My dad grew up on the Southside and my mom grew up on the North Shore. They met in college, settled in the Northwest Suburbs (in what I imagine was a good compromise), and continued to move east over the years. Now they’re living on the North Shore, as is my family and one of my sisters and her family. We’re Northsiders with a displaced Southsider, which my dad likes to remind us.
We went to Brookfield Zoo a few times a year as kids. My dad had worked there, starting as a parking attendant in his early teens and then ultimately working in security while in college. His best friend helped build the exhibits (including the monkey house that is still there today). They went to highschool across the street from the zoo. The zoo was a major part of their lives. And a point of pride.
As our oldest son is getting ready to turn four, we’re always looking for fun experiences for him and we’re willing to travel further to find them. On the list for this summer: Brookfield Zoo. I saw the Xtreme Bugs exhibit and – being at the height of bug loving – I knew he would be mesmerized. So, I asked my parents and my sister if they wanted to join us for the day. My dad, of course, was thrilled. The idea of introducing his grandsons to a place so close to his heart had him swelling with pride.
I’m not going to lie, it’s not the most convenient place to get to from the North Shore, but it was well worth the hike. The grounds were incredibly clean and the exhibits were great. We spent a ton of time with the bugs, mingled with butterflies in the Butterflies! exhibit, pet stingrays in Stingray Bay, enjoyed the Dolphin Presentation, took a few spins on the Carousel, and saw a ton of animals. We had a nine month old and 15 month old in the double stroller and an almost four year old who managed to enthusiastically walk the whole day. As dinner time neared, we decided to call it a day, sadly having to skip the Children’s Zoo, the Family Play Zoo, and the Motor Safari. There just wasn’t enough time to get everything in.
Looking back I wish I would have taken advantage of their online Visit Planner. It’s really user-friendly, is packed with information, and would be have probably allowed us to squeeze in one more exhibit. I thought we’d be able to just go with the flow, but didn’t realize just how much there was to pack into the day.
I asked my son what his favorite part of the zoo was and he didn’t hesitate before telling me: “Watching that preying mantis eat bugs.” (This was a video in the Xtreme BUGS exhibit.) If you ask my husband, I think it would be the large, cold beer he enjoyed while walking around the zoo on a hot afternoon. Personally, I loved the anteaters, giraffes, and the carousel.
It was a good day. One that was totally worth the trip. It’s so easy to get stuck in our areas in Chicago. Venturing to the other side of the city sometimes just seems like a real pain, but living near one of the best zoos in the country (according to Parents Magazine and me) is a gift that I think most of us tend to overlook. So, if it’s been on your summer list, fit it in… Especially before the Xtreme Bugs leave on September 7th.
Full disclosure: I received complimentary passes to the zoo and exhibits for myself and my family. All opinions are my own.