These Are the 7 Must-Visit Zoos Around and in Chicago

Written by Larissa Smith
Updated: June 7, 2023
© Rotter
Share this post on:


Zoos can offer you and your family the amazing opportunity to see exotic animals from around the world. So whether you’re interested in seeing lions, tigers, or elephants, you can learn about these beautiful creatures and create memorable experiences with loved ones.

Many zoos around and in Chicago, Illinois, have interactive exhibits, such as petting zoos or feeding giraffes, guided tours, and educational programs. If you plan to visit the Chicago area and get up close and personal with the animals, choose from some of the following zoos.

1. Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is the place to go in Chicago for a fun-filled day with your family and friends. The zoo was founded in 1868 and has one of the biggest zoo-based conservation and science programs in the United States. With more than 850 plant species and 200 animal species to explore, there is something for everyone.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is important in educating the public about different animals and their habitats. They also research animal behavior, physiology, and ecology, which can help inform conservation efforts. While it is a significantly large zoo, many improvements have gotten made to ensure the animals are cared for and have access to decent food, appropriate habitats, and medical care.

Notable attractions at Lincoln Park Zoo:

  • Lionel train adventure
  • AT&T endangered species carousel
  • Seal training and feeding
  • Ape cognition and care

Why is the Lincoln Park Zoo so amazing? First, it is free for everyone! Visitors of the zoo report how well the exhibits are maintained and how healthy the animals are. The best time of day to visit the zoo is between 10 am and 12 pm and on weekdays to avoid the crowded weekends. In addition, come to the Lincoln Park Zoo in the spring when all the baby animals are born for an extra special zoo experience.

Male Lion. Lincoln Park Zoo. Chicago, IL.
·         Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo and learn how they take conservation to new heights with technology and education.


2. Brookfield Zoo

In 1934, Brookfield Zoo opened its doors to the public but brought in its first gem in 1937, a panda named Su-lin. Since then, the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago has become a conservation leader, creating innovative animal safety processes.

This zoo has amazing attractions for people of all ages, such as the butterfly exhibit, motor safari, and a hands-on experience where you can feed parakeets and goats. With over 400 animal species and 235 acres of land to explore, Brookfield Zoo is an entertaining and unique experience for everyone.

Notable attractions at Brookfield Zoo:

  • Feed a giraffe
  • Gorilla trek
  • Penguin feeding adventure
  • Rainforest aviary feeding adventure

Visitors of Brookfield Zoo have great animal encounters and are worth the visit. The best time of year to visit the zoo is when the butterfly exhibit is in season, and the weather is good. Both the carousel and butterfly exhibit is weather dependent.

monarch butterfly on flower. Image of a butterfly Monarch on sunflower with blurry background. Nature stock image of a closeup insect. Most beautiful imaging of a wings butterfly on flowers.
·         The best time to visit Brookfield Zoo is when the weather is good, and the butterfly exhibit is open.


3. Shedd Aquarium

The Shed Aquarium is not technically a zoo, but the incredible sea creatures are a must-see in Chicago. From belugas, sharks, otters, penguins, and stingrays, the Shedd Aquarium offers an adventure you don’t want to miss.

The Shedd Aquarium also offer overnights for children where they can “sleep with the fishes.” In addition, kids can learn about sea animals and participate in science activities and scavenger hunts.

Notable attractions at Shedd Aquarium:

  • Sea otter encounter
  • 75-minute guided tour
  • Shark feeding tour
  • Beluga encounter
  • Sea star and stingray touch experience

The Shedd Aquarium limits the number of guests daily, so you should arrive before 9 am. You’ll also want to purchase the tickets online to avoid the queue and gain faster entry. Ticket prices are expensive but well worth the visit, especially in the spring.

A beautiful shot of Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
·         The Shedd Aquarium has many exotic sea animals to view and touch.

©Wirestock Creators/

4. Cosley Zoo

Located in Wheaton, IL, the Cosley Zoo provides up-close interactions with animals at an affordable rate. While they don’t have large animal encounters like Lincoln Park Zoo or Brookfield Zoo, they have unique exhibits that make it worth visiting.

There are over 20 exhibits and 50 species at the zoo. What makes them special? You can get close to and watch a coyote training session. This zoo is located just outside Chicago and is known for its interactive exhibits and immersive experiences.

