Frugal Chicago Date Idea: Lincoln Park Zoo

moving right along in my frugal and free month of june: date ideas.  well, you can't get cheaper than the entrance fee for lincoln park zoo - it's free.  my very favorite price.  it's clean, it's right on lake michigan, and it's a fun place for a date when you're trying to save as much money as possible.

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tangent - some people are not fans of zoos.  which i understand, because you don't want to see the animals in small cages when they could be roaming in the wild.  and in an ideal world, it would be awesome if humans weren't poaching them and taking over all their land and we could drive down the interstate in wisconsin and not see some sad roadkill every 500 feet that feel the overwhelming urge over to get out and bury.  but that's not real life so my general thought is that they get fed and cared for in the zoos and in the wild, they'd likely be dead by now.  so realistically, i'm okay with zoos.  moving on.



there's so many exhibits to check out - lion house, monkey house, reptile house, zebra area.  i cannot even count how many other animals we saw.  wild dogs, warthogs, camels, otters, giraffes, sea lions, meerkats, rhinos, flamingos, even a farm with cows and horses.  it seems endless.  of course, i'm a sucker for anything fluffy and adorable so the red panda was the clear winner of the day.  i desperately want a red panda.



a word to the weak like me - i'm totally freaked out by the bird house.  i should preface that by saying that i'm totally freaked out by birds because my mom made me watch that hitchcock movie way too young.  'it's a classic' she said.  lies.  anyway, the bird house does not have screens or windows or whatever.  the birds fly free and that is just too, too much for me.  john thought it was cool though.  but he likes jurassic park and remember the part where they're in the pterodactyl cage?  that's what the bird house looks like.  no.  so much no.

they were building a new habitat for the cold loving animals, so there weren't any polar bears or penguins.  but the new spot that they were building looks really nice, so i can't wait to see it.  we'll be back zoo.  we'll be back.

money saving tips:
- take public transit to get there.  parking prices are outrageous, street parking is limited and the prices aren't much better, but the bus stops right in front and is only $2 a ride.
- don't buy food in the zoo.  for two adults, you don't need to spend a ton of time at the zoo and you can see the exhibits pretty quickly.  so don't plan to be there during a meal time.  have an early lunch and then head there, leaving before dinner time.  ask me if you need nearby restaurant recommendations.
- like anywhere else, bring your own water bottles.
- stay out of the gift shop.  you don't need anything in there.

other lincoln park zoo tips:
- it's open year round.  it's decorated for christmas with all kinds of lights so that's always fun.  but definitely go in the spring or fall to avoid all the kids and families.  if you really want to go in the summer, have a ditch day from work and go on a weekday - always a better bet than the weekend.
- despite it going in a seemingly manageable circle, the zoo bigger than you think it is.  wear comfortable shoes.  i think we hit 16k steps easily in just a couple of hours.
- don't try to steal the red pandas.  they frown upon that.
- if you do get the red panda, come to my house immediately.  i shall hide you from the law and we'll enjoy panda antics forever.


if you need more info or to download the visitor's guide, check out the zoo's website.

39 comments

  1. Don't get me wrong, I DO love zoos but I literally can't bring myself to go to them anymore, it seriously hurts my heart. But I certainly don't hate on anyone for going. They're so much fun and a you can make a fun day of it. (Pack your own food of course.)

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  2. Okay. My boyfriend and I go to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago EVERY SINGLE time I come to Chicago, so about every two weeks or so! It is our favorite place to go on weekends! AND I am also deathly afraid of birds.

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  3. I LOVE the zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo looks so fun! I have to make a trip next time I'm back.

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  4. Hawkeye would totally love a red panda friend. Me, I'll take a giraffe. And a penguin. I would freaking love a penguin.


    I'm not a zoo fan or a poaching fan. Can people stop being aholes and killing animals for sport? I wish that was real life.

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  5. Wouldn't that be the life? Have you seen all the rhino drama? People suck, they really do. I believe in natural selection - if the animal can't outrun the lion, the lion wins. There's nothing fair or natural about poaching.
    I think Hawkeye would be jealous of all the attention the red panda would get. She doesn't share well.

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  6. Definitely! I love this one, they have so much to do and I feel like it's a good size. And clean, I love clean zoos.

