Spring is here, NYC is opening up and it’s a great time to head to a zoo, aquarium or even a farm outside the city. From an arty farm on the Upper East Side to stellar petting zoos great for little ones, aquariums and the world-class Bronx Zoo, 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! Also note that you’re going to need to reserve tickets in advance for most of these destinations, and observe social-distancing and mask-wearing. 

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 Come here so kids can 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). (Note: this is currently on hold due to Covid-19 safety.)

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

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

Staten Island Zoo

It's sheep-shearing time at the Staten Island Zoo! April 18 is Farm Day at the zoo, and professional sheep-shearers will remove the heavy winter coats from the flock. In addition to the sheep, you can get up close with goats, donkeys, chickens, alpaca, geese, and more here. The event is free with Zoo admission, and there's a giveaway to the first 100 children under 14. Even if you can't make this event, the Staten Island Zoo is a more manageable size compared to some of the larger zoos in the NYC area. 

Tickets: $10/15 and older; $7/60 and older; $6/3-14, free/two and younger
Sun., April 18
Staten Island Zoo
Online: statenislandzoo.org

photo: Gretchen Kunz

The Bronx Zoo

Bronx Zoo is the biggest of all four city zoos, as well as one of the largest in the country.  The Children's Zoo experience is a must-visit. It was revamped in 2015 and is home to creatures such as a giant anteater, prairie dogs, a sloth many many more. You can feed farm animals here, too. (An additional entry fee of $6 applies.)

For big kids (and adults) there's the Treetop Adventure course and zipline experience, but you'll also find a more tame, 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

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. 

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
Online: theartfarms.org

New York Aquarium

The newest exhibit at the New York Aquarium is worth a visit on its own. Ocean Wonders: Sharks! is a permanent addition, with its own building that provides incredible, up-close views of sharks and other sea dwellers, as well as interactive elements. Plus: there's 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

Long Island Aquarium

One of our picks for a fun spring day trip from NYC, The Long Island Aquarium is home to one of the largest all-living, closed-system coral reef displays in the Western hemisphere! You'll find all kinds of animals here, including seals, sea lions, penguins, sea otters, butterflies, insects, seahorses, jellyfish and many more! Sadly, the Touch Tank is closed due to Covid-19, but you can book an interactive experience such as a Penguin Encounter or Sea Lion Selfie for an additional fee. Advance purchase of tickets is required, and you must wear a mask indoors and outside here. Hot tip: Visit the aquarium within 7 days of your birthday and get in free! (ID and birth certificate required.) 

Tickets: $23/ages 3-12; $35/ages 13-61; $26/62 and up, free/kids 2 and under
431 E. Main St. 
631-208-9200 x426
Online: longislandaquarium.com

photo: Wave Hill

Guided Birdwatching in the Parks

Despite being a major metropolis, NYC attracts plenty of feathered friends, especially to its parks. (For a full guide to bird-watching with kids in NYC, click here!)

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
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
Online: wavehill.org

 Silverman’s Farm

For more exotic animals, head to Silverman’s Farm in Easton, Connecticut, which reopened for visitors March 26. Instead of the typical chickens and cows that you normally see on a traditional farm, kids will get to see llamas, alpacas, emus and buffalo, with a few goats and other four-legged friends as well. Bring some change so that you can purchase animal feed from one of the coin-operated dispensers. Take note: this is also a place to Pick-Your-Own raspberries, blueberries and apples. Be sure to read the animal farm rules before you go, and bring a mask! 

451 Sport Hill Rd.
Easton, CT.
Online: silvermansfarm.com

Long Island Game Farm Wildlife Park & Children’s Zoo

This Long Island destination is reopening for visitors on weekends starting April 17, and will be offering reduced admission prices through May 14. (Some of the marquee animals, like the giraffe and monkeys are making their way north.) But you can still see all the classic farm animals, pet and feed them, and take a look at the new spring babies. If you need a lunch break away from the animals, have a picnic over the by the carousel and Teacup amusement rides. The zoo also offers group rates for parties and tour groups.

Tickets: 13-61/$19.95; 3-12/$14.95, two and under/free
Weekends, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
250 Old Country Rd.
Manorville, NY
Online: longislandgamefarm.com

White Post Farms

White Post Farms' Animal Farm provides lots of chances for up-close encounters with creatures of all kinds. There is a giraffe observation deck, two bird encounters (Budgies or Lorikeets), a primate enrichment barn and lots more, including live shows, pony rides and a tiny train. (You'll also find a farmer's market and garden center here.) Tickets must be purchased in advance; see Covid-19 policies here.

Tickets: $20.95
250 Old Court Rd. 
Melville, NY 
Online: animalpettingzoo.com

photo: Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Cross Your Fingers These Two Favorites to Return!

Of course, these events did not happen at all last fall, but they are two of our favorites. Cross your fingers and hope to see these events in October 2021! 

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.

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.)

Tickets: Free
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave.
Morningside Heights
Online: stjohndivine.org

featured image: New York Aquarium

— Mimi O’Connor


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