Chicagoland's Brookfield Zoo

A monkey at Brookfield Zoo

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

Opening in 1934 on approximately 200 acres of donated land, Brookfield Zoo quickly received worldwide prominence for its cage-less displays and unique exhibits. The zoo is approximately 40 minutes, or 15 miles, from Chicago's downtown hotels. Annual events include "Summer Nights," the Halloween-focused "Boo! at the Zoo" and "Holiday Magic" in December.

Brookfield Zoo's general admission is included with the purchase of a Go Chicago Card. (Buy Direct)

About the Brookfield Zoo

The Brookfield Zoo is a sprawling area located just minutes outside city limits in--where else--Brookfield, IL. It's home to a dizzying variety of animal species, and its use of natural barriers and moats is so much more relaxing and enjoyable than watching a lion pace back and forth in a cage. The absence of bars also makes for great wildlife photo opportunities.

The zoo focuses on education, with detailed displays about the animals being viewed, outdoor stations manned by zoo docents doling out bits of trivia and information, and the interactive Hamill Family Zoo that encourages kids to fully immerse themselves in hands-on learning about what it takes to run a zoo. Of course, there are fun activities as well like face painting, animal encounters and crafts to keep kids fully engaged.

Also, lucky kids can spend the night at the zoo with the Chicago Zoological Society's Sleepover Safari. Walk through the zoo at night, participate in special activities led by camp counselors, and enjoy a hot breakfast the next morning before departing.

A hyena at the Brookfield Zoo
TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer 

Brookfield Zoo Featured Exhibits

Australia House: This area has been carved out to resemble Down Under. Watch a brightly colored emerald tree boa wind around a branch, a pair of echidnas nose about in a dirt pile, or spot free-flying Rodriques fruit bats soaring overhead and a mob of kangaroos on the outdoor landscape.

Big Cats: Meet some of the world's most beautiful yet endangered big cats, including African lions, Amur leopards, snow leopards and Amur tigers. 

Clouded Leopard Rain Forest: Visitors may explore the wonders of Asia, from the mysterious clouded leopard to the various insects and plants that add to the rain forest.

Feathers and Scales: The exhibit has been renovated into a lush rain forest habitat that features more individual tropical birds as well as additional species, such as the blue poison frog, roadrunner and Andean condor.

Great Bear Wilderness: Wonders of North America are featured in this exhibition, including the bald eagle, bison, Mexican gray wolves and others. Visitors may also enter the bear yards and get an underwater view of the polar bears and grizzlies diving and playing in their swimming pools.

Living Coast: Similar to what you'll find at Shedd Aquarium, guests may gaze at fish, corals and even sharks. Large tanks will immerse you in ocean life, while smaller ones will offer up-close windows to the water world’s tiniest creatures. 

Great Chicago Attractions For Young Kids

Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery. The Water Tower Place-based, family-friendly gallery serves as dedicated space for Dr. Seuss's artwork. Visitors may view the various collections--which include sculptures, illustrated art and "secret" art--and have the option to buy. Some of the works have never been exhibited before. 835 N. Michigan Ave., 312-475-9620

Chicago Children's Museum. Located on the ever popular Navy Pier, little kids absolutely love the Chicago Children's Museum, which offers plenty of fun, hands-on exhibits such as the Dinosaur Expedition, Kids Town and the three-floor climbing structure Climbing Schooner. Afterward, take your tot on the Pier's merry-go-round, or to the fountain with fun computerized jet streams in Gateway Park at the west entrance of the pier. 600 E. Grand Ave., 312-527-1000

Lincoln Park Zoo. It would be hard to find a kid that doesn't like the zoo, especially the Lincoln Park Zoo, with its historical architecture and world-class wildlife exhibits nestled among lagoons and mature trees not far from Chicago's downtown. Families traveling on a budget will appreciate the fact that the zoo is open free of charge 365 days a year. Lake Shore Drive and Fullerton Parkway, 312-742-2000

Shedd Aquarium. The fish and other aquatic life at the Shedd Aquarium appeal to pretty much all ages from 0 to 100, especially the regular marine mammal shows in the Abbott Oceanarium. The centerpiece of the aquarium, the Caribbean Reef is a 90,000-gallon circular tank and filled with stingrays, sharks, eels, a sea turtle, and an assortment of tropical fish. A diver hand feeds the fish and answers questions (while underwater!) several times a day. 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-939-2426

Location, Contact and Directions

1st Avenue and 31st Street, Brookfield, Illinois


Driving From Downtown:

I-290 (Eisenhower) west to First Avenue exit. Head south approximately two-and-a-half miles and follow the signs to the zoo entrance.

Parking at the Brookfield Zoo:

Parking fees are $9 for cars/vans, $12 for buses. Members park free.

Getting to the Brookfield Zoo by Public Transportation:

The Metra Rail Burlington Northern line runs from Union Station downtown to the "Zoo Stop" (Hollywood) station and from there it is only a 2 block northeast walk to the zoo.

Insider Tip: Skip the signs pointing to the main parking lot and continue to head down First Avenue to Ridgewood Road. Turn right and follow the signs to the zoo's south parking lot which provides much easier access for the same parking fee for non-members . This lot is much smaller, however, and fills up quickly so arrive early.

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