A family field trip to the zoo is swell any day of the year, no matter the season—until your own little animal goes bananas because she can’t touch the giant kitty cats. Time to hit an urban farm, where getting up close and personal with nature’s creatures isn’t just safe: it’s encouraged. We’ve combed the city and ‘burbs to find the best places to interact with animals, from pigs to turkeys to goats. Scroll through to get an update on which farms are welcoming visitors. Just don’t forget the antibacterial wipes (and masks!).
Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters
Covering just over 3-acres, Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters features unforgettable hands-on experiences that include opportunities to touch and feed animals. Purchase seed sticks and play feeder to hundreds of colorful parakeets that happily land on your hand, watch the kids giggle as goats nibble on their shoelaces and experience the friendliness of wallabies as they welcome you into their enclosure. There are also up-close encounters with red pandas, llamas, alpacas and reindeer as well as a rotating selection of animal ambassadors.
Note: For information on COVID guidelines, please check the Zoo's Know Before You Go page.
Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield; Online: czs.org/wildencounters
In the northern suburbs, kids can feel the softness of a rabbit’s fur, hold a chick and buddy up to goats at this activity-filled farm and petting zoo. While you’re there, check out the mini golf course, bouncy house, mini train and carousel. And don't forget the important mission of this non-profit: It provides a safe and caring living environment for people with disabilities. Families can also buy sweets, snacks and souvenirs, or have a meal at the restaurant, which greatly helps the community that lives, works and thrives there.
Lambs Farm, 14245 W. Rockland Rd., Libertyville; Online: lambsfarm.org
The Children's Farm at The Center
Family farm tours, hayrides and pony rides are just a few of the extras you get at Palos Park's petting zoo. Your Old MacDonald-in-training will learn all about the animals with the help of friendly guides and the seasonal Junior Farmer program gives kids a chance to experience what it’s like to take care of chickens, ducks, rabbits, pigs, goats and other creatures.
The Center Children's Farm, 12700 Southwest Highway, Palos Park: Online: thecenterpalos.org
Lincoln Park Zoo's Farm-in-the Zoo
City kids get a little bit country at this rural pocket of Lincoln Park Zoo. It isn't your typical petting zoo; most of the animals can't be touched by the public. But there are daily facilitated chats with zookeepers and some animal interactions through scheduled programs like Meet a Chicken, Greet the Goats and the Cow Milking Demonstration. The old-fashioned Main Barn houses exhibits about the weather and egg hatching.
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago; Online: lpzoo.org
Aurora's scenic living history museum has a section just for farm animals. Chickens strut, bunnies scurry and goats bleat "hello." While you're there, take advantage of other attractions, including rides on a steam train replica, carousel, paddle boats, pony rides, a tractor pull, the Adventure Playground and more.
Blackberry Farm, 100 S. Barnes Rd., Aurora; Online: foxvalleyparkdistrict.org
Forest View Farms & Equestrian Center
Baby goats, llamas and ducks. . . oh my! This horse farm and petting zoo in the south suburbs is worth the trip. Small children get a kick out of the pony rides, wagon jaunts and barn tours. Older children and adults go for the horseback riding lessons. Note:
Forest View Farms, 16717 S. Lockwood Ave., Tinley Park; Online: fvfarms.com
Randall Oaks Barnyard Zoo
See a peacock flaunt its feathers. Go face to face with an alpaca. Giggle at the "oink" of a pig. The fun is unending at this cute little petting zoo that has a vibrant menagerie that includes ponies that you can ride. Save time to romp around at one of the park’s three toddler-friendly playgrounds. Typically opens for the season in early April.
Covid-19 update: Randall Oaks is open! Reservations are required so they can manage capacity. Be sure to read their Know Before You Go information so you are aware of new safety guidelines in place for visitors.
Randall Oaks Barnyard Zoo, 1180 N. Randall Rd., West Dundee; Online: dtpd.org
Santa's Village Amusement Park
This spot named after the jolly guy in red is a gift that keeps on giving. It has rides that are zippy and ones that are slow-moving to ease little kids into the amusement park experience, as well as a picturesque petting zoo. Along with the usual array of barnyard pals—goats, donkeys, sheep, ponies—there are parakeets, a giant tortoise, caribou and muntjacs. Their season runs May 8-Oct. 31, and they're open for select weekends in Nov. & Dec.
Santa's Village Amusement Park, 601 Dundee Ave., East Dundee; Online: santasvillagedundee.com
— Wendy Altschuler & Rachelle Stoller
Go Wild for These Animal Encounters Near Chicago