photo: courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo
When I was 18, I fell in love at the Detroit Zoo. The object of my affection was a card-holding member of the primate family. They called him the ring-tailed lemur; I called him Lemmy. What Lemmy and I had was more of a summer fling than a heart-throbbing romance, as the glassed-in exhibit at the zoo was his home and he wasn't permitted to take leave or have overnight visitors. Heartbroken upon my departure, I steered clear for years of the places that kept my love prisoner. Recently though, I've discovered two top-notch zoos that warranted a visit, but this time I'd stray from Lemmy's tree-swinging kind.
Day 1: Brookfield
It doesn't matter where I travel, I could take a trip to Sin City and I'd still be surrounded by screaming children. But at Brookfield I was fully prepared for the loud rush of little people, given the obvious destination. I approached the zoo's entrance, lost somewhere in a sea of field-tripping pre-school students and their tired-eyed chaperones.
After having no luck scoring the toddler's discount, I laid down $11 for my full-sized, no extras included, adult ticket. I wasn't too pleased with the price at first but after consulting the zoo's glossy little pamphlet and learning that exhibits here stretch over 215 acres, the $11 was easy to shrug off. While making my way toward the "Africa!" exhibit, I had to walk through clusters of restaurants, souvenir stands and sidewalk vendors. It felt like a trip to Six Flags, sans the roller coasters. Keeping in line with that tourist-appeal, the grounds housed several displays of vibrant animal-inspired cut-outs and signs. The place looked more like a giant playground than a zoo. And that's not just because it was overrun with infants.
If you can manage to ignore the less-than-natural setting, the main attractions are captivating. Brookfield has over 20 exhibits and animal houses including butterflies, dolphins and pachyderms—none of which you'll find at Lincoln Park.
Day 2: Lincoln Park
photo: courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo
You can almost rent a swan-shaped paddle boat at the Lincoln Park Zoo for what it costs just to get into Brookfield. And then there's all the savings banked: less time in traffic, less money on gas, less irritation searching for a parking spot (the 151 and 156 buses stop here). Oh, and did I mention admission is always free?
On the downside, there isn't nearly as much to see. Maxing out at 35 acres, the Lincoln Park Zoo isn't even comparable in size to Brookfield. But, it is on the lakefront and has maintained the land's natural beauty. Instead of ridiculous life-size cut-outs and vibrant arrows pointing in every direction, this zoo takes the hands-off approach. The grounds have far more green and rustic terrain and visitors are free to explore 15 exhibits, including birds, sea lions and bears, without ever feeling obliged to follow a set path.
Guidebook Rating: Both zoos are great and I enjoyed my time at each of them. If I had to choose just one, I'd stick with Lincoln Park for its convenient location, natural setting and free admission. But if you've got the extra money and are looking to spend an entire day at the zoo, Brookfield is the way to go.
Stats: Both zoos are open every day of the year and hours change seasonally. General admission to the Brookfield Zoo costs $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and children ages 3-11. Special shows, rides and tours cost extra and can be found on the zoo's website. Admission to the Lincoln Park Zoo is always free for everyone.