7 “Hidden” Things to Do at Lincoln Park Zoo

June 15, 2023

The zoo is a beautiful oasis in summer, full of life and activity—both human and animal. On a day like today, you may be able to see the flamingos resting at Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond, or the giraffes walking around at Regenstein African Journey, or the seals swimming leisurely about Kovler Seal Pool. You might also catch sight of keepers cleaning habitats or training animals and volunteers manning mobile learning stations. There’s always something happening! But if you’re not a resident of the Lincoln Park neighborhood, there are some fun things in and around this beautiful urban site that you may not know about. Here are some tips on “hidden” places and other fun things to see at the zoo, which can help you make the most of your next visit.

1. Take a restful break by the Dream Lady

The zoo is home to some beautiful and moving memorials, including this one to 19th-century children’s poet Eugene Field. Dedicated in 1922 by Edward Francis McCarten, this statue represents the “Dream Lady” from the poem “The Rock-a-by-Lady” hovering over two sleeping children.

The granite base includes scenes and verses from some of Field’s poems. You can find this surprising piece of art at the northwest corner of the Helen Brach Primate House. Some benches next to the piece allow for a contemplative rest between exploration of animal habitats.

2. Connect with urban wildlife

Although you can see animals from all over the world at Lincoln Park Zoo, this place is also great for viewing local wildlife. Take advantage of your proximity to lush natural surroundings: view ducks, fish, and birds at Nature Boardwalk or go to Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo to see the state-endangered black-crowned night herons that nest there every year.

Urban areas with all their variety make great habitat for many animals, from coyotes and racoons to birds and bats. Our Urban Wildlife Institute studies these species to better understand how humans and animals can coexist.

3. Forget the animals—tour all the beautiful gardens

Because the zoo is an accredited arboretum, it meets high standards of science-based care for the plants, flowers, and trees on-site. Next time you’re here, look up and find the green roofs on 18 buildings, including Pepper Family Wildlife Center (hint: you can get a decent view from Bird’s Eye Bar & Grill).

Go on a woodsy scavenger hunt and locate significant trees. Use the online Garden Explorer to locate individual species and areas of interest. And if you want to help us purchase more labels so you can easily see what you’re looking at, visit our Wish List!

4. Visit some Chicago Landmarks

One thing visitors to the city of Chicago like to do is take architectural tours, during which they learn about historic and beautiful buildings in this town. Lincoln Park Zoo, established in 1868, is an indelible part of the city’s history and includes a few architectural highlights of its own.

Pepper Family Wildlife Center, built in 1912 as an Arts and Crafts marvel by Dwight Perkins, is a classic Art Deco building from 1912, which has been renovated with state-of-the-art accommodations for big cats. Café Brauer, built by Perkins and partner John L. Hamilton in 1908 in the Prairie style, is a stylish site for events and summer dining on the patio. And Carlson Cottage, a comfort station designed in 1888 by Joseph Lyman Silsbee (who built the nearby Lincoln Park Conservatory and was mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright), stands at the south edge of the zoo just south of Café Brauer.

5. Get Delicious Ice Cream

In summer, it’s not hard to find ice cream trucks tooting their cheerful songs as they make their way down the streets of Lincoln Park, and there are numerous spots inside the zoo you can get this frozen treat as well.

But here are two of our favorites: there’s an ice cream stand in historic Café Brauer which has plenty of great flavors. Or, you may wish to make your way to the Rainbow Cone food truck, at the south end of the zoo on your way to Farm-in-the-Zoo along the path that leads to the Lester E. Fisher Bridge. You can enjoy this longstanding Chicago traditional dessert with its iconic five flavors: orange sherbet, pistachio, Palmer House, strawberry, and chocolate.

6. See the Edible Gardens at Farm-in-the-Zoo

For animals like goats, rabbits, chickens, and cows, as well as experiential activities for young children, you’ll want to stop here. The Main Barn offers open-ended nature play experiences for children ages 1–5 every Wednesday from 10 a.m.–noon during the summer season.

You can also check out The Edible Gardens, a 5,000-square-foot urban agriculture project maintained by volunteers and The Organic Farmer in partnership with Green City Market. It’s a great place for children and families to learn about the origins of their food—and on Wednesdays, the Green City Market is just a few steps away.

7. Seek Out Offbeat Views

It’s easy to rush through the zoo on your way to doing other things, but if you take the time to search out some of the hidden spaces at the zoo, you’ll find yourself viewing the animals that reside here from a different perspective.

For example, did you know there is underwater viewing for the Kovler Seal Pool? Simply look for the ramp that leads up to the stadium seating behind the pool and walk behind it. There are also multiple places along the zoo’s north loop to view the polar bear habitat that you might not have tried. And for an upper-story view of the Puerto Rican parrots, you’ll want to ascend the stairs to the second floor of Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House.

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