1. As a place to see exotic animals.
2. As a budget option. The zoo, you may have heard, is free. Because people don't have much experience with this nowadays, we will be absolutely clear on what this means: At any of the six gates around the perimeter, you walk right in. No turnstiles. No wristbands. Not even some smiling personage trying to guilt-trip you into a membership.
Certainly, the zoo will accept your money at its snack bars and gift shops, and it'll ask you to make donations to support its no-admission-fee ethos. It would love to have you as a member, too, helping to pay the considerable bills. But as a matter of practice and principle, it'll let you in with pockets turned out and wallet left at home.
As a result, this doyenne of a ritzy neighborhood is one of the city's most democratic cultural institutions, visited by everyone from the struggling to the swells, to the tune of about 3.5 million people per year. (The budget takes a hit, though, in the official parking lot east of the zoo; that'll set you back
3. As a garden. Beginning in 2007, perhaps inspired by its immediate neighbor to the northwest, the
Indeed, take away the animals and you've still got an excellent afternoon's walk amid twisting pathways, their boundaries planted with a compelling variety of grasses, flowers, shrubs and more. It all surrounds, very roughly speaking, the central
And that's just in the zoo proper. Immediately south, alongside Lincoln Park's Farm in the Zoo adjunct, the garden walk gets even better. The zoo in 2010 constructed Nature Boardwalk, a near-perfect half-mile pathway around
4. As a world-class zoological institution. A longtime leader in primate research at the home base, the zoo also supports cutting-edge conservation work with dogs and apes in
Reminders of the zoo's scientific work pop up throughout the grounds. And even when it's not actively teaching, a zoo is, of course, teaching. "You came out of your mom's belly, and I came out of my mom's belly," a girl informed her friend recently, standing in front of an exhibit with a baby animal in it.
5. As a historical artifact.
You can still see traces of vintage zookeeping in the Kovler Lion House, where naturalistic add-ins do not fully disguise the building's heritage of animal pens along opposing walls. But most of the zoo's old, red-brick buildings, while retaining their period charm, have undergone a more sophisticated retrofitting or been built to match. Case in point: The Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House, which looks antique from the front door but opens to reveal a pathway-style experience leading into a big open area for the small mammals.
6. As an early morning tourism stop. The indoor buildings don't open until
7. As an excuse to spend some winter time outdoors. The hugely popular ZooLights, a high-wattage Brigadoon that appears every year in late November and December, festoons the zoo with more light bulbs than you'll find in a
8. As a work in progress. Most zoo exhibits have been renovated or almost wholly remade since 1990. Far from resting on its laurels, the zoo has one big building project well underway and another about to begin. On the site of the old, closed penguin house, a big, state-of-the-art home for Japanese macaques, popularly known as snow monkeys, is scheduled to open in the fall (along with a new kids railway). And in that same season, the row of bear habitats will close, and the animals will be moved elsewhere. Work will begin on a new home for penguins and polar bears, slated to open in 2016.
Don't forget: To stroll around the zoo's quieter north end, where the indoor Regenstein African Journey is surprisingly expansive for such a small zoo, and the critically endangered eastern black rhinos, including supercute 2013 arrival King, loll about. It's a short few steps out the Conservatory Gate, on the northwest end, and into
Don't miss: The ornate artwork atop the East Gate, a metallic tangle of vines and animals, guarded by a lion on one side, a kudu on the other. Also be sure to pause on the bridge overlooking
Don't bother: With the central, often chaotic
Pro tips: Catch at least one of the regular demonstrations, such as the
When: Summer weekday hours are
Tickets: Free; contact 312-742-2000 or lpzoo.org
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