Need something fun and different to do this summer (or any season)? Why not give your local zoo a visit?
The zoo is a place to see your favorite critters, of course, but it’s also a place to discover the world, as most zoos have animals from the furthest corners of the earth.
Plus, even the adults in your crew will enjoy themselves and learn some new things, too!
But before you go: here’s a complete guide to visiting the zoo with babies, toddlers, and older kids.
Let’s take a look at:
- The best time to go to the zoo with kids
- What to bring (for toddlers and babies, especially!)
- And more tips for getting the most out of your zoo visit with the kids.
Best Time to Go to the Zoo with Kids
Your first question may be: when is the best time to visit the zoo?
This goes for time of year, time of the week, and time of the day.
Best Time of Year
Most zoos are open all year round, even though we typically think of a zoo visit during the summer time.
Believe it or not, you can visit a zoo in the winter, you’ll just have to bundle up for it!
Check to see if your local zoo has cold-weather climate animals, like polar bears, penguins, and wolves. If so, the winter time might be a great time to visit, especially to avoid crowds and heat.
In fact, if it has snowed recently, you may see some animals (like monkeys or gorillas) having a great time in the fresh snow!
Best Time of the Week
Weekends at the zoo can be, well, a zoo!
It’s when everyone has the free time to go, so expect crowds and long bathroom lines if you go on the weekend.
The best time to go to the zoo with kids is during the week, if you can swing it.
You may want to consider asking off a day of work and play hooky from school one day, if you need to! This will give you and your kids an up-close and personal view of the wildlife.
Best Time of the Day
If you’re visiting during the summer in particular (which is arguably the busiest time of year), make it a morning or early afternoon zoo trip.
This is for a few reasons:
- It’s cooler weather and more comfortable.
- There are less crowds.
- The animals may be more active in the morning.
The animal’s activity depends on their species and feeding schedule, of course, but many species will be active in the morning when it’s cool.
Some zoos will have their feeding schedule posted on their brochure or website, so you can watch your favorite animals come out and eat.
What to Bring to the Zoo (Packing List for Toddlers, Babies & More)
It’s time to start packing for the zoo. You won’t need much, but you’ll want to pull together a few things if you and your kids are going to last all day.
Let’s start with food…
First, you need to find out if the zoo allows you to bring in your own food or not.
If they don’t, you will have no other choice but to purchase food from their cafe.
If you can bring your own food, great! This is a great way to offset the costs of getting into the zoo in the first place.
Decide if you will be bringing food that will be kept cold in an insulated bag, and check that you have what’s necessary to do that.
It may be wise to pack a few disposable water bottles that have been frozen overnight. Over the course of the day they will thaw slowly, but still be cold and refreshing. Plus, they can keep your perishable items cold.
Bring nourishing food that will fuel you for your full zoo day. Pick protein-rich foods like granola bars, string cheese, peanut butter and jelly or deli meat sandwiches.
Veggie sticks are quick to prepare and travel well, too. A favorite snack could keep the grumpies away, too.
If you’re not keeping things cold with an insulated food bag, be sure you don’t pack anything that can melt, like chocolate, in the hot weather.
Check the zoo’s local weather the night before, so you can be prepared with the right clothing. If there’s any chance of rain, bring umbrellas or rain jackets.
For the summer months, you’ll want to wear comfortable, breathable clothing that will keep you cool. Bring caps or sun hats to keep the sun off your face and out of your eyes, as well as sunglasses.
Make sure the shoes you wear are comfortable walking shoes, because there’s tons of walking to do at the zoo!
Babies will stay nice and cool with just a onesie on. Don’t forget to pack their sun hat to protect their head from sunburn!
If you’re taking a zoo trip with small children, or there is some sort of water show with the large water animals, it may be worth bringing an extra set of clothes. For one, you never know if your child will have some sort of potty or food-spilling accident!
Secondly, the water show usually involves a lot of splashing, depending on where you sit! It may be a big deal to your little one if their clothes get all soaking wet, but you’ll be ready with an extra set of clothes for them.
Here are some more essential and also some not-so-necessary items that you may want to consider packing for your family zoo day:
Sunscreen is a must! Pick a high SPF that your kid’s or baby’s skin will tolerate.
Apply before taking off for the zoo, as well as after every 2 hours or so that you’re there.
Stroller or baby carrier
If you have an infant or toddler that you’re taking along on your zoo trip, pack along your stroller, if you have one.
A stroller is preferable over a baby carrier. This is because pushing your stroller around all day will tire you out way less than carrying your baby on your front or back.
Also, a stroller will be able to carry all your food and extra supplies for you!
A stroller is better than a baby carrier in hot weather, too. Your baby or toddler will sit in their own shaded area, and you won’t be adding to each other’s body heat like you would in a baby carrier.
Stocked diaper bag
Bring your diaper bag stocked with the usual things, plus some extra diapers.
Make sure you have a changing pad in order to perform quick diaper changes wherever you may need to!
For kids who can read, printing out a scavenger hunt to fill out throughout the day could add some fun to an already fun-filled day.
Simply type “zoo scavenger hunt” into your search engine, pick and print out your favorite one!
Getting the Most Out of Your Zoo Visit
Before we go, here are a few odds and ends tip that’ll help your day at the zoo with young kids go off without a hitch.
Prioritize Family Favorites
It’s pretty much a non-negotiable that you must see your child’s favorite animals during your zoo trip! Find out beforehand what they’d like to see most and go do it.
As mentioned previously, you could time it just right so that you arrive at the exhibit when the animal is being fed by zookeepers.
Encourage older children to do research on their favorite animals before the trip. They can act like zoologists during the trip, adding to their notebooks certain facts that they may have missed.
Shows and Zoo Events
Browse the zoo’s website for anything special that may be going on during your visit.
Do they do special shows with water animals or primates? Is there an “animal encounter” session about a certain favorite animal?
Take note of what sounds the most fun, and fit it into your schedule (if you can).
Know Your Kid’s Limits
You, the parent, know your kid’s fun and activity threshold best.
Some kids will be happy walking around all day, distracted from tiredness by all the things around them. On the other hand, some kids will need lots of breaks.
Zoos usually have plenty of shaded seating. If you know ahead of time you will need to take breaks, keep tabs on where those resting places are, so you know just where to go when the kids or babies start getting cranky.
To Souvenir or Not
One thing that is very wise to decide ahead of time is whether you will visit the souvenir shop, and whether you will buy anything there.
Rest assured, every kid wants something from the gift shop!
So, if you think you will pass on the gift shop, be sure to discuss this with your kids ahead of time to avoid a tantrum.
Is it possible to go to the zoo for free?
Yes, some libraries offer zoo passes that you can check out. That means you could get free entry for some or all of your family! You do not want to pass this up if it’s an opportunity in your area.
Other zoos offer free community days throughout the year. If you choose to go on one of these days, be ready for crowds and get your tickets early, as they will go fast.
If you plan on going to the zoo more than a couple times per year, it may be worth investing in a family membership.
Usually, memberships pay off within two or three visits, so the zoo can actually be a fantastic place to take your kids over and over during those long school-free summers.
Going to the zoo is an amazing experience for kids and adults of all ages.
You will want to plan a trip while your kids are small at least once, and when you do, you will be totally prepared that day.
With snacks, drinks, and sun protection in place, it’s sure to be a memory-making day. Go rock that zoo day!
For more, don’t miss:
- Complete guide to taking kids to the aquarium
- Complete guide to taking kids to the grocery store
Hope this helps!