The Philadelphia Zoo
I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like animals, at least not enough to prevent them from enjoying a trip to the zoo! The Philadelphia Zoo (formerly called Philadelphia Zoological Gardens) has the notable distinction of being the first zoo in America, founded in 1874. Designed to be a picturesque Victorian garden, there remains today a pleasing blend of art, nature, and architecture rarely seen in other zoos. The entrance to the zoo is preserved history with the Victorian gatehouses and bronze statue of “The Dying Lioness,” which are original dating back to 1875. Also on the grounds is an historic house called “The Solitude” built in 1784 by John Penn, grandson of William Penn!
Not a very large zoo, but covering all the essentials, Philadelphia Zoo can be toured in about 3 or 4 hours, including time for lunch. If you do some of the extras it will be longer. I recently went with my daughter’s 2nd grade class on a field trip. It happened to be a beautiful day, sunny and moderate, so it made for an especially enjoyable time. We worked through the grounds in a clockwise manner which seemed to beat the crowds really well. Exhibits include an Outback Outpost, Bear Country, African Plains, Carnivore Kingdom, a bird house and eagles, Big Cat Falls, Primate Reserve, KidZooU, Reptile and Amphibian House, Small Mammal House, and Rare Animal Conservation Center.
One of our group’s favorite was the Primate Reserve showcasing several types of monkeys, apes, and gorillas. We marveled at the monkeys swinging around on their ropes, and the pensive gorilla sitting there looking a little sad. The kids especially liked going through a special dark corridor to see a kind of monkey that is active in the dark. Outside there is a sky, mesh-tunnel system that a group of lemurs were running through and making quite a ruckus too. The big cats have a similar system and we saw a lioness sleeping right above our heads at one point. My daughter’s favorite animal exhibit was the giraffes. A zookeeper happened to be stationed there and gave the kids a short educational talk. Do you know the giraffe has a very long purple tongue? Another highlight for the 2nd grade class was getting to see “Speedy” one of the cheetahs earlier in the year the class had “adopted,” each contributing some of their own money. We were amazed to learn a cheetah can run as fast as a car on the turnpike for short distances! In one area, we had the opportunity to pet some goats in a barnyard exhibit. I always enjoy watching the adorable meerkats run around in their little mazes.
Our field trip passes only included general admission, but if you don’t mind spending money, there are a lot of additional rides and attractions. One noteworthy extra that I think might actually be worth the additional expense ($10 per person) is the Philly Zoo hot air balloon ride, which is tethered to the ground but goes up pretty high and would give you a great view of the city landscape. A carousel, swan boat rides, pony rides, face painting, kiddie train rides, and a tropical bird aviary called “Wings of Asia” round out the extras list. I feel like the rides you can save for when you visit an amusement park, but the aviary might be a cool experience and only costs $2 per person (members are free).
If you don’t like packing your lunch, there are a host of eateries offering everything from baked goods to Panini to salads to fast food. Three gift shops cater to your souvenir shopping desires, although we did not visit them on the field trip.
Best visited on a fair weather day, spring and fall would be ideal because in hot weather the animals take cover and are not as easy to see. Kids will love the animals and attractions and you will enjoy the artistic layout and refreshing garden setting, making the Philadelphia Zoo a must-visit for the whole family! If you plan to attend more than once a year, a family membership might be worth your while.
Special note: A few ideas to compliment your visit to the zoo include: (1) A driving tour of the Fairmount mansions, see my blog post at http://www.daytrippermom.com/driving-tour-of-fairmount-park-philadelphia-historic-mansions/, (2) Please Touch Museum—great for kids up to about 8 years old, (3) Smith Memorial Playground in Fairmount park, awesome free fun for kids up to age 10, see their website at http://smithplayground.org/visit/ for more info.
Parking in the several zoo lots will run you $16 a visit, but if you are a member it is included. The Philly Phlash makes a stop at the zoo and only costs $2 per rider and kids 4 and under are free. This is a great option if you take the train into the 30th Street station.
Admission: $23/adult, $19/child 2-11, FREE/child under 2. (Philadelphia Zoo is included on the CityPASS ticket, see http://www.citypass.com/philadelphia for more info.)
Hours: 9:30AM-5PM every day (except certain holidays) from March to October, 9:30AM-4PM from November to February.
The Philadelphia Zoo
3400 West Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Please see www.philadelphiazoo.org for many more details!