As the mother of three animal-loving boys, I feel extremely grateful to live near two world-class zoos. Rarely a week goes by without a trip to either the Brookfield or Lincoln Park zoos. (In the interest of full disclosure, we're members at Brookfield, so we visit there more often.) Both are fantastic places for my boys to run around, as well as learn new things every time. Best of all, both are open every day.
Lincoln Park Zoo is a true urban zoo, located right in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, at 2001 N. Clark St. Despite the lack of green space within the zoo, its lakeside location is hard to beat. It's a great spot for a picnic before or after seeing the animals. We have never seen an ape house that can hold a candle to the Regenstein Center for African Apes. From indoors or out, one can get nearly face-to-face with gorillas and chimpanzees. Another must-see stop is the Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House, where the animals are in naturalistic habitats and often mixed together, giving kids a chance to see how a variety of creatures live together in the wild.
Brookfield Zoo, at First Avenue and 31st Street in suburban Brookfield, also has a cool place to see primates in their natural habitats. Tropic World showcases animals from three continents swimming, climbing and running. Unfortunately, the exhibit does not accommodate strollers, and its huge size makes toting a toddler around a chore. But with so many animals and interactive learning carts, my sons have more than enough to see and do.
Despite its unmistakable odor, the Pachyderm House still ranks as a favorite stop. There is no way to illustrate the enormity of an elephant without seeing one with your own eyes. And my sons feel like they've grown up with Kianga, the black rhino born at Brookfield Zoo in 2003.
My family has spent entire mornings in Brookfield's Hamill Family Play Zoo. While there are some animals to see and pet, this children's area is more about learning through imaginative play, pretending to be a zookeeper, a veterinarian or even a bird building a nest. The play zoo does require an additional paid ticket. Given Brookfield's large size and our many stops for keeper chats, we never manage to see the whole zoo in a single visit. I have to prepare my boys in advance that we won't be seeing everything.
I have found that Lincoln Park Zoo is not very stroller friendly. Restrooms are not easily accessible and on weekends or during field trip season, the waits for an elevator or for lunch at the single food court are unbearably long. On the other hand, Lincoln Park Zoo is justifiably proud of being a free attraction. (Although keep in mind that "free" doesn't include parking; the zoo's lot has a $12 fee, and tends to fill up early on summer weekends.)
Brookfield's admission prices are $10 for adults and $6 for children ages 3-11 and for seniors 65 and older.
For more information, call or check the Web sites. Lincoln Park Zoo, (312) 742-2000, www.lpzoo.org. Brookfield Zoo, (708) 485-0263, www.brookfield zoo.org.
365 Open this many days of the year.
10 Dollars admission
0 Dollars admission on Saturdays and Sundays in January and February, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays in January, February, October, November and December.
216 Acres of animals
2,150 Animals on these acres, from the aardvark to the hippopotamus to the white-cheeked gibbon, not to mention the dolphins-and 84 naked mole rats.
1934 Year the zoo opened its gates to human visitors, now numbering nearly... 2,000,000 annually, including... 225,000 schoolchildren.
330,000 Pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by the animals each year, along with
85,000 pounds of meat products, 25,700 night crawlers, 2,650,000 crickets and 2,002,000 mealworms.
30 Miles of meal worms, if laid end to end (as another way of looking at it).
1,500 Cubic yards of manure produced by the animals each year.
4,200 Water valves in the park. And please: Do not feed or tease the water valves.
Lincoln Park Zoo
365 Open this many days of the year.
0 Dollars admission.
35 Acres of animals
1,250 Animals on these acres, from the American avocet to the eyed dabb lizard to the reticulated giraffe.
2 Swans, the first animals in the zoo when it was founded...138 years ago.
3,000,000 Human visitors each year.
100 Glasses of milk a day produced by each of the cows in the Farm-in-the-Zoo.
10 Length, in inches, of the tongue of the Malayan sun bear.
20 Number of feet that the Treetop Climbing Canopy Adventure soars into the air at the Children's Zoo.
5,000 Feet of artificial vines for African Apes to climb.
200 Number of docents, who can tell you everything else you might want to know-and there is a lot to know at the zoo.
Zay N. Smith