Admission to Zoo Atlanta is a little pricey - $20.99; $15.99 for ages 3-11 - but there's a good reason behind the higher ticket price. This zoo is one of only four in the nation that exhibits giant pandas. The facility also offers a wide variety of other wildlife that makes a visit worth the price of admission.
From Charlotte, Atlanta is 240 miles, about 4 1/2 hours, one way.
To see and do
Plan to get there early and head straight for the panda exhibit at the back of the park. The crowds will be lighter in the morning and, more important, it will increase the likelihood of seeing the pandas in their outdoor habitat. Cool, wet bamboo forests at high elevation are the natural environment for them. Once the temperature in Atlanta rises past the mid-60s, pandas normally beat the heat by going to their air-conditioned indoor habitat. Although they can be seen there behind large viewing windows, the glass often fogs over.
Zoo Atlanta is a rather compact facility. Paths among the exhibit areas are easy to walk and are comfortably shaded, and the viewing areas are well positioned to give you good sight lines - assuming the animals are in a cooperative mood and are actually out and about. The compounds for the Sumatran tigers, and Moby, the clouded leopard, are relatively small, increasing the likelihood you will see them up close.
In the World of Reptiles building, check out frogs, snakes, lizards and other cold-blooded critters. The African Plains section has the usual residents - elephants, rhinos, lions, zebras, giraffes, gorillas and monkeys.
Boundless Budgies: A Parakeet Adventure boasts the largest parakeet aviary in the Southeast. For a nominal fee you can try your luck at feeding the birds.