Lincoln Park Zoo

lincoln park zoo chicago

Photos courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo.

Seeing as Chicago is home to one of the nation’s only free zoos, there’s just no excuse not to pay a visit to this peaceful sanctuary in Lincoln Park. Whether you are strolling through on a warm summer day, bundled up to visit the winter festival of Zoo Lights, or just passing through to say ‘hey’ to your favorite gorilla on the way to the beach, the zoo is a great place to visit year-round. The beautiful 49-acre facility is home to over 1,100 animals, lizards, birds, and insects as well as the Farm-in-the-Zoo, numerous dining facilities, and the Pritzger Children’s Zoo.

With the gift of two swans from New York’s Central Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo was established in 1868. By 1872 the zoo was growing rapidly, and by 1900 it had one of the largest collection of animals in the country. Many of the original buildings are still in use but have been remodeled to reflect a more modern and comfortable habitat for the animals and visitors. Today, the zoo welcomes approximately 3 million visitors annually. My personal favorite is the primate house; it is uniquely designed with tall glass windows to give you a fantastic view of our monkey friends at play. The cat house is a close second, housing animals from the cat family, large and small. The seal pond draws a fantastic crowd as they hang out in the sun and dive in the water to show off their swimming skills. The Farm-in-the-Zoo brings the country into the city, housing numerous farm animals and a small petting zoo. Curious how to milk a cow? They have demonstrations every day. The facility’s newest feature, the Pritzger Children’s Zoo, features North African wildlife and was designed to help kids learn about and connect with nature. The zoo also features a large endangered species carousel. Unfortunately, you won’t see any elephants during your visit; the zoo has had a sad history with premature elephant death and currently does not house any.

The organization maintains its non-profit status thanks to the Lincoln Park Zoological Society, a membership supported organization, in which members pay between $50-110 annually. Zoo members receive special benefits such as special event invitations, behind the scenes looks at the zoo, and free or reduced parking. Thanks to them and other generous donations, the Lincoln Park Zoo is available for free for residents and visitors to enjoy 365 days a year!

Grab lunch at Cafe Brauer and dine while looking out onto the lagoon, which is continuously filled with paddle boating families and visitors feeding the ducks. The park also has various other spots for quick bites to eat, like Zoo fries (who doesn’t like their food in the shape of their favorite animal?).

Looking for some adult fun in the zoo? No, not that kind of adult fun. Three Fridays in the summer the zoo puts on a concert series called “Jammin in the Park” and has previously featured bands such as Blind Melon, Blues Traveler, and Everclear. Tickets are reasonably priced, usually less than $30, and there are beverages available for purchase. So grab a cold beer, toast to the lion on your left, and enjoy some live music in the summer at these unique events.

Summer isn’t the only time to enjoy the zoo, though. Why visit in the cold Chicago winter? I’ll tell you why! The Zoo Lights are a very popular winter attraction that allows residents to forget about the cold and enjoy some time outside. The dazzling display of lights makes the snow-laden park come alive, creating scenes such as the 12 Days of Christmas and other various animals. It is a perfect post-dinner activity after a heavy winter meal on nearby Clark Street. Take a stroll through the zoo as you digest that burger you had at R.J. Grunts; it looks even prettier with a light dusting of snow.

The zoo’s fundraising board also puts on various special events throughout the year. The most popular of these events are the Spring Benefit in June and The Zoo Ball in July. Both feature cocktails, live music, dancing and entertainment in a elegant setting. Proceeds from both events go to supporting the wildlife conservation mission.

The zoo is currently transforming and restoring the 140-year-old man-made South Pond of Lincoln Park into a Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. The hope is to create a haven for native wildlife, mammals, fish, birds, frogs, turtles, and insects to flourish with a more natural setting. A gazebo and boardwalk will be added, surrounding the pond, for visitors’ pleasure. We’re excited for this new addition!

Basic Info:
2001 N. Clark Street

Getting There:

Bus: #151 & #156
Driving: The zoo is located just off Lake Shore Drive at the Fullerton Parkway exit. From I-94, exit at either Fullerton Parkway or North Avenue and go east.

Admission Hours & Prices:

April–May: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Memorial Day–Labor Day: Weekdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Weekends 10 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
September–October: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
November–March: 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.


Tessa McLean

About Tessa McLean

There is just something about that feeling when you have been away — maybe for a weekend, a month, 6 months — and you’re driving into Chicago and that first glimpse of the city skyline appears. It just always makes me smile.

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