Lincoln Park Zoo: sea-lions + tigers + bears
2001 North Clark Street
Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year.
The zoo is free every day.
intricate sculptural wrought-iron main gate mimics flora and fauna found in the zoo
There are enough sea lions and tigers and bears, as well as other sights to keep a child happily occupied for an entire day at Lincoln Park Zoo. Although this time we hadn’t planned on a full day at the Zoo, we had a brief visit after another nearby venue we were seeing had closed.
History and design
Lincoln Park Zoo stands as one of the last free major cultural institutions in the United States and the only one left in Chicago. This Zoo harkens back to the turn-of the-century European zoos that began in formal public gardens. It is among the oldest zoological parks in the U.S., which begun with the gift of a pair of swans in 1868.
Although Lincoln Park Zoo is particularly famous for its historical structures, the early Georgian Revival zoo buildings and Victorian cages were little more than decorative enclosures for the separation of species. Over the years, the zoo has evolved and succeeded at combining state-of-the-art animal and visitor facilities with beautiful architectural reflections of past sensibilities. The modern designs stress the re-creation of natural habitats with human intrusion kept to a minimum.
pleasing graphics with a voice
We entered at the east gate and picked up a free visitors guide at the Information Pavilion. You can book a guided tour and colorful strollers and wheelchairs are also available for rent. If we were spending the day, we would have followed the Red, Green, Blue or Gold Trails laid out and clearly marked. Because we had about two hours before closing, we limited our visit to venues in close proximity to the gate with a small circular route. We started at the Kovler lion house and looped through the sea lion pool, penguins and sea birds, African savannah, birds of prey, and ended at the 19th-century McCormick Bird House.
I was enormously impressed with the clarity and creativeness of the directional graphics and educational signage, which proved to be more than just written words. A little key will activate additional audio explanations at each signage station. For a fee of a $3, the key enables you to access a years worth of audio knowledge and entertainment for you and your children.
TheSea Lion Pool, situated in the center of the zoo, is home to harbor seals, gray seals, and California sea lions that cavort as thought they are always on stage. The original pool was constructed in 1879, making it one of the oldest and most popular Lincoln Park Zoo exhibits. Extensive renovation of the Kovler Sea Lion Pool was completed in May 1999. It was re-designed for a more naturalistic environment to provide the seals and lions a habitat that as closely as possible replicates their home in the wild. My niece loved the underwater viewing area, where you can get a nose-to-glass close-up look at the happy-looking seals as they gleefully glide about the pool.
this giraffe enjoys the faux savannah
Another newly rebuilt area is home to elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and assorted other large mammals. The outdoor view areas are planted and landscaped to mimic as closely as possible in the Midwest, the conditions and look (and taste if you are a giraffe) of the African Savannah.
The African journey begins in a ranger station. From there, visitors see a varied landscape, from the riverbanks of the African rain forest, up to the top of the tree line for an eye-to-eye view of the giraffes in the Africa Savanna. You can follow a realistic dry thorn forest path, before finally dipping back down to visit the lakeshore of a replica of one of Africa’s Great Rift Valley lakes.
beautifully detailed exterior brickwork of the 1912 lion house
The Kovler Lion House is a handsome historical landmark at the heart of the Zoo. Once inside, its wide hall and vaulted ceiling can amplify the roars of the Zoo’s collection of the world’s most beautiful big cats, including African lions, Siberian tigers, leopards from Asia and Africa, jaguars from South America, and snow leopards of the Himalayas.
nice 'hood: birds live in a landmark Georgian Revival brick building
Brick bird building
McCormack Bird House is another landmark brick building built in the Georgian Revival style, with roosting room for birds from the tropics, seashores, forests, wetlands, and savannas. It was designed in 1904 by the Zoo’s first director, Cyrus DeVry. He made certain to include habitats replicating the dense jungles, sandy coasts, running streams, and grassy plains of the birds’ natural homes. My niece Amélie loved the lush, tropical, free-flight area where she could watch exotic and endangered birds soar overhead. This habitat alone is home to more than 20 bird species.
Naturally, after two hours, we were only able to see a small fraction of what the Lincoln Park Zoo has to offer. But as animal lovers we were pleased to see that creatures that were formerly kept in stark concrete pens were now in state-of-the-art ecosystems designed to reflect individual natural habitats. Lincoln Park Zoo has kept faithful to its past zoological park elegance and with ambitious modernization has continues to strive to be among the best in care and management of wildlife in captivity.
a long day for this cat
BUDGET TIP: Although the Zoo does not charge admission, Zoo parking is $12 in the near lot if you come by car. I parked several blocks away in the lot behind the Lincoln Park Conservatory (nearer to the Notebaert Museum). The all-day fee was $8. We walked to the Zoo through the Caldwell Lily Gardens and took the Free Trolley back to our car at the end of the day’s sightseeing.