(credit: lpzoo.org)

By Greg Wahl

Lincoln Park Zoo
Cannon Drive at Fullerton Parkway
Chicago, IL

Admission: free, open 365 days a year
Hours: April–May: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Memorial/Labor Day Weekdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Holidays & Weekends 10 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
September–October: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
November–March: 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

As if a stroll through Lincoln Park on a fine day weren’t enough to convince Chicagoans that city summers are a more than adequate payback for the preceding winter, there are innumerable jewels nestled within the landscape to ensure that great things await you at every turn. Peaceful gardens and ponds, historic buildings and statues, playlots and paths abound, and in the middle of it all is a world-class (and free!) zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the city’s top spots for leisure time, and one of those places where kids and adults find enjoyment at pretty much an equal level. Penny-pinching romantics should also take note: it’s a solid entry on the “cheap date” list. If downtown seems, at times, too much of a human zoo, escape to the real thing just minutes north at this 49-acre urban oasis nestled in the park. Here are some of the main attractions to explore …

(credit: lpzoo.org)

Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo

The Children’s Zoo area is a large outdoor habitat that brings an authentic nature experience to the kids. The habitat is home primarily to wildlife of North America, including black bears and red wolves. The indoor area is where the kiddies get to play, with the giant, awesome Treetop Canopy Climbing Adventure installation that gives young climbers a chance to monkey around and get a taste of the treetop life.

(credit: lpzoo.org)

Regenstein African Journey

The park’s African habitat exhibit features two dozen native species, including rare animals from rain forests, deserts and the lakes of the Great Rift Valley. You’ll find the familiar here (giraffes, rhinos), along with some rarities. Really, when’s the last time you saw (or even heard of) a pygmy hippo or a dwarf crocodile? Newest arrival: Lily, the Red River Hog, a small a rather colorful swine.

(credit: lpzoo.org)

Regenstein Center for African Apes

Gorillas and chimps commune in this large, naturalistic living space, which is regarded as one of the country’s best ape habitats. The new building features 5,000 feet of artificial vines, a waterfall, a moat, and an on-site study and conservation center. Large glass windows give visitors multi-dimensional views of the day-to-day life of the apes.

Kovler Lion House

The Kovler Lion House dates back to 1912, but recent renovations have added modern touches to this historical landmark for the big (and small) cats. Animals in the house include African lions, Amur tigters, a snow leopard, a red panda, and something called a Serval that resembles a rather predatory-looking house cat.

(credit: lpzoo.org)

McCormick Bird House

Another exhibit with a long history, the original Bird House opened in 1904, and was renamed after major renovations in 1912. Multiple habitats replicate native climates for more than three dozen species of birds, including a flock of Inca terns and the rare Mynah bird. There’s also a large free-flight aviary where visitors mingle among a variety of winged species. Watch your head!

(credit: lpzoo.org)

Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House

The Small Mammal-Reptile House is home to a large variety of groovy-looking amphibians and reptiles, as well as mammals such as the sloth, wallaby and monkey. Colorful (and occasionally poisonous) frogs, fruit bats, rare snakes and the mysterious Mexican axolotl are among the many intriguing animals that call this multi-sensory environment home.

Helen Brach Primate House

Say hello to the white-cheeked gibbons (including five-month-old Sai) in this swinging indoor-outdoor exhibit, home to monkeys, marmosets, tamarins and several other primates. Vines, trees and murals make for a vibrant, naturalistic and active scene that supports a variety of ecosystems.

(credit: lpzoo.org)

Support the Lincoln Park Zoo

There’s something about a civic cultural entity charging no admission fee that compels one to just give because it’s the right thing to do. And, with the Lincoln Park Zoo especially, there are many ways to do so.

Shopping: Don’t leave without a stop at the Wild Things! shop, which offers trinkets, toys, apparel, handcrafted items, jewelry and more to help support the zoo’s mission of conservation and education.

Membership: Memberships range from $65/year for individuals, with members-only invites, to the $175/year Safari Membership, which includes two free SuperZooPicnic tickets, early camp registration and free parking.

Private Events: The Lincoln Park Zoo offers several areas for private events, including the versatile Café Brauer, for weddings, family picnics or corporate events.

Fun Fundraising: United Run for the Zoo happens on June 3, featuring a 10K run, 5K run, 5K walk and the free Rhino Rush for kids.

Greg Wahl, CBS Chicago