Situated just steps from Chicago’s Lake Michigan waterfront, Lincoln Park Zoo has entertained and educated guests for over 150 years now. Lincoln Park Zoo’s lovely grounds span some 35 acres that encompass various animal habitats and natural attractions. Here you’ll find exotic animals from all over the world living just steps from beloved barnyard creatures, all in the midst of an oasis-like park set in the midst of Chicago’s gleaming skyline. Throw in an assortment of dining, shopping, and recreational amenities, and Lincoln Park Zoo has all the makings of a terrific day out!
Lincoln Park Zoo History
Lincoln Park Zoo was originally founded in 1868, and as a result it is one of the older zoos found anywhere in the United States. Lincoln Park Zoo began humbly, with the zoo’s establishment consisting initially of the placement of a pair of swans in Lincoln Park’s South Pond. In 1870, the first actual on-site building structures were constructed, and by 1880 the Zoo had a dedicated habitat for bears, as well as a prairie dog village. Lincoln Park Zoo really grew into its own under the leadership of Cyrus DeVry, who served as director of the Zoo from 1888 to 1919.
Today the zoo remains a favorite attraction of native Chicagoans and visitors alike, and continues to delight families who take the time to explore all its wonders. Likewise, to this very day one of the most remarkable features of Lincoln Park Zoo is its cost: it’s free to all visitors! The Zoo supports itself through the sale of souvenirs, food, special-event tickets, as well as subsidies from the Chicago Park District and the generosity of its members and private donors.
What’s at the Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is home to approximately 1,100 animals across roughly 200 or so species. Here you’ll find an assemblage of diverse animals like aardvarks, black bears, otters, camels, pythons, chimpanzees, crocodiles, rhinoceroses, seals, zebras, turtles, and so much more. Popular exhibits include the Regenstein Center for African Apes; the Kovler Lion House; the Walter Family Arctic Tundra, where you can come face-to-face with polar bears; and Farm-in-the-Zoo, a barn environment with ponies, pigs, goats, and cows. Elements like the Nature Boardwalk and South Pond also make Lincoln Park Zoo a wonderful place to simply walk around, get some fresh air, and enjoy the beautiful setting.
If you’re interested in dining while visiting the Zoo, you have several options. The Patio at Café Brauer serves a mix of small plates, burgers, cocktails, wine, and beer while offering splendid views of the Zoo and city beyond. Park Place Café features both indoor and outdoor seating, as well as an extensive menu highlighted by sandwiches, salads, and multiple plates inspired by Mexican and Italian cuisines. Eadie Levy’s Landmark Café serves Chicago-style hot dogs and snacks, while the Café at Wild Things is open during the summer and sells ballpark-style favorites. Numerous snack kiosks and concession stands can also be found throughout the Zoo.
There are many amenities available to visitors of Lincoln Park Zoo. The Wild Things Gift Shop is your go-to spot for souvenirs; there you’ll find everything from new plush animal friends for the little ones to educational books and toys, stylish t-shirts, and handcrafted jewelry. Even better, many of the proceeds from these sales go to support the Zoo itself! Lincoln Park Zoo also contains several rides sure to delight; favorites include the AT&T Endangered Species Carousel and the Lionel Train Adventure, which takes passengers on an enchanting journey throughout the facility. If you need assistance during your visit, a select number of wheelchairs are available for temporary rental at the Searle Visitor Center.
Tips for Visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo
- The Lincoln Park Zoo Carousel Ride and Lionel Train Adventure is one of the included attractions on the Go Chicago Card. It’s made for the kids but I have seen plenty of adults on both rides. Come after visiting the History Museum, also included on the card. It’s also also included on the Explorer Pass but at $3, it’s better to just pay admission.
- Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days each year. However, its hours typically vary depending on the time of year. For all the latest on the particulars of the seasonal schedule, make sure to check their website as you plan your visit.
- Lincoln Park Zoo has its own parking lot, which can be accessed near the corner of Fullerton Parkway and Cannon Drive. Depending on the length of your stay and the time of year, parking here will usually run you anywhere between $20 and $40. However, there is occasionally street parking found nearby, and Lincoln Park Zoo may also be accessed by multiple public transportation methods.
- Given its popularity, Lincoln Park Zoo can get quite busy during the summer and on weekends. If your schedule is flexible, consider visiting Lincoln Park Zoo during the week, and/or before noon; this would maximize the quality of your experience and ability to view the animals unobstructed.
- If you’re traveling with small children, you can rent strollers and/or wagons at the Lincoln Park Zoo Information Center.
- A significant number of unique activities/events take place at the Zoo each and every day; these experiences include such things as animal feedings, training exercise, and research talks led by scientists and zookeepers. For a specific schedule of such events, check the Lincoln Park Zoo website in advance of your visit, and/or make sure to look for signs reading “Today at the Zoo” right when you enter the facility.