Back before we had kids, my hubby and I would happily spend beautiful Chicago days at the beach, at baseball games, and very often–outdoor beer gardens. Now that we are isolated in the burbs and feel guilty asking the grandparents to babysit just so we can go to the city and have drinks with friends, we had to find a way to mix our love of a good drink with the joy of spending a fun day with the boys. Where does this uptopia exist? Shockingly, at the zoo! Yes, you CAN stroll around the grounds and gaze at a beautiful giraffe whilst sipping a craft beer! Check out my Brookfield Zoo Insider’s Guide to learn more about how to make the most out of your visit.
But I must admit, it took us a few years of zoo visits with one, and then TWO kiddos to really get the hang of how to master the Brookfield Zoo. So, here is some of our sage advice on how to keep everyone happy, even on the hottest of Chicago summer days…
There are two lots at Brookfield Zoo, the North (huge) and South (not so huge). If you have a zoo membership like we do, always make sure to park in the North lot to use your free parking. If you make a wrong turn and end up at the South gate, you will be charged to park your kid toting SUV, no matter what Zoo membership level you may have.
Before you enter the zoo, there are little vestibules where you can purchase general admission tickets, as well as tickets for special exhibits,such as the dolphin show, sting ray bay, and whatnot.
It makes more sense to buy them here because most of the tickets are for specific times (ie, dolphin show at 1:00) and then you can make your plan of attack and not waste time waiting for your desired show to start.
When you commit to a yearly membership, guest passes and tickets to special shows are included, so crunch the numbers and see if it is the best option for you. But don’t think that you can share your membership with friends and family… they check IDs even within the park when you are getting discounts on food, merchandise, and other attractions…womp womp.
Bring them! Once you pass through the Brookfield gates it is like you are entering kiddie mecca. They are going to want to run EVERYWHERE and see EVERYTHING. And then in an hour they will be whining that they want you to carry them. The paths are long, my friend. Bring a stroller/wagon or whatever you need to cart around your kiddos, as well as all of the stuff you need to keep them happy/quiet/fed/cool/warm/etc.
You can also rent these if you desire from the zoo (some of the strollers are super cool dolphins), just make sure you come early in the day so that there are still some available.
Most exhibits have stroller parking, but if you infant is snoozing in the car seat and you really don’t feel like lugging it around, there is typically enough room for your snap-and-go. The only exhibit you may want to avoid with a stroller is the ape house because of the bumpy and stair ridden terrain. If you are nervous about leaving your stroller unattended, bring along a stroller lock.
Brookfield Zoo is one of those great family and budget friendly places where you can BYOL to the zoo. There are picnic tables and benches located near just about every exhibit, so feel free to roll up your cooler and chow down on some PB&Js.
If you are like us and like to endulge in a treat at the zoo, there are carts everywhere that you can purchase some snacks (popcorn, chips, drinks, ice cream, hot dogs) from. There are also indoor restaurants/food courts you can go to, but they fill up fast.
My recommendation is to eat at an “off” time and instead give your kids snacks while strolling around the park in order to avoid the busy lunch time. Oh, and don’t forget to use your membership card at the lunch counter!
PARKS & FOUNTAINS
As much as my little guys love looking at animals (especially the dolphins and fish), they are OBSESSED with the water fountains (and in the summer–splash pad) at the zoo. There are about four nice water fountains to check out, and when you have had your fill of water, check out the great playgrounds that are set up for the kiddos.
I especially love that the playgrounds are labeled by age, so that you can keep your little ones away from the rough and tumble of the big kids. Once you are just about ready to leave the zoo, surprise your kiddos with one last fun surprise…the Carousel! There typically is not a very long wait and you only have to pay for kids, even if you go on with them. Be sure to save some $ by using your membership discount again.
So I guess that just leaves the stars of the zoo: the animals! They are beautiful and you can get a really great look at them in their habitats while learning all about their habits and routines from informative zoo personnel. And if you’re lucky, you can catch a “zoo talk,” which is an informative Q&A with zoo staff that often leads to a petting zoo experience…score!
The zoo is a great place to celebrate the holidays. We thoroughly enjoyed Breakfast with Santa last winter and are planning on attending some of their other seasonal concerts and meas. Zoo lights is also super popular….so try to go during the week or during an off time…the wait times can be over an hour just to get into the parking lot!
Now that you have read my tips, put on some comfy shoes and sunscreen and get ready for a fun day.
Don’t forget to read my post about the Hammil Family Play Zoo….a day trip in itself for little ones!
Cheers! Looking for another zoo? Enter “zoo” in search box.