If the blooming cherry blossoms and brilliantly yellow daffodils popping up around town have gardening on your mind, the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s Garden Tour is the place for you and your mini mate to get inspired. It’s the best way ever to check out the zoo’s greener wildlife and plan your summer garden with your little green thumb.

zoo garden tour girl smelling plant

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

A Tour-ific Time
First Sundays at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium are the place to be for budding gardeners of all ages. Whether you and your sidekick dabble in the dirt, or have some serious know-how when it comes to getting your garden on, there’s lots to learn from Zoo Horticulturalist, Bryon Jones, who leads the information-packed monthly Garden Tours. Jones’ almost encyclopedic knowledge of the plants he so carefully tends to throughout the year, is nothing short of impressive. But it’s his enthusiasm for all things green that will keep your kidlet full of questions and focused during this hour-long tour that gives zoo visitors the chance to explore and ask questions about the amazing plants, bushes and trees that populate the grounds.

zoo garden tour girl with tree

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The walking group meets at 10 a.m., just inside the main entrance before taking off. Once you’ve hit the trail plan on lots of listening, and not too much walking, as you wander from one garden grouping to the next. And with a different tour each month, it’s easy to find one your kidlet will love (think: Plant Charades, Urban Giants or Grow Wild, which focuses on attracting wildlife in your own backyard), plus you’ve got an excuse to come back and learn something new next month!

zoo garden tour desert plants and crowd

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Keep the Kids Engaged
This rise-and-shine activity (included with zoo admission or membership) is an easy way for families to get outside, soak up the sun (fingers crossed!) and learn a little something while they’re at it. The walking trails that wind around the greens are all paved, so bring a stroller for the tot lot, if you’ve got it. They are definitely free to roam, but since there’s lots of listening time, having a strap-in option, and snacks on hand, will help to keep your kidlet from wiggling too much during the tour. But if they just gotta explore, this is one tour that’s easy to duck in and out of, so let them roam if they must.

zoo garden tour girl touching plant

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

To keep preschoolers and grade-schoolers engaged, arm them with questions (trust us, Bryon can answer them all!) and a notebook to use as a “field journal.” There’s plenty of time to sit down and draw pictures of the plants they encounter, while parents listen and ask questions of their own. There are also chances for kiddos (you too, parents!) to touch and smell some of the different plants around the zoo. It’s just one more thing to love about this outdoor adventure! And remember that the tour is always outside and runs, rain or shine, so dress for the weather when you head out in the morning.

zoo garden tour girl with plant

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Post-Tour Adventures
After the tour ends, give your sidekick space to play at the Kids’ Zone. Animal Avenue has lots of small climbables for the tot lot to play on, and an underground viewing area where they’ll find adorable meerkats and some creepy crawlies, all on display. Then head over to Magical Movement, the other side of the Kids’ Zone. Here, big kids can let loose on a sprawling Kompan play set, race each other on the otter slides and maybe get a chance to say hi to the zoo’s wandering peacock, who’s often spotted in the play space. It’s a great follow-up to all that brain building biology.

Point Def Zoo girl on playground

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Chances are your little animal lover will spot (or hear!) some of Point Defiance Zoo’s residents while you’re out walking the grounds. Plan to visit with them once the tour is over to sate their curiosity. The Arctic Tundra is where is where you’ll spy the polar bears and foxes; and Rocky Shores, right next door, is where the otters, walruses and seals hang out. The dynamic tiger, elephants and monkeys are all housed on the other side of the park, in the Asian Forest Sanctuary. And don’t forget about the Aquarium, smack dab in the middle of the main exhibits, where your curious cutie can pet stingrays and sharks, and watch tropical fish swim peacefully by, from tank to tank. We love this tropical stop as a warm-up on a cool or drizzly spring day.

Point Def Zoo girl petting sting ray

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
5400 N. Pearl St.
Tacoma, Wa 98407
253-591-5337
Online: pdza.org/garden-tours

Dates: Apr. 3, May 1, June 5, July 3, Aug. 7, Sept. 4, Oct. 2, Nov. 6, Dec. 4, 2016
Time: 10 a.m.
Cost: Free with zoo admission or membership

Do you plan on attending one of these garden tours? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below.

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— Allison Sutcliffe