I recently visited Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens (Columbia, SC) for the first time and it blew my mind! Having recently completed a multi-million dollar expansion, it’s quite the place! It’s so much more than just animals , and for that I’m grateful, as I’m someone who struggles a bit with the old-school zoo concept. Fortunately, Riverbanks Zoo isn’t old-school as you’ll soon see.
The newly designed zoo entrance allows crowds of people to visit without feeling crowded. The walkways and viewing areas are spacious, so you don’t feel as if you’re tripping over people the moment you walk through the gates, and the pedestrian bridge to a new parking lot has cut down on much of the traffic congestion.
Sea Lion Landing
This is the crown jewel of the renovations, and it’s one of the first things you see as you enter the park. The sea lions were off display for a long time while this was in the works, and everyone wanted them back badly!
If the habitat looks familiar, it’s because it was modeled after San Francisco’s Pier 39. Visitors can view the sea lions from multiple vantage points, including a large underwater observation area. One very cool item to note is that the sea lion tank water is filtered naturally through a man made marsh behind the habitat. It’s then returned to the tank, and it saves 3 million gallons of water annually. Sustainability is important to Riverbanks Zoo!
We also had the opportunity to see the sea lions working with the staff behind the scenes. One thing I learned that made me feel good is that nowadays the purpose of training is not for entertainment, but rather so that the trainers build a relationship with the animals in order to monitor their health and diet more carefully. Thank you for that! Behind the scenes tours are available to all zoo visitors at an additional cost and should be arranged in advance.
As you leave the sea lion viewing area, take a look at the sculptures. They’ve been created from trash found in nearby rivers and waterways (which is really sad), but it serves as a great reminder that we need to be mindful how profoundly our actions affect the environment.
This. This was my favorite part of the visit! Riverbanks Zoo proudly boasts 70 acres of botanical gardens including the new children’s area (my next point of discussion). I could easily spend an entire afternoon relaxing in the peace and quiet of the gardens. It’s utterly amazing!
Waterfall Junction and Children’s Garden
Along with a brand new water splash and play area, kids can run in a large meado, climb in rabbit holes, play in a treehouse, dig for dino bones or enjoy child-sized playhouses with chalk walls for scribbling masterpieces. A snack bar is located in the area as well.
Don’t forget the animals!
There are over 2000 animals at Riverbanks Zoo! Be sure to wander through the kangaroo walkabout and enjoy the new Grizzly Ridge and Otter Run exhibits — definite highlights for me.
Admission to Waterfall Junction and the botanical gardens is included with zoo admission, so it doesn’t surprise me that zoo memberships have nearly doubled in the last year or two. Riverbanks Zoo is worth a repeat visit and then some.
Visit Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens – Columbia SC
Main Entrance: 500 Wildlife Parkway Columbia, SC 29210
Botanical Gardens Entrance: 1300 Botanical Parkway West Columbia, SC 29169
Hours of Operation (subject to change)
Through October 16, 2016:
9:00am–5:00pm Monday–Friday; 9:00am–6:00pm Saturday–Sunday.
Open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and special closings.
For more information on the Columbia, South Carolina area, visit columbiacvb.com.
Comments & Reviews
Sounds like it’s a great zoo! I have not been out that way, but if I do I will definitely go check out the zoo. I love everything they have in there.
Claudia Krusch says
Love all your pictures! It sounds like a great zoo! My son would love it!
Looks like you guys had a LOT of fun!
Melissa Potvin says
Oh my gosh that place look SO fun! I had to do a double take at the seal housing, those houses look so real. Spoiled little buggers. Adorable.
I would love to visit this zoo if I was ever in the area. The botanical gardens alone would be worth it.
Ann Bacciaglia says
This looks like an amazing place to spend the day. I would love to walk thru the botanical gardens.
Lisa Bristol says
My kids love to go to the zoo. The botanical gardens look beautiful. I will have to check it out the next time I am in the area.
That sounds like an amazing zoo. I have always loved going to zoos. My girls love it as well. If I’m ever in the area, I’d love to check this one out.
Wow Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens looks beautiful! I hope to visit it soon!
What a fun zoo. I love the sculptures- shows people how important it is to keep waterways clean!
Cathi Crismon says
Oh my! Gorgeous gardens!! We ‘re members of the San Diego Zoology Society and love to stroll through the Zoo and Safari Park. WE also take our grandkids every few weeks.
shelly peterson says
What a beautiful place to visit. The sculptures created are a pretty neat idea but sad that kind of stuff is found in waters.
Rana Durham says
Thats a beautiful place to visit. i appreciate you sharing tis article with me.
I was completely unaware of this until I read your review. Will have to add it to my bucket list. The creativity in the sculptures is incredible.
Nancy @ whispered inspirations says
What a cool zoo! I would definitely make a trip out there to visit this zoo!
