By Rachel Azark

There was no other place I wanted to go to more as a kid than the Brookfield Zoo. In fact, blowing out the candles on my birthday cake involved wishing for my mom to take me to the zoo. That’s before I got smart and starting wishing for a dog. Over the past couple of years the zoo has started implementing a lot of new exhibits and homes for the animals. The best part of the zoo is that you’ll never see the same thing twice. The animals are always up to something.

Quick Facts

8400 31st St.
Brookfield, IL 60513

The Brookfield Zoo is open every day of the year.
Weekdays: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Weekends: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.


Adult: $15
Senior (65+): $10.50
Child (3-11): $10.50

Add-ons to the General Admission price include Dolphin Show, Butterflies!, Children’s Zoo, Hamill Family Play Zoo, Motor Safari, The Carousel, Stingray Bay and Xtreme BUGS. See website for prices.

Where to Eat

BZ Red Hots
Located near Seven Seas
Monday – Friday 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

If it’s lunchtime and you’re headed to see the dolphins, stop in at BZ Red Hots for Vienna Beef Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef, gyros and more.

Café del Sol
Located near Living Coast
Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5:30 a.m.

If you find yourself hungry after watching all those penguins eat fish, then Café del Sol offers an assortment of things for lunch. Choose from Connie’s pizza, barbeque, burritos, salads and grilled favorites. They also have healthy Grab and Go items including fresh sub sandwiches, salads, fresh fruits and other treats. No worries if you’re a vegetarian, they offer options for you too.

Across from Baboon Island
Monday – Friday 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 a.m.
Saturday – Sunday 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Looking for a treat to hold you over until dinnertime? Scoops offers seasonal treats and snacks, and hand scooped ice cream. Great for one of those hot summer days.


Here are some of my favorite exhibits at the zoo.

Seven Seas: It’s worth the extra $4 to go see the dolphin show. Watch them flip in the air, hit beach balls out of the pool, and swim backwards. If you weren’t smiling when you went in, you’ll be smiling on your way out. It is also worth it to view the dolphins from underneath at the underwater viewing area. It’s even better to watch when a show is going on up above.

Great Bear Wilderness: This is the zoo’s newest naturalistic habit. If you remember where the bears were before, this is such a vast change from that, that if the bears could dance they would be. You can view the polar bears and grizzly bears under water. And seeing bears swim or sit underwater is a wonderful treat. This area can get very busy very quickly, so it’s advisable to try off-times of the day to see, like morning and evening. If you’re there in the winter, you can see the grizzlies sleeping in their den.

Tropic World: The smell of monkeys hits you the moment you walk into the door and hear the waterfall. As you go through another door you enter one of the largest animal exhibits on Earth, and it is quite impressive. First you’ll enter South America and see spider monkeys high in the tress. Next is Asia, where you’ll see gibbons, orangutans, and small-clawed otters. In the African forest, visit the Western lowland gorillas and see the young gorillas frolic and play. If you’re really into animals, bring binoculars to see the tiny ones high up in the trees.

How to Get to the Animals

Brookfield Zoo is only 14 miles west of Downtown Chicago. If driving there from the city, there are exits to First Ave. from the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and from the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). There are plenty of signs on First Ave. directing you into the zoo parking.

Zoo parking is $10 per car. Unless you’re a member, then it’s free to park in the North lot and $2 to park in the South lot.

If you’re taking Metra there, you can take the BNSF train out of Union Station to the Hollywood stop, otherwise known as the “zoo stop.” From there it is a quick walk over to the south entrance of the zoo.

Hotels Nearby

If you need a place to stay in the area, the Brookfield Zoo has hotel partners. Ask the hotels for the Brookfield Zoo Hotel Package that includes:

• Four general admission passes to the zoo
• Four ride passes for the Motor Safari
• Four admission passes to the Children’s Zoo
• Four ride passes for The Carousel
• One parking pass
• And coupons and discounts to the zoo gift shops and restaurants

Visit the zoo’s website for a list of all participating hotels.

Rachel Azark is a writer and lives on Chicago’s northwest side. Read more of her work on her blog