We love the Lincoln Park Zoo. It's educational, it's fun and...it's free! Founded in 1868, it's one of the oldest zoos in the U.S., a 35-acre space located in the heart of a charming city park. As a Chicago mom with two kids, ages 3 and 12, I can't even tell you how many times I've visited our beloved zoo. Some months we even average two visits per week! Here is our family-tested guide to the best of Lincoln Park Zoo.
One of the best free indoor playgrounds in the city is located in the Pritzker Family Children's Zoo. Take a walk in the woods where you'll find North American creatures out and about, then head into the main children's zoo building where kids can climb a giant tree-like sculpture that will take them up into the treetop canopy of a forest - one of the best indoor playspaces in the city. My kids also love to check in with the playful beavers and otters and watch them swim around their natural habitats.
I can't even tell you how much money I've spent on the Mini Zoo Train (located just across from the sea lion habitat) and the Endangered Species Carousel, which features over 48 artisan crafted wooden animals. My kids never tire of spinning round and round on their two rides. You can pre-purchase a pack of 20 Carousel tickets for $1.75 each here.
Throughout the year, the Lincoln Park Zoo plays host to an exciting array of educational programs, from sleepovers with the animals to twilight safaris. Try to plan your visit to coincide with one of the many interesting hands-on learning adventures for kids and families. For the complete program list, click here.
The Patio at Cafe Brauer offers one of the most scenic dining spots in Chicago, overlooking the zoo pond with the city skyline in the distance. You'll find burgers, hotdogs, salads and flatbread pizzas. We tend to hit the Cafe for the view and an ice cream, after having a picnic lunch of our own in adjacent Lincoln Park. The Patio at Cafe Brauer also has a breakfast menu, a great option for families looking to beat the summer crowds and heat with an early morning visit.
The Green City Market, held every Wednesday and Saturday morning, is located just outside the Farm-in-the-Zoo. Stop by to pick up tasty and organic picnic provisions, or purchase lunch from one of the onsite restaurateurs - try to catch a chef demo while you're there.
Meet the Animals
Enjoy a little bit of country in the middle of the city at the Farm-in-the-Zoo, where you can visit with all of Old MacDonald's friends. You can pet the goats, experience the egg "hatching out" process, and watch as a cow is milked. Once you've swept through there, walk amongst bears, tigers, and gorillas on the zoo's grounds.
Throughout the summer, every Tuesday at 10 a.m., kids ages 2-5 and their parents are invited to practice yoga at the zoo's Nature Boardwalk. Twist like a snake, stand like a sand crane, and salute the sun with the animals at this fun and meditative class. For more info, click here.
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