Aimee Smith says
Wow! What a fun and unique zoo! My kids are zoo junkies, we will have to visit sometime!
Definitely makes me want to head out here on our next road trip!
Jocelyn Cañasa Brown says
Looks like a fun and gorgeous place. I love all the sculptures. And the Botanical gardens would be my fave, too!
Whata lovely spot – looks like it would be wonderful for kids!
Imogen Clegg says
This looks like such a great zoo! The botanical gardens look so pretty!
Wow!!! This place looks and sounds fantastic, what a place to visit! My kids would love it, however we are from the UK but hopefully one day we’ll holiday here!!
Christine Dodd says
This is a fab place for a day out – I’d love to see the botanical gardens
Janet W. says
We aren’t too far of a drive away from here. Looks like a fun place we can visit with my grandsons!
Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says
Oh wow! I have never in my life seen a zoo like this before. It almost looks like a resort with animals instead of zoo. Love it!
Alli Smith says
When the kids were growing up, we visited Riverbanks Zoo often. It’s only an hour from my home and we’ve made so many great memories there. Their Christmas lights are awesome. I haven’t been since the expansion. I’ll have to visit soon and see all the new improvements.
Sarahjane Wood says
What a beautiful place to visit!! I love the arty sculptures and the animals seem happy
Paula Schuck says
My goodness! I know where we’re going on our next vacation to the States! That’s the most amazing zoo I’ve ever seen!
Tania Potter - Soul Sense Coaching says
The sea lion place is the absolute best! What a lovely idea. I also love the trash sculpture, it is such a vivid reminder of what our waste is doing to the world.
I love love LOVE sea lions, they always seem so mischievous and fun!
Jasmine Watts says
Sounds like an beautiful place to visit with family! I will plan to go there very soon!
This is such a great post! Makes me want to make a trip just to go to this zoo.
Rhian Westbury says
Wow this certainly looks way more exciting than most of the zoo’s I’ve been too. Love the sea lion houses x
Liz, that house on the water looks really cool. Haven’t been to SC in a LONG time. Hoping Charleston soon!
What a great zoo and botanical garden! We love going to the zoos here in Chicago and our botanical garden is so beautiful.
You got some good pictures. Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens was so nice. I’d like to go back one day.
Karen Glatt says
This Zoo is just beautiful! I like the Sea Lions-they are so cute. I would be thrilled to spend the day at this zoo! It looks like so much fun.
Heather @ Kraus House Mom says
My family loves to visit different zoos and see all kinds of animals. We have one 3 minutes from our house that we visit often, that’s where we take our after school walks.
Sam | Life As Mrs R says
What a fantastic day out – the trash sculpture really brings it home that we need to take care of our planet doesn’t it x
Stacey Loring says
This is awesome. I’m in the northern part of SC and I haven’t even ventured down to the zoo. I’ve wanted to go since I moved here 9 years ago. I may have to go now.
Stephanie Jeannot says
I think that my nephew would really enjoy visiting a place like this. He is so into animals. He can tell you what animal is what by sound or sight. He is a brilliant 4-year old. Thanks for the info.
Wow, this looks like such a great place for the whole family. My boys would love the children’s area!
tara pittman says
What a cool zoo. I love the sea lions house, I want to live there.
Angela at Daysinbed says
This looks and sounds really great. I’d love to visit a zoo overseas. It looks interesting and I bet my daughter would love it.
Melanie Smith says
That place looks so fun and interesting. Definitely I have to go there with my son.
Janis @MommyBlogExpert says
This zoo looks so unique! I love outdoor art, especially with found objects and these sculptures seem to be worth the trip from California to see.
Heather S-G says
Now this looks like an awesome zoo. And that sea lion tank is amazing! Love the pics you captured…makes me wish I was there.
Nayna Kanabar says
This looks like such a lovely zoo. I love all the open spaces and greenery
Amy Desrosiers says
Wow, this zoo puts others to shame! We have the lamest zoos ever compared to this! Love the sea loin area so much!
Milly Youngman says
I love a day out at the zoo! Your photos are awesome, particularly the botanical gardens ones!
Milly // Mini Adventures
Neely (@Neelykins) says
This looks incredible! I love zoos! So much fun!
That looks so beautiful – and I love that they have a children’s garden there. I love visiting the zoos – more often I enjoy seeing all of the little bits they’ve added and never get to see the animals as much!
This looks like so much fun! I haven’t been to the zoo in ages but now I really want to go!
GiGi Eats says
Holy cool!!!!! LOVE !!
Cindy Ingalls says
Seeing the kangaroo just chilling gave me a laugh. I’ve never been to the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, but if I’m ever in the area I would love to check it out.
Mary Burris says
You’ve shared some great pictures. This looks like it was an amazing adventure!
