One of the city's treasures, this family-friendly attraction is not only open 365 days a year, but it's also free. Even if you don't have time for a complete tour of the various habitats, it's worth at least a quick stop during a stroll through Lincoln Park. The term "zoological gardens" truly fits here: Landmark Georgian Revival brick buildings and modern structures sit among gently rolling pathways, verdant lawns, and a kaleidoscopic profusion of flower gardens. The late Marlon Perkins, legendary host of the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom TV series, got his start here as the zoo's director, and filmed a pioneering TV show called Zoo Parade (Wild Kingdom's predecessor) in the basement of the old Reptile House.
My favorite exhibit is the Regenstein African Journey, a series of linked indoor and outdoor habitats that's home to elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and other large mammals; large glass-enclosed tanks allow visitors to go face-to-face with swimming pygmy hippos and (not for the faint of heart) a rocky ledge filled with Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
Your second stop should be the Regenstein Center for African Apes. Lincoln Park Zoo has had remarkable success breeding gorillas and chimpanzees, and watching these ape families interact can be mesmerizing (and touching). One caveat: I've found the building incredibly noisy during weekend visits, so be prepared.
Other exhibits worth a visit are the Small Mammal-Reptile House, which features a glass-enclosed walk-through ecosystem simulating river, savanna, and forest habitats, and the popular Sea Lion Pool in the center of the zoo, which is home to harbor seals, gray seals, and California sea lions (walk down the ramp and take a look at the underwater viewing area). If you're here for a while and need nourishment, there's an indoor food court as well as the Big Cats Café, located on a terrace above the gift shop. Allow 3 hours.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2010
- visit website
- tel: 312/742-2000
- 2200 N. Cannon Dr
- At Fullerton Pkwy
- Chicago, IL 60611
- Buildings daily 10am-5pm (Memorial Day-Labor Day until 6:30pm Sat-Sun). Grounds Memorial Day-Labor Day daily 9am-7pm; Apr-late May and early Sept-Oct daily 9am-6pm; Nov-Mar daily 9am-5pm
- No Sweat