Looking for a fun Chicago Attraction the whole family can enjoy? Look no further than the amazing Brookfield Zoo. This world-renowned zoo is set on 216 acres and has over 2,000 animals to visit. Kids will enjoy seeing everything from lions and monkeys to penguins and the dolphin show. Each season brings great special events like the Brookfield Zoo Summer Nights and the Brookfield Zoo Lights during the holidays. With so many things to do at the Brookfield Zoo, it’s hard to know where to start. Use this helpful guide to figure out all the tips you need to have a great day out at the Brookfield Zoo!
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Brookfield Zoo Tips for Families
There is a south and north parking lot for the zoo. The North parking lot is much bigger and easier to get to so I would suggest this lot. There is a fee for parking at the zoo. At the time of writing, this it was $14.00 per car.
North Parking Lot (Golfview Road)
GPS Address: 8400 31st Street, Brookfield, IL 60513
Once in the parking lot, I suggest going straight back and then left into the southwest corner. This is usually less crowded and is closer to the entrance.
The downside to parking in the North lot is that it is a longer walk to get into the zoo via a tunnel under the road. Here is a link to directions and parking (here)
If you park in the North Lot, you will purchase tickets at the ticket booths located at the end of the parking lot. Make sure you buy them here before you take the long walk to the actual entrance to the zoo.
If you park in the south lot, you can buy tickets at the South Entrance.
Tip: if you plan to go on a busy day, I would suggested buying your tickets ahead of time online.
Bathrooms can be pretty spread out so keep your eye out for them if you are traveling with younger children. There is a nice bathroom with family bathrooms in the North Parking lot near the ticket booth. It is a great place to stop at the beginning and end of your day. After that, the bathrooms are spread throughout the zoo.
Strollers and Wagons
With 216 acres, the zoo is a big park to walk around with little kids. I would suggest bringing a stroller to push the kids and to hold your stuff. As my kids have gotten older, I started bringing a wagon to pull a cooler and for kids when they get too tired. Both work great and there are designated spots to park strollers for exhibits.
The zoo rents strollers, wagons, and wheelchairs at the North and South Entrances. So, if you are traveling, you don’t need to worry about bringing your own. Check here for rentals (here)
Here is the wagon we use and love.
Make sure to grab a map when you enter the park, it is a huge zoo and you will need the map for guidance. I would also suggest taking a few minutes before you start to figure out what you want to see and come up with a plan for the day. Due to the size of the zoo, it is really hard to fit in everything in one day.
The zoo has several attractions that cost an additional fee above the general ticket price. These include the New 3D Theatre, Dolphin Show, Hamill Family Play Zoo, Hamill Family Wild Encounters, the Carousel, Butterfly exhibit and Motor Safari. I will go over several of these extra attractions in more detail below. You can purchase tickets for these online or while you’re at the zoo. If you really want to see something, purchase it online ahead of time so they don’t run out of show times. However, if you’re flexible, just see how your day is going and what you can fit in.
For first time visitors to the zoo, there is plenty to do just with the included areas to keep you busy all day.
Where to Eat
The Brookfield Zoo offers many places to eat including restaurants and picnic areas. Food at the restaurants is typical museum/zoo food. A little overpriced but convenient if you don’t want to pack your own meal.
If you choose to pack a lunch, each side of the zoo has a picnic area with a playground for the kids. If it’s raining, we usually take our lunch down to the dolphin observation area and let the kids watch the dolphins swim while we eat.
I love this picnic tote for the zoo! It holds all of our food, has a pocket for napkins and silver ware plus hold water bottles on the side pockets. The Roebury Picnic blanket is a great purchase too. I use this awesome fold up waterproof blanket at the zoo, beach, playground, summer concerts in the park and basically anywhere we stop in the summer. I leave it in my trunk so that we can use it at whatever outdoor event we end up hanging out.
Brookfield Zoo Exhibits
The great part about visiting this zoo is the huge variety of animals and exhibits you can visit. My family finds that each time we visit, we find a new little area we hadn’t discovered before. I would definitely plan a whole day for this zoo. There are too many areas to list but let me highlight a few areas that make this zoo extra special.
Brookfield offers you several ways to get up close with the animals. However, all of these come with an additional fee.
Giraffe Feeding – for a fee kids get the thrill of feeding a Giraffe
Penguin Encounter – Families can get up close and personal with a penguin while learning more about them from the zoo keeper.
Hamill Family Wild Encounters – This three-acre exhibit has three ways for kids to interact with animals. The first is feeding and brushing the goats. Second, they get to feed parakeets off a stick with bird seeds. This is really fun for all ages because the bird sits right on the stick your holding so it’s close up for all to see. The last encounter I have never seen before. Kids are able to walk around in an enclosure with Wallabies. I will admit the Wallabies tend to be sleeping but they do get up and hop around which is fun for the kids to see.
Although you are not able to touch the dolphins, you do get a close-up view of them jumping and swimming while learning more about their species. My one note would be the show is focused more on teaching you about the dolphins than having a performance. This is very interesting but can sometimes be slow for younger children waiting to watch the dolphins swim and jump by.
If you think your kids might be too antsy, check out the dolphins below the show in the observation room swimming around. This is free.
Hamill Family Play Zoo
This is great area for younger kids especially on days the weather is not great. This area of the zoo offers tons of pretend play with a mock zoo office and a zoo kitchen area for the kids to pretend they are a zoo keeper. They can also dress up like a lemur while watching the real lemurs play. In the green house area kids get water bottles and are able to spray all the plants. There is also face painting and a ton of small animals to visit.
What to do on hot days at the Zoo
The summer can get hot at the zoo so head over with the kids to the spray and play area outside of the Penguin Exhibit (Living Coast). Bring a bathing suit or a change of clothes and let the kids run around the water.
You will also find misters throughout the zoo to run through and cool off. We usually take with some cooling towels too, which just need some water from the water fountain at the zoo to work. They really cool you down and makes a huge difference on hot days.
The indoor exhibits are also air conditioned so head inside them for a break the heat.
What to do on cold or Rainy Days
The zoo is filled with indoor exhibits that are included with the price of your ticket. So, don’t skip out on the zoo just because of bad weather. When it rains or gets cold, head to the Penguin Exhibit (Living Coast), Tropic World to see the Monkeys, The Fragile Desert, the Swamp, or the many other indoor buildings.
Brookfield Zoo Yearly Events
Brookfield Zoo Summer Nights
The zoo hosts concerts on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer as well as kids entertainers and laser light shows. It is included in your ticket price and a really fun end to the day at the zoo. Food and beer tents for the adults are set up, so bring your blanket and let the kids dance while you relax and enjoy the show.
Boo at the Zoo
Head to the zoo on select weekends in October in your costume to celebrate Halloween. Watch the animals play with pumpkins and walk through all the non-scary decorations. It’s a really fun October outing.
Brookfield Zoo Lights
The zoo Holiday Magic event is a great excuse to get yourself out of the house on cooler days in December. Come see the zoo all lit up in lights and check out kid’s entertainers preform and have a hot chocolate.
Tip – For the night events, don’t wait until night time to come because the entrance and parking get crazy. Head over in the afternoon and see the animals,then stay for the night time entertainment. Less stress and you’ll enjoy it more.
I hope these tips will help you have a great family day at the Brookfield Zoo. Do you have any great tips to add? Please leave in the comments so we all can learn.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my other travel tips.