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 our picks and go explore. Just don’t forget the antibacterial wipes.
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.
Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield (708-688-8000 or online at 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. Note: Currently closed for the season, reopening in May.
Lambs Farm, 14245 W. Rockland Rd., Libertyville (847-362-4626 or online at lambsfarm.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 Apr. 27-Oct. 31, and they're open for select weekends in Nov. & Dec.
Santa's Village Amusement Park, 601 Dundee Ave., East Dundee (847-426-6751 or online at santasvillagedundee.com).
The Center & Children's Farm
Family farm tours, hay rides 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 (708-361-3650 or online at 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 (312-742-2000 or online at 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 (630-892-1550 or online at 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: The petting zoo is open May-November.
Forest View Farms, 16717 S. Lockwood Ave., Tinley Park (708-560-0306 or online at 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. Note: opens for the season April 6.
Randall Oaks Barnyard Zoo, 1180 N. Randall Rd., West Dundee (847-551-4310 or online at dtpd.org).
— Wendy Altschuler & Rachelle Stoller