Overview - Brookfield Zoo

I'm a huge fan of the Brookfield Zoo, there are some great exhibits and a wide variety of animals to see. You can easily spend a busy day and still have plenty more to see. It is large, so picking the top animals you want to see and mapping things out can save you a fair amount of walking.

My normal plan is to ask each kid to choose one animal they want to see, and we'll spend time at each exhibit (if a child chooses gorillas, for example, we'll take our time going through the entire Tropic World habitat). Depending on timing, I'll add a choice or we'll make a few other stops along the way. With kids old enough to spend the entire day at the zoo, you can repeat that process once or twice more, and by choosing at least a few animals at a time, you can plot out a reasonable path rather than walking back and forth across the zoo constantly.

Brookfield Zoo is large and fairly spread out. If you’re debating bringing a stroller, lean towards bringing it—there are some buildings you can’t bring a stroller into, but many will allow them, and it’s helpful for getting around. If you’d like to ride the Motor Safari tram, though, you need an umbrella stroller that collapses well, or you’ll need to leave the stroller behind and come back to get it.

The size of Brookfield also makes it perfect for parents of kids under 1 year, when it’s really more about the adult getting exercise and entertainment. I remember very distinctly my 7-month-old son being able to see and turn his head to watch a running rhino for the first time; we enjoyed the visits before then, but it was more about fresh air and constant conversation (the zoo is a great place to practice the art of “conversing” with a young kid who’s not old enough to do anything besides babble back).

When it’s rainy, check out the larger indoor habitats—Tropic World and underwater dolphin viewing, in particular, can both entertain for a while—and the Play Zoo. Take advantage of the smaller indoor habitat for giraffes when it’s cold—being up so close to them is one of my favorite Brookfield experiences.

If you’re a frequent visitor of the zoo, I’d encourage you to mix things up by always seeing one new area of the zoo each time. I often give each child the option to choose one animal they’d like to see, and then I choose one as well, mixing in some of the less common but still nice areas. If you haven’t seen them, check out Habitat Africa! The Forest, The Fragile Desert, or Reptiles and Birds. The Living Coast (penguins and fish) and the interior of the Australia House are sometimes missed, even by frequent visitors.

Comparison with Lincoln Park Zoo

The two Chicago-area zoos are both excellent, and similar enough that I recommend choosing based on convenience and cost, rather than exhibits unless there's something specific you're going to see. They both have their strengths, though, and if you go to one a lot, mixing it up with a trip to the other zoo is really fun. Brookfield's advantages are that it feels less crowded, and Wild Encounters and the Play Zoo are unmatched by anything at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Of the two zoos, only Brookfield has dolphins (and due to the smaller pools, you're always very close to the dolphins during underwater viewing, unlike at Shedd Aquarium).