Located in the heart of Chicago, this urban zoo has a wide variety of animals and, best of all, it’s FREE
By pulling up the zoo map, Lincoln Park Zoo may seem like any other zoo. Giraffes, check. Zebras, check. Farm animals, check. But when you’re planning a trip to this zoo located just moments from the heart of downtown Chicago, you’ll find it is anything but average.
Note: Due to COVID-19, some public attractions may be closed or operating under restrictions. Please check the website or social media for Lincoln Park Zoo before planning your trip, and be aware of any safety protocols or travel restrictions currently in effect.
10 Things to Know about Visiting Lincoln Park Zoo
- The zoo is free! Say what?! We think you’ll love the admission price here because it is totally free. Now, if you’re driving into the city (which most of us from outside Chicago are), you’re going to pay a bit for parking in the lots surrounding the zoo (upwards of $20, typically). Lincoln Park Zoo is located just outside of downtown Chicago and footsteps away from North Avenue Beach, making it challenging to get a deal on parking. However, you can drive the streets around the zoo and see if you’re lucky enough to snag a metered spot and save that way. Taking the Amtrak to this part of Chicagoland isn’t terribly convenient; while you could take the Amtrak and switch to public transportation once you’re up there, that sounds pretty complicated with kids in tow.
- Bring your walking shoes. The actual zoo area is pretty easy to navigate and boasts plenty to see. But you’re going to want those walking shoes/wagons/strollers to make the trek down the nature boardwalk, over the pedestrian bridge with the perfect view of downtown Chicago (grab your camera!) and over to Farm-in-the-Zoo. That’s when you’re going to feel like you’re going for a hike!
- Farm-in-the-Zoo is a hidden gem. So many people skip out on this area since it’s removed from the main zoo, but we encourage you not to. It combines a large number of farm animals you can get close to with educational, interactive displays inside to help you learn about life on the farm. This space is geared toward toddlers and young children but we’re certain older siblings and kids of all ages will enjoy their visit to the farm.
- Bears and big cats call Lincoln Park Zoo home, so don’t miss them. The way the zoo is set up, you’ll have to do a bit of walking and winding to find all the animals but your kids will love searching them down. Just make sure you have those wagons and strollers for the littles.
- The Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo is an absolute blast! Kids love climbing through the many climbing structures and you’ll also be able to experience a number of hands-on activities both inside and outside the building. Beavers, turtles, owls and more call the area around the Children’s Zoo home.
- If nature is your jam, you’ll find tons of it right in the heart of the city. The “nature boardwalk” we already mentioned is beautiful and many of the exhibits have a nature-y feel to them. Crave even more nature? Walk over to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum just across the way from the zoo and get your fill of butterflies, plants and more. Note: the Nature Museum is closed during COVID-19.
- You’ll find accessibility for all at Lincoln Park Zoo. Yes, we know all attractions and zoos must be ADA compliant as part of their design, but Lincoln Park Zoo really goes the extra mile in terms of accessibility for people of all ages and abilities. You can ride a wheelchair (or push a stroller) right up to the windows that reach to the floor to see the gorillas up close. There are quiet areas and even sensory rooms throughout the zoo for those that could benefit from visiting that space. There are even some free parking spots reserved for visitors with disabilities.
- The seal pool is our favorite. Before you leave (or when you first arrive), make sure you visit the seal pool. Above ground and underground options to watch them do their thing are available and there are many educational sessions every day that zoo trainers conduct for visitors. You won’t be able to miss the seal pool on your way in and out so make the time to stop and enjoy it on both levels.
- Dining at the zoo is a thing and goes beyond your basic concessions. Yes, you’ll find concession areas throughout the zoo seasonally, but if you want to nosh on some small plates on the Nature Boardwalk while overlooking views of the Chicago skyline, you can do that. The Patio at Cafe Brauer has vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options (you won’t find GF items on the menu but can request) and they even do brunch. A city brunch AND a zoo visit makes this quite the city-filled day.
- North Avenue Beach is a hop, skip and a jump away. A one-mile walk over a bridge between the two connects you from an urban jungle oasis to a world that will make you feel as if you’ve escaped to the ocean! Pairing a Lincoln Park Zoo visit with a visit to North Avenue Beach is a way to combine two (free) destinations into one convenient trip (requiring one parking place). You can swim at North Avenue Beach, or just enjoy the watery scenery for a picnic if you desire. The lakefront is a beautiful place to spend a summer day and you’re right there when you go to Lincoln Park Zoo.
Want to stay overnight?
Note: AirBnB links are affiliate links, and chambanamoms.com earns commission on bookings through those links.
- This 2 bedroom, 2-bath AirBnB apartment is within walking distance of the Lincoln Park Zoo and the El. This has a high chair and a crib available. Free street parking. Rents for about $200/night (before fees).
- This Roscoe Village apartment is further away from the zoo, but in a great family-friendly neighborhood and offers more space – including three bedrooms. Rents for about $200/night (before fees).
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