Notable attractions at Cosley Zoo:

  • Coyote connections
  • Backpack tour
  • Duck feeding
  • Morning chores

The Cosley Zoo offers a variety of family-friendly activities that get enjoyed all year, which means the winter too! Therefore, rain or shine, you and your loved ones can still visit the zoo. The best time to visit Cosley Zoo is any time of the year, and zoo-goers report that the zoo might be small but worth the visit.

Feeding small ducklings mulard from the hand.
·         Cosley Zoo has about 50 animal species and opportunities to interact with farm animals, including duck feeding.

©Andrii Zastrozhnov/

5. Randall Oaks Zoo

If you’re looking for a hands-on animal experience, Randall Oaks Zoo in West Dundee, IL, will provide that and much more. While they don’t have large exotic animals, there are reptiles, deer, alpacas, foxes, bobcats, and wallabies to keep you entertained.

Randall Oaks Zoo is like a petting zoo or mini zoo for families with young children. They provide a fun and interactive encounter that is fit for all ages. Children can learn about animals in a safe and supervised environment while enjoying hands-on activities and games.

Notable attractions at Randall Oaks Zoo:

  • Walking, feeding, and grooming a pony
  • Walking, feeding, and grooming a mini horse
  • Playgrounds and picnic areas
  • Hayrides

Randall Oaks Zoo has a large barn where you can learn about animal care and welfare in the best way. Visitors say they have a wonderful experience interacting with the farm animals, but the farm is small. The best time to visit is in the morning, as the animals eagerly interact with guests.

Cute pretty little teenage girl reaching over and brushing the mane of her pet pony
·         Randall Oaks Zoo is a mini zoo that provides fun and interactive experiences for families of all ages.


6. Milwaukee County Zoo

Located in Wisconsin, only 90 minutes from Chicago, the Milwaukee County Zoo combines innovation and conservation to provide visitors with an experience they’ll never forget. There is a petting zoo, animal feeding opportunities, hippos, elephants, cheetahs, jaguars, lions, and many more exotic animals.

One of the highlights of the Milwaukee County Zoo is the 4D gorilla trek virtual reality experience. This is a 360-degree live-action exhibit where you can travel to Rwanda and experience gorillas in their natural habitat. You will use a virtual reality headset while seated on a motion platform for this adventure.

Notable attractions at Milwaukee County Zoo:

  • Sky adventures zip line and rope courses
  • Gorilla trek virtual reality experience
  • Aquatic and reptile theatre
  • Safari train
  • Carousel
  • Pony rides
  • Sky safari

The Milwaukee County Zoo has great reviews from visitors. However, some complaints include the extra price of some exhibits and parking costs not included in the entrance fee. The best time of year to visit the zoo is in the fall and spring. However, summers bring significant crowds, and many animals are indoors during the winter.

Mountain gorilla, Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. Close-up photo of wild big black silverback monkey in the forest, Africa. Wildlife nature. Mammal in green vegetation. Gorilla sitting in forest,
·         Milwaukee County Zoo has a 4D virtual reality experience where you can view gorillas in their natural habitat.

©Ondrej Prosicky/

7. Racine Zoo

Situated on the shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, Racine Zoo provides beautiful sights, interactive exhibits, and many wild animals. In addition, there are multiple education programs that people of all ages can enjoy, such as the penguin and giraffe chat, wildlife theatre, and the tortoise exhibit.

The Racine Zoo has amazing exotic animals, including lions, tigers, giraffes, and a range of reptiles, birds, and invertebrates. You won’t be left wanting! Take a behind-the-scenes tour and meet some of your favorite animals up close.

Notable attractions at Racine Zoo:

  • Barnyard safari
  • Giraffe encounter
  • Open-air aviary
  • Zoo choo express

The Racine Zoo is affordable, costing only $11 to visit in the summer and $9 per adult in the winter. Summers tend to get crowded, especially on the weekends. The best time to go is in the fall and spring. The weather is beautiful, and all the baby animals are out.

Farm Animals Standing Outside a Barn
·         Racine Zoo offers amazing behind-the-scenes tours to get up close and personal with your favorite barnyard animals.

©Kellie Sheridan/

The Featured Image

Indian rhinoceros walking towards the camera
The Indian rhinoceros' horn can grow as big as 25 inches.
© Rotter

Share this post on:
About the Author

The natural world is one of the most beautiful things, and I believe we should all do our part to protect it. After years spent in the South African bush, I found my way to writing about animals and nature in my work. My hope is to inspire others to appreciate and care for the world around them.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.