Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make hay while the sun shines. This is the unofficial motto of Chicago families. From the first warm day of spring to the last glorious day of Indian summer, we practically live at our outdoor institutions. It is as if we are trying to pack a whole year's worth of visits into four months. But is that really necessary?
Why can't you take your kids to the zoo or the Botanic Garden or Millennium Park during winter? In fact, you can.
There is a particular charm to visiting a beloved outdoor spot in the cold weather months. Without the crowds and in the thin, gray February light, familiar outdoor landmarks-many of which have at least some indoor component-reveal a new side.
Emily Paster is an attorney and freelance writer who blogs at westoftheloop.com. She lives with her husband and two kids in River Forest.
Brookfield Zoo may seem like a warm-weather destination, but it is open 365 days a year. And winter is not a bad time to visit. Most of the zoo's animals live indoors, and while the walks from building to building can feel a little longer on freezing days, there are plenty of great spaces in which to warm up and learn about animals and conservation.
One of the largest buildings is Tropic World, which has three different tropical settings from South America, Asia and Africa. While a range of primates, including gorillas, is the star attraction, the habitats are large and feature many other tropical animals. Right next door is the Swamp, which has two alligators, some active turtles and a frisky river otter that children love to watch. The Hamill Family Play Zoo, which offers do-it-yourself face painting and other activities to give children a hands-on experience, is nearby as well.
While these three enclosures in the south central part of the zoo are favorites, the west side also has a lot of great indoor spots, including Habitat Africa! The Savannah, where the giraffes spend the winter, and The Living Coast with its underwater exhibits and penguins. Near the north entrance are the pachyderms and Australia House (which you should only visit if you are comfortable around free-flying bats), and in the northeast are the small but worthwhile Fragile Desert and Fragile Rain Forest exhibits, both home to many unusual animals.
If your kids are familiar with Brookfield Zoo, you may want to warn them in advance that the carousel is closed in winter. But not having to fight the summer crowds or search for a parking spot is a plus. Admission and parking are pricey, so if you think that you will visit the Brookfield Zoo more than once in the coming year, invest in a membership.