Just because you live in the city doesn’t mean you can’t get up close and personal with animals of all kinds. From an arty farm on the Upper East Side to stellar petting zoos great for little ones, and a must-see shark exhibit, we’ve rounded up the best places in the city to talk to (and often touch!) the animals. FYI: The cost of admission to many of these can add up, which is why a WCS membership is one of the best value in town!

photo: Riverside Park Conservancy

GOATham in Riverside Park

A herd of goats has been imported to Riverside Park to help control invasive weeds! (Brooklyn's Prospect Park has also used goats to keep weeds at bay.) They'll be there all summer, munching away on greenery such as poison ivy, wineberry, bittersweet, and more. The goats can be found in the northern part of the park, and New Yorkers are welcome to visit them. You can even cast a vote for the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) goat

May 21- Aug. 30. 
120th Street and Riverside Drive
Riverside Park
Online: riversideparknyc.org

 

ADVERTISEMENT

photo: Mimi O'Connor

Zoos Within Zoos

The most obvious and easiest way for kids to meet animals is to visit a petting zoo at one of NYC's four great zoos. Each has a special section designed specifically for children, where kids can meet and touch a variety of domestic animals like sheep, goats, alpacas and miniature horses. (If you're looking for a more extended visit with animals, check out our favorite farm stay vacations near NYC!

Prospect Park Zoo Barn & Garden offers cow milking in mid-May to mid-Oct, and, during the summer, storytelling and games. Kids can also hand-feed the barnyard animals (such as the very enthusiastic goats), check out the new baby lambs and watch the other big draw for kids, the daily sea lion feeding/training (11:30 am, 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm). Visitors can also stop by the Discovery Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends to interact with critters, get "the scoop on poop" and more.

Insider Tip: the only (people) food available at the zoo comes from vending machines, so be sure to pack lunch.

Tickets: adults/$9.95; kids ages three-12/$6.95; kids under 2/free.
450 Flatbush Ave.
Prospect Park
Online: prospectparkzoo.com

Central Park Zoo’s Tisch Children’s Zoo is home to pot-bellied pigs, Nubian goats, a cutie called a Patagonia cavy, and "Manhattan's only cow," among others.  In addition to domestic animals for kids to touch, the zoo offers the added bonus of an IMAX theater, which plays kid-friendly movies (a perfect way to escape the heat if you visit during summer). You'll also find lots of things to climb on, crouch inside of, and more.

Tickets: adults $19.95/ kids 3 -12/$14.95; kids under 2/free.
Southeast corner of Central Park
830 5th Ave. (64th Street and 5th Avenue)
Online: centralparkzoo.com

Bronx Zoo is the biggest of all four city zoos, as well as one of the largest in the country. While for obvious reasons it doesn't feature live animals, the newest thing happening there is Dinosaur Safari, an experience that allows visitors to take in life-size dinos in a wooded habitat. Other recently added or refreshed areas of the zoo include the popular Children's Zoo experience, as well as a zipline, Treetop Adventure course (for older kids) and a corresponding Nature Trek for little ones. Lots of feedings happen throughout the day, and you can shell out some extra cash for a camel ride, the 4-D theater, or a ride on the Wild Asia Monorail. The zoo's Bug Carousel, where kids can ride on one of 64 giant, brightly-colored insects like a praying mantis or ladybug, is also hard to resist. Read our complete guide to doing the Bronx Zoo with Kids here!

Tickets: Adults (13 and older)/$39.95; kids (3-12)/$29.95; Seniors/$34.95/kids under 2/free
2300 Southern Blvd.
Online: bronxzoo.com

Queens Zoo’s Domestic Animals exhibit, located across from the main entrance to the zoo, is a bucolic setting that feels like a mini farm. Just the right size for little kids, the area features giant Flemish rabbits as well as sheep from all over the world, cows, goats, Texas longhorns and a whole host of other animals.

Tickets: adults/$9.95; kids 3-12/$6.95; seniors/$7.95; kids under 2/free
53-51 111th St.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Online: queenszoo.com

Summer hours for all city zoos: Mon. - Fri., 10:00 am - 5:00 pm; weekends & holidays, 10:00 am - 5:30 pm

photo: Art Farm in the City

The Art Farm in the City

If you think you have to travel at least 45 minutes away from NYC to take your kids to a petting zoo, think again!  The Art Farm in the City is a USDA-licensed indoor petting zoo located on the UES and it  offers hands-on interactions with some of the most lovable and exotic creatures on this side of the planet. 

(Note!: The Art Farm's 91st Street location is temporarily closed due to an issue with its building—unrelated to The Art Farm space.)

Hop with the bunnies, cuddle with the chinchillas and guinea pigs, slither with the lizards, and slow your pace down with the turtles.  Get inspired to sing Old McDonald had a farm and mimic sounds with the pigs, chickens, goats and sheep.  You can drop in for a day pass, join a weekly class, throw a wild birthday party or register for one of the many programs and classes hosted here — including open play.  Best of all, a percentage of the profits go to Mari's Children, a non-profit organization with a mission to help children all over the world.  (P.S. Spending some time in the Hamptons this summer? There's an Art Farm out there, too.)