I love visiting the zoo on my trips! I’ve been to San Diego, Atlanta, Chicago, Tampa, Orlando and Miami zoos and loved it! Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens looks so amazing! I’d love to go there someday! Loved your pictures!
Dana Rodriguez says
We go a few times a year. I live about 10 miles from there and I love visiting. The gardens are my favorite part too. I am so glad you enjoyed it! It is even more enjoyable if you visit when it is not so muggy here.
Amy Jones says
I like this place, the best part about it is that animals look happy and healthy
Phill - Corporate Dad says
Could stare at those creative art pieces for hours. What an amazing find. So much better than a standard zoo.
Marcie W. says
Wow, the Riverbanks Zoo looks like the total package for sure! I love that they make it a point to place a special focus on the environment.
Lisa Favre says
This zoo looks incredible! And what wonderful photographs you captured… this is a place I would definitely visit with my husband.
That looks like so much fun! I love that they use trash found on riverbanks to create sculptures of animals!
Melissa @ Married my sugar daddy says
What a beautiful zoo-I love its focus on the environment and creating habitats that take the considerations of its animal residents to heart! Hope to visit soon!
Jam and Tea Blog says
I love the artwork. It looks like you had a great time and it was a few million well spent!
Jessica Harlow says
I love that this zoo also incorporates a botanical garden! I love seeing the animals but also enjoy checking out the flora!
Elizabeth Lampman says
This sounds like an amazing Zoo. My kids love to go see all the animals and learn about them.
It looks like a really beautiful zoo that families could really enjoy. That’s so neat that they have a behind the scenes program too. I’d definitely pay a little extra for that experience!
Nancy Horn says
What a great zoo! We spend a lot of time at the Bronx Zoo and the Queens Zoo, this may be worth a trip down south.
Lena Burkut says
So pretty. I want to see this for myself – so many gorgeous things!
Chavonne Harvey says
Riverbanks zoo looks like a wonderful place to visit. It’s always fun to watch the sea lions, I’m from San Francisco and we love watching the sea lions at Pier 39. The Botanical gardens are so pretty. Love waterfalls too and of course the sweet animals.
Barbara Chapman says
I take my son to the zoo all the time here in the United States. I really like your photos of the Kangaroos.
The zoo is always a fun place. Every zoo is different so its fun to see them all.
Looks like a great place to visit! We always try to visit the zoo whenever we are visiting somewhere! I will definitely have to check this one out when we are in the area.
Darren Hawbrook says
This looks awesome. I love the sculptures made out of plastic trash. A great way to help the next generation learn and hopefully move away from a throwaway society
Harriet from Toby & Roo says
Oh it looks amazing and the children’s area looks so cool! H x
I’m not sure how I feel about Zoos these days, but I love the statue!
that feeling of being so close to the zoo can give you alot of reason to go visit one. great photos in here and truly i enjoyed reading this through.
Tanya Brannan says
What a fantastic looking zoo. I love how they have made statues from recycled parts – That turtle is amazing. You had great weather for your visit too.
Pamela Gurganus says
Wow! This sounds amazing! I visited there once year ago, but would love to go again and see this expansion! My family would love he sea lions and the gardens! If I’m ever up that way again, I’d definitely stop by.
Michele d says
I love visiting zoos in my area. My children and I find it so educational to learn about them this way. Love your beautiful pictures.
Tiina A says
This sems to be absolutely much more than a typical zoo. We used to visit zoos when kids were small and they found them so fascinating but this one would have been their favourite, I’m more than sure! Love those kangaroos and the house by the pool combination looks great.
Ana De- Jesus says
I love botanical gardens and Riverbank’s gardens are beautiful, I love the waterfall feature so pretty xxx
Wow looks awesome. We love going to the zoo, and having lots of things to do and see at the zoo makes it so much more fun! this looks like a place to visit!
Claudia Blanton says
I love that sea lion landing! What a cool set up! This sounds like one of the most beautiful zoo’s I have seen in a long time. I did enjoy the one in Ashley, North Carolina as well, but even that was not as beautiful. Blessings
This isn’t too far from us. We need to make a visit sometime soon.
Oh my goodness!! This place is absolutely awesome!! I have to plan a trip there! Great photos!
This sounds like such a fun day out for the whole family.
Yolanda @SeeingItTheirWay.com says
This sounds like an amazing Zoo and Garden. Your pictures are beautiful!
Kita Bryant says
Wow, that looks like it was a beautiful and captivating place! I love taking the kids to the zoo, especially nice ones like this!
What a really lovely Zoo and I love that the surroundings are just so stunning too x
This zoo looks really wonderful, I would love to visit a zoo sometime and see all of the cool animals!
This looks like so much fun! I love how cute the seal lions look.
