Seneca Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is located on the border of the City of Rochester and the Town of Irondequoit, along the Genesee River. The park was opened in 1893, and animals started being displayed in 1894. The first major addition to the Zoo was the Main Zoo Building in 1931. The building was home to a wide variety of animals in cages.
The Seneca Park Zoo Society was chartered as an educational institution by New York State in 1957. Since that time, the Society has evolved into a non-profit organization that supports and promotes the Zoo by running educational programs, special events, marketing and public relations efforts, fundraising and food and gift operations. The Society offers memberships that are very popular with area families.
In 1975, a polar bear grotto was opened to house the Zoo's two polar bears (Penny and Nickels), who had been acquired using pennies and nickels collected by local school children. In 1993, the Zoo opened the $2 million Genesee Trail and Discovery Center—its first landscape immersion exhibit. This was followed in 1997 by the $8.2 million Rocky Coasts exhibit.
On May 17, 2012, the Zoo opened A Step Into Africa, which was designed to replicate a portion of the NgoroNgoro Crater in Tanzania.