The Philadelphia Zoo!
I have been visiting the Philadelphia Zoo with kids since my boys were little. With my preschooler, toddler, and baby I’d pack up the car with them, a stroller, and our lunches and we’d head out for a day of exploration. We loved how close we could get to the animals. We appreciated that we could always bring our own lunch. And we enjoyed all the places the kids could climb, explore, and interact with the exhibits.
It’s now six years later, my two oldest are teenagers. Our feelings haven’t changed. But I admit it’s been some time since we’ve been to the Philadelphia Zoo (2016). School, sports, and life got in the way of visiting a local day trip from New Jersey that we’ve always enjoyed so much. I didn’t realize just how much I had missed the zoo until we returned this week. We were invited to visit the zoo for a press event for the return of the Creatures of Habitat exhibit with animals built from LEGO and audio storytelling boxes unlocked with a Philadelphia Zoo key. YES! The Philadelphia Zoo key is back. More about that below.
Walking back through those exhibits all my emotions were stirred up as I remembered all of our previous visits and how much we enjoyed them. I was so glad I had made the decision to return and so thankful the weather was cooperative. It was gorgeous out!
The only thing that could have made it better would have been to have had all three of my boys with me. Unfortunately, my two oldest are in middle school and sneaking away for a hookey day (even when it’s educational) is much harder to do as your kids get older. My youngest and I made the best of the day. We practically explored every nook and cranny of the Philadelphia Zoo and enjoyed rediscovering all the things to do at the Philadelphia Zoo with kids.
Don’t wait! Get out those calendars and start planning your visit. Review our list below and then get that date on your calendar.
10 Things to Do at The Philadelphia Zoo with Kids
With the exception of the Philadelphia Zoo key and the member’s treehouse, all of the below activities are included with Philadelphia Zoo admission.
Get up close to the animals.
In the Big Cat Falls, the front of the exhibits are glass walls making it easy for you to get close enough to a lion to pose with him/her in a photo. In the Children’s Zoo playground gates are flush against the gates for the goats. Your kids can even brush the hair of a goat in the barnyard. African wild dogs, cheetahs, and others aren’t enclosed in glass or wires. They roam in open exhibit areas, set back from the path, so you can get great views of them. Check the zoo schedule for feeding times because it can be quite a site to see. I’ll never forget watching an African wild dog chow down on a piece of raw steak.
Look up at the Zoo360 Animal Trails!
Unlike anything I’ve seen at any other zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo has an interactive treetop trail. The overhead trail systems currently consists of five trails: Gorilla Treeway, Treetop Trail, Great Ape Trail, Big Cat Crossing, Meerkat Maze and Water is Life. The trails link existing animal habitats in a way that lets animals share spaces. Lemurs, marmosets, monkeys, gorillas and others can watch us as we watch them. Just look up. Primates can run up and down the trees and from tree to tree. Each visit will bring about new fun as you never know what animals might decide to come out to say hello and what kind of fun things they will be up to.
One of the things I love about the Philadelphia Zoo is that the staff and volunteers are always visible and make it clear they love their jobs. Philadelphia Zoo staff are so easy to find in their green shirts. They love playing with the kids and sharing their knowledge. On most weekends you can find them stationed at several stops along the trails playing games, testing kids’ knowledge with animal trivia, and letting guests feel various animal skins.
Gaze in wonder at the 12 life-size LEGO brick scenes in the Creatures of Habitat exhibits.
Creatures of Habitat is a gazillion-piece magnificent collection of animals created from LEGO bricks. The animals are arranged throughout the Philadelphia Zoo. You can use a zoo map or our listing below to help you find them between now (April 6) and September 30, 2019. Each Creature of Habitat LEGO animal sculpture includes signage that details the issues those animals are facing and the work that is being done to save them.
There are 12 LEGO scenes that feature 30 intricately-designed life-size animals built by Sean Kenney, master LEGO builder.
Where are the LEGO brick animal sculptures?
