Brookfield Zoo

Visit an African savannah, the Australian Outback and the depths of the ocean — all in a single afternoon.

The Brookfield Zoo is spread out across more than 215 acres (87 hectares) in the suburb of Brookfield, 12 miles west of downtown Chicago. It has natural-looking habitats for a large and varied collection of animals, from grizzly bears to kangaroos, big cats and rare parrots. Come by car or public transport and plan to spend a morning (when the animals are most active) or the entire day.

There are two entries: one on the north and one on the south side of the zoo. Make sure you pick up a map from the ticket booth and remember which entrance you came in. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and if you don’t want to walk all day, buy a ticket for the Motor Safari trams that run scheduled tours. Hop on and off as you please at four different stops around the grounds.

Don’t miss the Dolphin Presentation, which runs twice daily. It costs a little extra, but is well worth the price to see experienced keepers interact with Dolphins performing tricks. There are many other presentations throughout the day, including gorilla feedings and penguin “Zoo Chats.” Check times on the zoo’s official website.

Kids can get close to armadillos, horses, cows, lemurs and reptiles at two petting zoos: Children’s Zoo and Hamill Family Play Zoo. They’re next door to each other in the southwest corner of the park.

North from here you’ll find the big cats and seal enclosures. Hoofed animals (zebras, camels, and donkeys) can be found next to kangaroos, emus and ostrich in the Australian Outback enclosure. Head west for the African Savannah (giraffes, hogs and aardvarks) and the Great Bear Wilderness, which has polar and grizzly bears.

Once you’ve seen all the animals you can, take time to relax in the peaceful park surrounds. There’s a food court and snack vendors dotted around, or bring your own packed-lunch.