Hamill Family Play Zoo at Brookfield Zoo

When we have special “family fun days,” we constantly debate between two places to spend our day: a zoo or a museum. Luckily, at Brookfield Zoo, we don’t have this problem. That’s because of the amazingly interactive and educational Hamill Family Play Zoo. It combines two of our favorite things—the zoo and a museum all in one! So what makes the Hamill Family Play Zoo so fantastic?

Unique Indoor Fun

Well, first of all, let’s talk logistics. In Chicago, there are unfortunately more days to hide from the elements (whether it is freezing, snowing, raining, or blazingly hot) than not, so the play zoo provides indoor fun in a fun and unique environment. Yes, I know there are awesome play spaces such as as these amazing indoor play spaces, but sometimes we are looking for something just a little bit DIFFERENT.

With the theme of appreciating nature and animals running throughout all of its exhibits, the Hamill Family Play Zoo is a great place to get your little ones acclimated to animals on a smaller scale than what you come across in the larger zoo attractions.  There is also a great family bathroom and nursing room for all zoo patrons to take advantage of, free of charge.

The Exhibits

For example, there is always at least one animal on display for kids to pet, talk to, feed, and learn about. You see this little furball? He was a hit with his audience and was soaking up all of the attention. When they took out a snake for “show and tell,” most of us moms went running in the opposite direction!

Another great exhibit to see animals up close and personal is in the “Lemur Leap” space. There are floor to ceiling glass walls separating you from these adorable creatures, so your little one can truly get eye to eye with the active lemurs.

If your little one is more interested in the stuffed variety of animals, there is the Animal Hospital exhibit, where little ones can role play, using real veterinary tools and supplies, such as authentic animal x rays.

There is even an exhibit devoted to helping you bring the zoo into your home. In this faux house, there are displays of pets that are great for homes, such as fish, gerbils, bunnies, birds, etc. During our visit there was even a cat to cuddle with. Many kiddos used this as a ploy to try and get a furry friend for home, so be prepared, parents!

The exhibit that we spend the most time in is the greenhouse. In this warm and lush space, there are plants EVERYWHERE. The best part? Kids can use spray bottles to help keep the plants watered. While some older kids might go a little crazy spraying each other instead of the plants, it is a huge hit with the toddler set. Just be sure to bring an extra change of clothes just in case they get soaked.

There are also nature themed blocks and sensory toys to play with if all of the water bottles are taken, ensuring fun for everyone.

After reading about all of these exhibits, don’t worry that babies are left out. There is a space designed especially for those who aren’t mobile yet or are crawling. This safe and creative space allows them to interact with wonderful animals and nature themed toys, ensuring that they will be zoo lovers as well.

Finally, a trip to the Hamill Family Play Zoo isn’t complete without hanging out in the giant tree! Not only are there tunnels to go through to find different animals and insects that live in trees, but there are also fun interactive and educational activities set up. My boys had a blast using the face paint to decorate themselves as their favorite animals. Apparently, this is what a red dolphin looks like.

There is also a great outdoor playground for your kids to use as part of the Hamill Family Play Zoo. Lots of the structures are made out of natural products, so it is a great way for your kids to see recycling in action.


If you are a Brookfield Zoo member, admission to the Hamill Family Play Zoo is either free or discounted. If you are a “basic level” member, your admission is half price, but if you are a “plus” or “unlimited” level member, admission is free.  I HIGHLY encourage you to get a membership to get discounts on food and all other zoo purchases, as well as cover the cost of your regular admission, parking, and some special attractions.

Like I said before, it is a great place to spend a gross day, so you could even spend the entire day just at the Hamill Family Play Zoo (the zoo is open 365 days a year, by the way).

For information on pricing, check out this page.

Looking for other ways to appreciate nature? Simply search “nature centers” or “zoo” in the side bar.

Have fun!
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  1. Raquel says

    Looks like a wonderful play zoo! Nice that they are open every day too! Such a great place for kids to learn and play if the weather isn’t cooperating.

  2. Terri Ramsey Beavers says

    What an amazing play zoo. I wish we had an indoor zoo for bad weather days like today. We are all wanting to get out but there’s nowhere fun like this around here so the storm is keeping us inside. I really love all of your photos and I’m thrilled you shared them so the kids can see them. If I ever make it your way, I’ll head to the play zoo at Brookfield Zoo.

  3. Megan Elford says

    I’ve never heard of such an interactive zoo like this one, but it sounds amazing! I bet my kids would have such a blast. I love having indoor places like this in mind to visit for when the weather isn’t so great outside.

  4. Cynthia L says

    Wow, this sounds like a great place to go! We have always loved going to the zoo. We move a lot and when we get settled, the first thing we do is find the closest zoo! Looks like everyone had fun.

  5. Danielle K says

    This looks like a fantastic zoo. My son loves going to zoos and any time we’re in a new area we like to check out the zoo for him. If we’re ever there, we’ll definitely be stopping at that one.

    • amandasimkin says

      It is one of their favorite places to go. Thankfully with our membership we can go anytime we want for one flat fee!

  6. Geanine says

    With the weather we are experiencing here in New York I wish this indoor play zoo was closer. The Brookfield Zoo looks like the perfect place to meet friends for a playdate, or birthday party!

    • amandasimkin says

      Yes, it is a great way to avoid the bad weather, which Chicago seems to have a ton of, just like NY!

  7. Erin Kennedy says

    My husband and I love the zoo! It is so fun and we love animals. I have been meaning to get to Chicago because my husband has never been and I love that town. We we will have to hit up this zoo for sure!

    • amandasimkin says

      There is actually a free zoo right in the middle of Chicago called the Lincoln Park Zoo…start planning your trip!

  8. Roselynn says

    Going to the zoo has been one of my favorite things of all time. I wish we had a zoo near us that would be even half as enriching and fun for the kids. I like the fact that they have discounted or free admissions because with more than one child I can imagine fun little trips like this being very expensive.

  9. Danielle says

    Such a fun place for the entire family. We love the zoo and interactive museums and play spaces so the combination of the two must be phenomenal.

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