Here’s the list of the LEGO brick animal sculptures. If you followed the zoo path in the circular order around the zoo with stops in the middle for the PECO Primate Reserve and use the lakeside path between the McNeil Avian Center and Bear Country, you would see the sculptures in this order.
- The first LEGO sculpture is the mural pictured above.
- Pasqual, the Chameleon, is the first LEGO animal you’ll see. He is located at the Wild Backyard area.
- Golden Lion Tamarins, just past the Reptile House and across from the Children’s Zoo area
- A Harlequin Frog in the Children’s Zoo area
- An African Lion in Big Cat Falls. The lion was made from over 60,000 LEGO bricks
- The Tropical Rainforest in the first building at Big Cat Falls
- A Bornean Orangutan, outside the PECO Primate Reserve, created as a colorful mosaic cutout, that children can take a photo with.
- A Western Lowland Gorilla, another mosaic cutout at the PECO Primate Reserve
- 2 Micronesian Kingfisher birds with a brown tree snake in the McNeil Avian Center
- Diamond-Backed Terrapins on the lakeside path between the avain center and Bear Country
- Humboldt Penguins, near Bear Country, before you reach the new Penguin Point (former polar bear area)
- A polar bear constructed from 95,000 LEGO bricks just past the old polar bear exhibit and across from an administration building
Watch our Discover LEGO Animals in the Creatures of Habitat at the Philadelphia Zoo video to see what each exhibit looks like.
Listen to 20 audio boxes with the Philadelphia Zoo key.
The Philadelphia Zoo key is back!
Did you have a Philadelphia Zoo key as a child? Great news! Your old zoo keys will work again! You can also buy a Philadelphia Zoo key at the gift shop for $3. You can not buy them online. The zoo keys are needed to unlock the story at each storytelling box. The same key can unlock ALL the boxes.
Each story can be told in English or Spanish. Every story is less than one minute and is told by a staff member or zoo volunteer sharing secrets and stories about the animals they work with. We learned how the zoo tortoises get spa treatments, the story of a baby giraffe’s birth, and how plastic tubing is used as a fence for turtles in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. The audio storytelling boxes are all solar powered. Each one has its own solar panel.
Where are the Philadelphia Zoo key audioboxes?
There will be a talking storybook audio box at all of the Creatures of Habitat locations and other locations throughout the zoo. You can hear an example of how the audio story telling boxes work below or test a sample box at the zoo entrance.
Coming soon a video that demonstrates how this works and what kind of story you can expect.
Here’s the list of the audioboxes to use your Philadelphia Zoo key if you followed the zoo path in the typical order around the zoo with stops in the middle area.
- Two storytelling boxes outside of the Rare Animal Conservation Center
- Past the Rare Animal Conservation Center and across from a food location
- At the Tortoise Trail
- Just past the Reptile House and across from the Children’s Zoo area
- With the Harlequin Frog in the Children’s Zoo area
- At African Lion in Big Cat Falls
- At the Tropical Rainforest in the first building at Big Cat Falls
- Two outside the PECO Primate Reserve, one with each animal photo area
- With the Micronesian Kingfisher birds in the McNeil Avian Center
- At Raptor Ridge near the eagles
- With the Diamond-Backed Terrapins on the lakeside path between the avain center and Bear Country
- At the Humboldt Penguins, near Bear Country, before you reach the new Penguin Point (former polar bear area)
- In Bear Country
- Outside the giraffes habitat
- At the rhinocerus habitat
- With the LEGO polar bear
- On the fencing with the flamingos
- Outside the Small Mammal House
Feel the wind in the air as you watch Otis’ Big Adventure in the McNeil Avian Center.