Ivelisse | CarnationDreams.com
Such a fun and interesting place to visit! It looks like you really enjoyed a lot!
Melanie Edjourian says
What a fabulous zoo to visit with so much more to do than many others.
What a nice zoo to visit, I bet my kids would enjoy there so much.
Rose Pingol says
That zoo looks so fascinating. It is not the usual zoo that my grandson usually go to.
Nikki Wayne says
I love the zoo! I can’t believe this one looks amazing. My son will surely love it!
Toni | BoulderLocavore.com says
I’ve been hearing a lot about this Riverbank Zoo. And it seems like a great place to visit! Hope we can get there one time.
Looks like a fun zoo to attend. And the seal habitat sounds amazing. Glad they’re well taken care of.
Sheena Tatum says
This looked like it was a gorgeous place to experience! Wish I could stop by and experience it sometime soon with the kids!
Wow, they did go all out. Everything looks great, and hurrah for the splash areas for the kids. Those are great when it’s HOT outside!
I love visiting zoos and, so far, have visited a few in a few states. There is so much to learn there about wildlife and animal life.
Bonnie @wemake7 says
I’ve only been to a couple of zoos in my life but would love to visit more. This one looks really fun to go to.
That looks like such a wonderful adventure! We love animals, and seeing how much there is to offer with the gardens also makes it a great family outing.
Rebecca Swenor says
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens is a gorgeous place to visit. It would make for a great family day for sure. I would love to visit here some day and I love the Sea Lions Landing. Thanks for sharing your awesome experience.
Chelley @ A is For Adelaide says
This looks like an amazing zoo! I love how all across the country more and more zoos are adding other attractions for families to enjoy!
Sounds like a wonderful place to visit – will have to keep it in mind if I am ever local!
Elizabeth O. says
Awesome! There’s simply nothing like it! It’s really beautiful out here and it would be nice to spend a day there with the family just to relax and enjoy what the zoo has to offer.
Zoe IKIWN says
This looks like a lovely place for a day out.
The sculpture made out of the trash that goes into the ocean is very effective and really gives some pause for thought. x
Annemarie LeBlanc says
I agree with you. We must take care of our environment and avoid these senseless dumping of garbage into our oceans. Those sculptures are reminders that these materials may endanger marine life.
Autumn Reo says
I’d love to take the kids here. I wish it wasn’t so far but perhaps we can go in the future. Your photos are beautiful!
Claudia Krusch says
Such a beautiful place! Loved your pictures!
The London Mum says
What an amazing zoo!! I love the fact they have a splash park there too. x
Annie B says
What wonderful photos. I used to love trips like this. Never been here but by the sounds of things would like this.
Amanda Love says
It’s such a lovely place and I’m sure the whole family will have a blast when you take them here! I love the botanical gardens as well! Everything is perfect for a day of quality time with the kids!
LIZ!! I wish I’d known you visited Riverbanks zoo! I’m about 2 hours away from it! We need to go back since the upgrade!!
Terri Beavers says
It’s sad that so much trash is in the rivers and such, people are so thoughtless. I love the sculptures they have created with the trash. The zoo looks like a wonderful place for animals to live.
Annemarie LeBlanc says
This is a great zoo to visit. It is nice to know that the trainers try to build a relationship with the animals to monitor their health and diet. I have a friend who lives in SC. I will ask if they’ve been here. If not, then they should. Awesome place for an entire family to visit!
jennifer L says
Omg what a fabulous place. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited a zoo but its always great to see the animals.
Amy Deverson says
Wow this place looks amazing, I’d love to go there!!
This looks awesome! I would love to visit this zoo and check out those kangaroos!
Sounds like a great zoo. I am not into zoos but gardens are my happy place 😉
Tiffany Hathorn says
Now THIS is a zoo. The one have here in Little Rock absolutely pales in comparison. I’d love to be able to take my son to this one.
Mhaan A says
This sounds like a great place to visit with the whole family. Kids can learn too!
Mhaan | http://www.mommyrockininstyle.com
What an amazing zoo! I would love to go here.
Lubka Henry says
Wow, very nice place! It’s really good when a zoo can get an investment and expand its own facilities!!
Lisa Rios says
I usually love visiting Zoos with my kids during summer as that is a great learning experience for them with some fun all around. The Riverbanks Zoo looks amazing & I am in love that Sea Lion, the beauty of that Botanical Garden and all those cute animals as well!
Melissa Llado says
Oh my gracious… this zoo looks amazing! What a fabulous place to take the family.
noelle d says
That is the zoo???
Wow, I want to go! Time to plan a vacation there!
Love to visit in this kind of places withfamily and even friends. Its entertaining and at the same time educational as well.
I really love this zoo and need to go back up there so I can do a review for Tails of the Lowcountry!