See a whoop of gorillas, a huddle of penguins, a flamboyance of flamingoes, a romp of otters, an army of frogs, and an ambush of tigers (oh my!) at Brookfield Zoo, which has been a mecca for animal-kingdom hoopla since 1934. Besides the obvious wild fun with the furry to the slithering, their newest temporary exhibit, Brick Safari, will have you walking along a menagerie of LEGO brick animals located along a winding, wooded path. Slip into your comfy walking shoes, bring a sense of adventure, and plan a family date at Brookfield Zoo.

New and Temporary

Brick Safari
A roaring tiger, a leaping dolphin, a lounging leopard—sure, these are all animals one might expect to see on a visit to Brookfield Zoo. Lucky for guests, this summer you’ll be treated to a chance to see these sweet creatures in an entirely different and unique way at Brick Safari. Open as of May 11 and continuing through September 29, it features more than 40 life-size animal sculptures created from millions of individual colored LEGO bricks.

It’s an extra special addition to the zoo, as it’s the first venue to host this international traveling exhibit in North America. Many of the sculptures you’ll see are based on Brookfield Zoo favorites—the giraffe, snow leopard, and pangolin. After checking out these amazing figures, guests can visit their live counterparts that reside at the zoo.

This interactive exhibit will appeal to both science and art lovers, who will have the opportunity to tap into their creative sides. Colorful graphics featuring interesting animal facts and statistics such as the size of each figure, how many bricks were used to build each one, and the amount of time it took to create each sculpture are displayed.

Summer Nights
A warm-weather favorite is back for its 6th year, Summer Nights, featuring an enhanced dining, beer and wine garden, live music, roaming performers, kid entertainment and a new laser show all surrounded by wildlife and nature (and in the cooler temps of evening!). Summer Nights are scheduled Friday and Saturday evenings, June 21-August 10.

A Little History

Brookfield Zoo was the very first zoo in America to house giant pandas. Su Lin was one of the most beloved. Even though she’s long passed, you can visit her at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, where she is on display.

Other firsts: the zoo, in 1960, opened a much-celebrated dolphin exhibit indoors. And, in the 1980’s Tropic World, an elaborate large-scale indoor rainforest simulator, was built. Your eye wanders high above in this exhibit, to locate calls of animals that are balanced in trees as well as straight out onto the rolling hill-like grounds. The sound of rain and thunder washes over the exhibit as well, making it feel like you’re wandering through real wet lands in search of animals.

Kids can see over 450 different species of animals—or around 2,300 individual animals, stretched out over 216 acres. The best part: the zoo uses moats and ditches in an elaborate design to house the animals, instead of cages and bars, to provide barriers between visitors and animals. The animals have room to roam around and you can get an unobstructed photo—it’s a win-win.

Getting to the Zoo

Brookfield Zoo is located at 8400 W. 31st ST., only 14 miles west of Chicago’s downtown. Many signs will help direct the way, on the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and Stevenson Expressway (I-55), as well as throughout the neighborhood of Brookfield. If arriving by car, park at the North Gate or South Gate for $14.

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Did you know that you can take the Metra’s Burlington Northern Line to the zoo? If you’re traveling from the city or from the western suburbs, this is the easiest—and cheapest—route. Exit at Hollywood Station, the Zoo Stop, and walk three blocks northeast to the zoo’s South Entrance.

Extras: The Dolphins in Action show, at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children and seniors. The carousel is $3.00 per ride. The Motor Safari is $5.00 for adults and children and $3.00 for seniors. Hamill Family Play Zoo is $3.00 per visitor. Add-on experiences include giraffe feedings and penguin encounters—review the website for special pricing, dates and hours.

Zoo-Based Education

Not only does the zoo have special animal carts, hands-on activities and educational chats throughout the park, but there are also programs designed to teach conservation, inspiring a love of the natural world in our kids.

Family Play Programs: Kids in two different age groups can join special playgroups, led by artists, nature educators and early childhood specialists, to learn about nature and wildlife. Located at the Hamill Family Play Zoo, this nature-focused playtime includes weekly animal encounters, trips to a pond to learn about the environment, and lots of arts and crafts.

Backstage Adventures: Kids can work with animal care staff to learn how to take care of the zoo’s animals: penguins, bears, dolphins, apes, reptiles, birds, bugs—big or small, pick your favorites and go on a one-of-a-kind zoological adventure.

Zoo Camp: The multi-age camps, held in the spring, summer and winter, are super popular at Brookfield Zoo. The best part about these camps is the flexibility—sign up your camper for a couple of days, for several weeks, or for a half-day three-day camp.

Sleepover Safari: For a truly inimitable experience, join a sleepover party at the zoo. You’ll go on a night zoo hike, after all of the regularly admitted visitors have left, participate in animal-themed activities, spend the night with lots of kids and families, and enjoy a hot breakfast the next morning before departing. 

Hamill Family Play Zoo: Infants to kids through 10 years of age will love exploring the Hammill Family Play Zoo, where they can climb on indoor structures (perfect for Chicago days with inclement weather), do arts and crafts, learn through hands-on activities and exhibits, and trek around the outdoor family area. Don’t leave without visiting the Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibit, which gives families the opportunity to feed and touch goats, llamas, alpacas, wallabies, and even reindeer.

Year-Long Events and Programming

Throughout the year, Brookfield Zoo hosts several special events, meant to inspire a love of animals and nature. These programs are also designed to spend time with family and friends, enjoying the zoo as an interesting backdrop. Check out: Party for the Planet, the Annual Whirl Gala, Brick Safari (Legos anyone?), Roars & Pours, Summer Nights Concerts, Zoo Brew, ZooRunRun, Boo! at the Zoo, Veterans Day Celebration, and Mother’s and Father’s Day brunches.

Spending a day at Brookfied Zoo—wandering through: Big Cats, Desert’s Edge, Clouded Leopard Rainforest, Great Bear Wilderness, Living Coast, Regenstein Wolf Woods, Salt Creek Wilderness, The Swamp and Tropic World, among others— is a great way to bond with your children, while also learning something new about animal conservation and the environment, as well as our place in protecting delicate ecosystems.

Hours and Admission

Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
$21.95/adults; $15.95/ages 3-11 & 65 & up; free for members and military personnel with ID receive free parking and admission year-round.
Tip: All tickets are $1 cheaper if purchased online.

—Wendy Altschuler