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  7. Isn't the bird house terrifying?! I can't do it. I would definitely go every weekend if I lived a bit closer, though it's not too bad to get to by bus from my place. I can't wait for the polar bear area to open!

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  8. Definitely pack your own food - there's nothing good to eat at zoos anyway. When I went this time, I didn't see any sad looking animals. It was nice weather and they all seemed to be playing or lounging in the sun. So that made me happy!

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  9. I loved Lincoln Park zoo for this very reason! We went having no clue it was free and were so pleasantly surprised! We had just planned to walk around the park and skip the zoo, but when we saw the wide open gates and found out it was free we forgot all about the park.

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  10. Fooey, I wish I had known to visit this when we were in Chicago last summer. I love the zoo. Especially the flamingos!

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  11. I feel like this would be the perfect date idea in any city! i haven't been to the zoo in forever!

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  12. FREE??? our zoo costs like $30 to get in. i like your prices way better.

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  13. wow amazing it's free!

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  14. I love the wide open gates, so inviting! It's so great that it's free. And they keep it so nice, for it being such a public space.

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  15. I guess you'll just have to come back! The flamingos were awesome, there were so many.

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  16. Agreed! I wonder how many other zoos are free? We have another in the suburbs, but they charge admission.

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  17. I love free!! They keep it super well maintained too. There's one in the suburbs that charges, that one is probably similar in price to yours. I prefer free :)

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  18. It's such a great place to visit!

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  19. I've always heard great things about this zoo!

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  20. Your zoo logic is the best logic.

    Also, red pandas are the best!!!

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  21. Free dates are the best! I adore red pandas. If I could, I'd have a red panda and an otter.

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  22. I love the zoo!!! I wish the south would hop on board with the free zoo entrances of the north. It is so not free here....and they aren't near as good as the northern zoos either.

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  23. I love zoos. We have a pretty ok one not to far away in Cincinnati but I'd love to visit a bigger one.

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  24. The red panda is adorable. We shall devise a plan!!

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  25. I love this as a date idea! I always go in the winter for the lights.

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  26. Caitlin @ Candyfloss & PersieJune 11, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    I'm one of those people torn on zoos (mainly the elephants, I just feel like they don't have enough space generally in zoos and wish they could be in sanctuaries). However, I've decided to believe that it is conservation and that most of the employees there really do care about the welfare of the animals. So with that said, I really do love going. that red panda is so, so cute. And I love that the zoo is free! How nice is that, especially if you had a kid. Great tips!

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  28. It's definitely a good one. I've been to others I don't like nearly as much!

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  29. I think it's true, I don't really see sad animals at LP. They seem well cared for! Especially the red pandas, that little dude was having a ball.

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  30. Otters are adorable too, I love them. The zookeeper said you can't have red pandas because 'they'll scratch all your furniture and pee on everything.' I could live with that!

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  31. Free is the best part! I don't know that I'd ever go if I had to pay to get in. I wonder why the south doesn't have great zoos?

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  32. Come visit me in Chicago and we'll go to LP :) It's not huge, not like the California one, but it's a really good size and has tons of animals.

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  33. Excellent! MUST have red panda. Seamus and Hawkeye will be so jealous though.

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  34. I love Zoo Lights, I haven't been in a couple years but I'm hoping to go this year. Fingers crossed on finding a day when it's not totally freezing.

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  35. Lincoln Park Zoo actually doesn't have elephants any more, with no plans to get any. It's true, they don't have enough space and often die in confinements like zoos. I don't mind that LP doesn't have them, it's better for them :) Plus they have plenty of other animals that definitely look like they're having a good time. I saw a lion chewing a hunk of raw meat - he seemed pretty darn pleased with himself! So I think they're well cared for. The red panda was definitely having the best day out of all of them though!

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  36. I think I enjoy zoos more now than I did when I was a kid!

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  37. OMG I love the panda!!! I want it too :) That is so cool that the zoo is free in Chicago.

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  38. I'm from the Chicago area (Racine, WI to be exact) and I don't think I've ever been to the Chicago zoo! What a shame. The red panda is soooo cute! Probably one of my favorite animals. The next time I'm home, I might have to check it out!

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