419 E. 91st Street (between York & 1st Ave.)
Upper East Side
212-410-3117
Online: theartfarms.org

photo: Don DeBold via Flickr

AMNH Butterfly Conservatory

Catch the butterflies before they leave at the end of the month! Fly over to the American Museum of Natural History to catch some fluttering action with real live butterflies. Filled with over 500 individual live butterflies at any time, the Butterfly Conservatory exhibit is a great way to not only fill the kids with awe, it also showcases the fascinating process of metamorphosis up close!

Through May 29th
Daily, 10 a.m.-5.45 p.m.
Cost:  $27/adults; $16/children (2-12); $22/senior & student
Central Park West at 79th Street
Upper West Side
212-769-5100
Online: amnh.org

 

New York Aquarium

Coney Island's New York Aquarium recently added a must-see exhibit, Ocean Wonders: Sharks! A permanent addition, it's got its own building that provides incredible, up-close views of sharks and other sea dwellers, as well as interactive elements, and an environmental conservation message throughout. Elsewhere in the aquarium, check out feedings of the penguins, otters and sea lions in the Sea Cliffs; get entertained by the sea lions as they perform at the Aquatheater, and pretend to go snorkeling at Glover’s Reef where you can watch colorful fish of all sorts swim just inches away. Read our full guide to the New York Aquarium here! 

Surf Avenue & West 8th Street
Tickets: $24.95/adults (ages 13 and up); $19.95/ages 3-12, and $21.95 for ages 65 and over. (Kids 2 and under are free.) Note: these are "Value Admission" tickets, which can be used on select days; "Any Day Admission" tickets are $5 more. 
Coney Island
Online: nyaquarium.com

photo: Wave Hill

Guided Birdwatching in the Parks

Despite being a major metropolis, NYC attracts plenty of feathered friends, especially to its parks. Staffers at both Central and Prospect Park are more than happy to help aspiring bird-watchers young and old spot all kinds of winged ones almost year-round. Through Central Park's Birding Basics for Families, conducted by the Central Park Conservancy staff and NYC Audubon Society, attendees learn how Central Park has become a sanctuary for some of the most fascinating kinds of birds, whether they're in residence or passing through during migration. Recommended for ages five and up.

Tickets: Free, but pre-registration is recommended.
Online: centralparknyc.org

The Prospect Park Audubon Center is the first urban area Audubon Center in the nation. Activities and programming are held at the park's Boathouse, and a Pop-Up Audubon program offers seasonal activities throughout the park. Free programming includes Family Bird-watching, Adventure Hikes and more.

See Prospect Park website for current programming.

Prospect Park Audubon Center
95 Prospect Park West
Prospect Lefferts Gardens
718-965-8951
Online: prospectpark.org

The Bronx's Wave Hill is also an excellent place to spot a wide variety of birds. Programs are free with admission to the garden (although registration, which you can do online, is recommended). Take part in a Family Nature Walk, rise and shine for an 8 a.m. Early Morning bird Walk or check out this season's winged residents with Spring Birding. See upcoming events here. 

Wave Hill
1 W 249th St. and Independence Avenue
718-549-3200
Bronx
Online: wavehill.org

photo: Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Save the Dates!

While these two events don't happen for a while, they're worth noting on the calendar to hit up come fall.

The Tompkins Square Dog Run Halloween Parade is an East Village tradition more than two-decades strong that's attracted worldwide press coverage. It's recently moved to East River Park, but the wacky EV spirit remains. Expect to see hundreds of dogs in full fancy dress including costumes ranging from hotdogs and super heroes to wildly creative and bizarre getups. They already have a date: October 19, from Noon to 3 p.m.

Oct. 19, Noon-3 p.m.
Tickets: Free
East river Park Amphitheater 
East River Park
Online: tompkinssquaredogrun.com

The Yearly Blessing of the Animals is an annual festival held by various churches to celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. The most famous blessing is hosted by the Cathedral of St John the Divine in Morningside Heights. At past blessings, animals that showed up to be blessed included a llama, a mini horse, falcons, dogs, a camel, a yak, a tortoise, baby swans and a macaw. Your kids won’t be the only ones enjoying this special blessing. It’s advised to reserve advanced passes, especially to make things easier with kids, which you can pick up the morning of St. Francis Day. (Alternative: a similar proceeding at your local Catholic church.)

Date: TBD, sometime in October
Tickets: Free
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave.
Morningside Heights
Online: stjohndivine.org

— Meredith Levine

RELATED STORIES: 

Our Favorite Family-Friendly Farm Stays In Around NYC

We’re Freaking Out Over This Real Farm Vacation

Mommy  Me: How and Where to Celebrate Mother’s Day in NYC