateries. Stay hydrated and take breaks when needed.
  6. Engage with Staff: The staff is knowledgeable and often shares fascinating insights about the animals.

Honolulu Zoo Playground

The Honolulu Zoo playground is a fun and educational play area located within the Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii. This jungle-themed playground is a great place for kids to burn off energy and get some exercise while parents explore the zoo.

Playground Features

The centerpiece of the playground is the Kompan Explorer Dome, an enclosed play structure with climbing areas, slides, and tunnels. The dome’s design fits with the zoo’s jungle theme and blends in with the surrounding monkey pod trees. Other playground features include:

  • Swings, climbing structures, and balance beams for ages 2-5
  • Slides, rope bridges, and climbing walls for ages 5-12
  • Picnic tables and benches for taking a break
  • Bathrooms and handwashing stations nearby

The equipment is designed to encourage active play and develop children’s muscles and coordination. The playground has structures suitable for both younger and older kids.

Playground Location

The Honolulu Zoo playground is conveniently located right next to the zoo’s entrance on Kapahulu Avenue. It sits between the zoo and the adjacent Waikiki Shell parking lot. The playground is right across from the zoo’s Kapahulu Market dining area, making it easy for families to grab food and take it to the picnic tables.

Parking in the zoo lot is $1.50 per hour. However, the Waikiki Shell parking lot offers free parking. There are also free and metered street parking options along Kalakaua Avenue.

Playground Hours and Rules

The playground is open daily from 10am to 4pm, the same hours as the zoo. Usage tends to peak from 10:30am to noon when school groups often stop for lunch. Early morning and afternoon tend to be less crowded.

Basic rules help maintain a safe and clean environment:

  • No food inside the play structures
  • No rough play
  • Children must be supervised
  • Shoes must be worn
  • Take turns on equipment
  • Place trash in bins

The Honolulu Zoo playground is a shaded oasis offering fun for kids right next to the zoo. With equipment for all ages and convenient amenities nearby, it’s easy to see why this playground is a popular spot for both tourists and locals!

Tips & Tricks for a Memorable Experience

  1. Discounts: Check if you qualify for any discounts. Kamaʻaina and military personnel often receive discounted rates.
  2. Guided Tours: Consider opting for a guided tour. It offers a more in-depth understanding of the zoo’s history, animals, and conservation efforts.
  3. Transport: If you aren’t driving, the Waikiki Trolley is a convenient way to reach the zoo. It’s both efficient and eco-friendly.
  4. Gift Shop: Before you leave, drop by the gift shop. It’s a perfect place to pick up souvenirs or educational materials.
  5. Feedback: The zoo values visitor feedback. If you have suggestions or compliments, don’t hesitate to share them.

Honolulu Zoo Rules

The key rules help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both visitors and the animals at the Honolulu Zoo. By being respectful and responsible, you can do your part to protect this special habitat. Let a staff member know if you have any questions.

Key rules and policies for visitors at the Honolulu Zoo:

  • Be respectful of the animals. Do not yell, throw objects, or tap on exhibits.
  • Stay on designated paths and do not enter animal enclosures. Climbing on fences, railings, and trees is prohibited.
  • Feeding the animals is strictly prohibited, as their specialized diets could be harmful.
  • Certain items are not allowed in the zoo such as balloons, bicycles, skateboards, loud radios, and pets.
  • Smoking and vaping is prohibited.
  • Shirts and footwear must be worn at all times.
  • For safety, children must be supervised at all times.
  • Harassment or teasing of animals is not tolerated.
  • Report any injuries, hazards, or policy violations to zoo staff.
  • Follow all posted signs and staff instructions.

After Your Visit

Stay Connected: Follow the Honolulu Zoo on social media to stay updated on upcoming events, new arrivals, or any special announcements.
Share Your Experience: Post about your visit on travel forums or social media. It not only helps other potential visitors but also supports the zoo’s outreach.

The Honolulu Zoo – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

How much is the entry fee to the Honolulu Zoo?

The entry fee for general admission to the Honolulu Zoo is $21 for adults (13+ years old) and $13 for children (3-12 years old). Infants under 2 years old get in for free. There are discounted rates for kama’aina (local residents) and U.S. military members with valid ID.

How long does it take to walk around the Honolulu Zoo?

It typically takes 1-2 hours to walk around and see all the exhibits at the Honolulu Zoo. The zoo covers 42 acres with over 1,230 animals, so visitors should plan on spending a good part of the day exploring. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

What is special about the Honolulu Zoo?

Some unique facts about the Honolulu Zoo:

  • It is the only zoo in the U.S. established by a monarch’s grant of royal lands to the public. King Kalākaua dedicated the land in 1877.
  • The zoo is located within the historic 300-acre Queen Kapiʻolani Park.
  • It features animals in specially designed habitats representing tropical environments like African Savanna, Asian and American Tropical Forests, and Pacific Islands.

What kind of animals are at the Honolulu Zoo?

The Honolulu Zoo has a wide variety of animals including mammals like elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, primates, big cats, and small animals; birds like flamingos, parrots, and penguins; reptiles like snakes, lizards, and tortoises. Some highlights are the African elephant, black rhino, chimpanzees, gibbons, hippos, lions, and Komodo dragons.

What is the significance of the Honolulu Zoo Society in the United States?

The Honolulu Zoo Society plays a pivotal role in the conservation, education, and outreach activities of the zoo. Being uniquely tied to Hawaiian royalty, it also distinguishes the Honolulu Zoo as a singular institution with a rich historical lineage in the United States.

Where is the Honolulu Zoo located in relation to popular Honolulu spots like Kapiolani Park and Waikiki Beach?

The Honolulu Zoo is conveniently located on the corner of Kapahulu, within the expansive grounds of Queen Kapiolani Park. It’s just a short walk from Waikiki Beach, making it easy for visitors to combine beach activities and a zoo visit in one day.

Is there convenient zoo parking available, and how does it compare to other attractions like the Waikiki Aquarium?

Yes, the Honolulu Zoo offers convenient parking at $1.50 per hour. Similarly, popular attractions like the Waikiki Aquarium also provide parking, but it’s always a good idea to arrive early during peak tourist seasons to secure a spot. Alternatively, visitors can use the Waikiki Trolley for hassle-free transportation.

With the zoo’s proximity to Oahu beaches and other Oahu activities, is there a recommended Hawaii travel guide to plan a comprehensive visit to Honolulu, Oahu?

Absolutely! There are numerous Hawaii travel guides available that provide detailed itineraries, including visits to the Honolulu Zoo, Oahu beaches, historical sites, and more. These guides often offer tips, general admission details, and insights into local attractions, helping visitors make the most of their stay in Honolulu, Oahu.

For more information visit the Honolulu Zoo website!

Honolulu Zoo

  • 151 Kapahulu Ave.
  • (808) 971-7171


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