In the McNeil Avian Center there are incredible indoor bird exhibits. Step aside and you’ll be taken to the tropics with birds of every variety and color. Added plus, if you are still learning all the species like my kids and I, there are laminated identification posters at the beginning and end of the pathway. Take it with you on your journey (don’t forget to return it) and see how many birds you can spot. Check out Otis’ Big Adventure, a 15 minute movie that was a hit with my boys, especially in their younger years. During the multi-sensory show my boys learned how birds migrate during the seasons and were fascinated that some travel down to our area of New Jersey while some continue on going more south.
Fuel their bodies with new places to eat at the Philadelphia Zoo Urban Green.
The Urban Green is a new outdoor area for eating. With plentiful outdoor seating, a colorful giant 132 foot mural, and a vertical farm, enjoy a delicious lunch while enjoying views of the Amazon Rainforest Carousel. There will be three new few trucks selling food in this area: Pressed, Fry Bowl, and Root to Leaf. You can get a look at their menus here on the Philadelphia Zoo website.
Play in the KidZooU Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo
Part zoo within a zoo, part playground, part educational center, the KidZooU: Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo is one of my boys’ favorite areas to play at the Philadelphia Zoo. We get to see wildlife, animals, and bugs in nature and learn how we can all protect them in our everyday lives.
- Indoor Exhibits include Butterfly Habitat (temporary closed), Domestic Rats, Ants, Amazing Insects, Tiny Tot Barn, Animal Action Lab, and Wildlife Workshop. Also find out how you can save budgies by recycling, and help marine fish by saving energy.
- Outdoor Exhibits includes Pigeon Loft, Duck Pond, Rare Breeds, The Barnyard, Chicken Coops, and Rare Breeds Nursery. The outside is also home to a playground where kids can practically play alongside goats on the Goat Bridge and Tower!
Watch our video tour of the Philadelphia’s Children Zoo, the KidZooU.
Watch the new vlog by Philadelphia’s Jessica in Big Cat Falls.
Gone is the old 9-minute video of animals in the wild, which I loved. In it’s place is a vlog by Philadelphia’s own Jessica. I may even love this more than the previous film. Jessica shares with us her journey traveling to Kenya on a safari. We see the animals she saw and learn what she has learned about them as well. Her story projects onto a main screen with additional elements showing in a tent. The film is 6 minutes long and worth watching with your kids.
Pose for pictures!
Whether you are looking for the best Instagram spots at the Philadelphia Zoo or just a family photo documenting your visit, there are so many great spots for taking pictures at the Philadelphia Zoo. Take a look at some of our favorites.
The best spots for pictures at the Philadelphia Zoo
- Outside the main entrance where the word ‘zoo’ is part of a large sculpture
- With the elephant sculpture after you pass through the zoo entrance
- Inside the LEGO chair at Big Cat Falls
- On any side of the beautiful water fountain with animal sculptures
- In Big Cat Falls when the lions are against the glass
- Inside the tent in front of the sleeping bags and in the LEGO chair at Big Cat Falls
- On the carousel that features animals from the rainforest
- In the Treehouse building (see below)
- In front of the glass mosaic wall, located in the new beer garden, where the old children’s zoo used to be located.
Bonus for Philadelphia Zoo members
Let the kids climb to their hearts’ content in the Philadelphia Zoo Treehouse.
The Philadelphia Zoo Treehouse is a must-see stop on every Philadelphia Zoo trip. It’s a huge indoor playhouse for members only. When my boys were younger it was our main reason for renewing our family membership year after year. My kids never got tired of climbing in and out of dinosaur eggs, over the frog eggs, or through the beehive, or into the very large tree. I have so many adorable photos of them in the Treehouse and I’ve seen their growth through those pictures.
Every time, we visit the Philadelphia Zoo it’s a new experience. There are new exhibits to see, new animals to learn about, shows to watch, games to play, and stories to hear. It may have been some time since our last visit, but one thing is clear. We won’t wait that long before visiting again.
Want to read our tips for visiting the Philadelphia Zoo?
What’s one of your favorite things to do at the Philadelphia Zoo with kids?
For more information about the Philadelphia Zoo please visit their site at www.philadelphiazoo.org.