The Run Down

We're headed about 45 minutes from Chicago to visit that other nationally recognized zoo in the Greater Chicago area. This is a particularly good guide for those days where you want to spend the afternoon out of the city, but don't want to make too much of a hassle out of it. Here are the highlights:

1. Metra Train @ Union Station

2. Afternoon @ Brookfield Zoo

1. Union Station

Our first stop is Union Station where we’ll catch a ride to Brookfield Zoo, which in my opinion beats fighting through city and suburb traffic along Highway 290. A couple of added bonuses of taking the Metra are 1.) you can take a second to appreciate the architectural history of Union Station and 2.) sitting inside the Great Hall provides (at least for me) a sense of anticipation and adventure before jumping on the train.

Now here are some fun facts and other logistical notes:

Fun Facts

– Union Station is the third-busiest rail station in the U.S. behind Grand Station and Penn Station in New York

– Famed Chicago architect, Daniel Burnham, designed Union Station which was constructed in 1925 (costing $1 billion in today’s dollars)

– You may recognize the Great Hall (pictured below) as it’s been featured in a number of movies such as “Untouchables”, “Flags of Our Fathers”, and “My Best Friend’s Wedding”


– Take the Metra BNSF line (to Aurora) and get off at the “Hollywood” stop. Then walk about 2 1/2 blocks

– Tickets cost about $5 one-way.  On weekends you can get an unlimited weekend pass for $8. You can purchase tickets at Union Station at the Metra ticket counter.

– This may go without saying, but if you decide to take the metra, mask up and keep your physical distance from others.

2. Brookfield Zoo

After you get off at the “Hollywood” stop, you’re just a few blocks from the Zoo’s South Gate entrance. There are helpful signs at the Metra stop directing you towards the right way or you can just click on the handy map above for exact walking directions.  Here are some points about Brookfield Zoo before we dive into the rest of the guide.

– They have timed-entry tickets as part of their Covid-19 protection measures
– Adult Tickets are $24.95; Children Tickets are $17.95
– If you do decide to drive, parking is an extra $13.39
– Purchase tickets online
– Mask up the whole time you’re here
– They have hand sanitizing stations throughout the premises

Making your way through the entire zoo can definitely be an all-day activity. The place is massive taking up 216 acres and featuring 450 species.  For comparison sake, the Lincoln Park Zoo is only 35 acres.  There’s definitely way more exhibits to see at Brookfield Zoo and the exhibits tend to be designed in a way that gets you up-close and personal.  Below are highlights of just a few of the exhibits that we found most interesting (and picture worthy).

Dolphins and Sea Lions

Right next to each other are two exhibits.  One with an underwater viewing areas for sea lions and seals, and the other exhibit with a family of bottle nosed dolphins.

Tropic World

Across the way from the dolphin and sea lion exhibit is Tropic World which is a large indoor facility housing primates from 3 different continents. The primates aren’t behind a cage, but rather in an open air  space swinging around trees or lounging around. There are elevated walkways and bridges that you’ll traverse which keep people and primates separated. The low-land gorillas were the most fascinating just due to their sheer size — these are massive creatures and you realize that if the Planet of the Apes thing starts happening, we’d be on the other side of the exhibit super fast.

Up Close With Lions and Bears

The lion and bear exhibits provide really close views — and I’m talking super close where the only thing separating man and beast is a few inches of plexiglas.  This provides for some excellent photo ops as well.

Living Coast

The last exhibit we’re featuring is called Living Coast. This is another indoor exhibit that showcases ocean life in large fish tanks. What we want to highlight however is the exhibition room that’s home to a colony of Humboldt Penguins and giant birds flying freely above. 

We came just in time to see the penguins get fed.  One observation from my side is that these penguins got a little sass to them — if you didn’t get a fish fed to them by hand, then they wouldn’t it. There were plenty of fish on the rocks, but the penguins just shoved them to the side and waited to be hand fed — living that sweet penguin diva life.