The Chicago Zoo Wars: Lincoln Park Zoo vs. Brookfield Zoo

brookfield zoo bison
The Lincoln Park Zoo has no answer for the Brookfield Zoo’s herd of bison. Point, Brookfield.

There’s a fierce war going on between Chicago’s two major zoos. The Lincoln Park Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo absolutely despise each other and they’re battling for your business.* Which one should you visit in the Windy City? Let’s see how they stack up.

(*Disclaimer: Reference to a “war” may have been completely made up for the sake of creating fictional drama.)

giraffes zoo
The giraffes in Lincoln Park can wander indoors or outside depending on their mood.

LOCATION

The Lincoln Park Zoo is just off Lake Michigan in the happenin’ hood of Lincoln Park. Parking is a nightmare, but no sane person would drive there when you can take public transportation or bike over. The Brookfield Zoo is way out in the burbs, which is inconvenient unless you happen to live in that area, and at last check, they charged $9 (yikes!) for parking. (I would never advocate bending the law, but you could probably stealthily park for free at the nearby Brookfield Woods lot if you wanted.)

Edge: Lincoln Park Zoo

rhino
The muddy rhino is a great sight any time of year in Lincoln Park.

VARIETY OF ANIMALS

The Lincoln Park Zoo has pretty much all the animals you’d expect from a big zoo – lions, tigers, rhinos, bears, giraffes, penguins, gorillas. But usually just 1 or 2 of each. It’s like they’re re-creating Noah’s Ark or something.

polar bear zoo
Getting an up-close look at the solitary polar bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The Brookfield Zoo is a lot bigger, with a massive primate room and a big outdoor field with bison. And a desert room with meerkats. Who doesn’t love meerkats? They have aardvarks, camels, alligators, bald eagles and lizards. Plus, they house a handful of endangered Mexican gray wolves, which you can see up close when they run past the observation window. The wolves put Brookfield over the top on this one.

Edge: Brookfield Zoo

brookfield zoo dolphins
Kids love the Brookfield Zoo dolphin shows.

brookfield zoo sign

TYPE OF CROWD

Brookfield is totally made for kids. Every sign is colorful and cartoonish. It’s a really fun atmosphere. There’s a petting zoo and merry-go-round for the youngsters. And, they have special dolphin shows. For an extra $4, you can watch the trained dolphins perform tricks and fly out of the air to the tune of Van Halen’s “Jump.” If you don’t have kids, though, stick with Lincoln Park, which has a slightly more mature crowd.

Edge: Depends on your scene – Brookfield Zoo for kids, Lincoln Park Zoo for adults

stroller parking
I’m not sure why you’d want to bring a newborn to a zoo, but Brookfield has a busy “stroller parking” area.

COST

The Lincoln Park Zoo is free, so you can’t beat that. The Brookfield Zoo runs more than $13 per adult and $9 per child. That’s more than $50 if you take the entire family. Ouch! Then again, if they don’t get enough financial support, they might not have enough dough to continue to take care of those wolves, and they would have to get rid of them, and you wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?

Edge: Lincoln Park Zoo

lincoln park alligator
Seeing eye to eye with a small alligator at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

VERDICT

The Brookfield Zoo isn’t bad, but it’s hard to beat the Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s cool to be smack in the middle of an urban paradise and see animals from all over the world. If you’re into animals at all, you should plan to swing by while you’re in Chicago.

Here’s a brief glimpse of the Brookfield Zoo in moving pictures.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

11 comments on “The Chicago Zoo Wars: Lincoln Park Zoo vs. Brookfield Zoo

  1. I would have to totally disagree with your assessment of the zoos. Brookfield Zoo is one of the best in the nation, maybe the world, while LIncoln Park Zoo is just a collection of animals located in a very nice part of Chicago. Granted, there are some things better at Lincoln Park Zoo like the gorillas have an outdoor yard and they do have chimpanzees which Brookfield does not. But Tropic World at BZ is heads and shoulders above anything Lincoln Park Zoo has to Offer. BZ the Dolphin show and LPZ has none. Even their Sea Lion pool pales in comparison to the naturalistic Sea Lion/Harbor Seal/Gray Seal pools that BZ has. Lincoln Park Zoo has a better Children’s Zoo while BZ’s is more a farm in the zoo but BZ has the Hamill Family Play Zoo which LPZ does not. Though the exhibit that houses the African animals is very nice, BZ’s Giraffe House and yard is great and the adjoining African Wild Dog yard is great with Klipspringers and small African mammals and reptiles inside. I could go on and on but I think you get the point, BZ has other wonderful exhibits like their Penguin exhibit, Great Bear Wilderness, Indian Lake, the Habitat Africa Forest with Okapis, Australia House the Pachyderm House, etc…. Even if I wasn’t a member, the admisison fee for BZ is well worth the price. Plus you can’t beat the summertime exhibits such as Butterflies, Stingrays an alternating Dinosaurs with Insect exhibits.Don’t forget about the Swamp!

    • Thanks for pointing out some of the other highlights at the Brookfield Zoo. As I noted, Brookfield has the advantage when it comes to the animals. But location and price are important factors as well, which is where Lincoln Park comes out ahead.

  2. Fun post! I assume that if I ever make it to Chicago (and I hope I will), it’ll be easier for me to get to the Lincoln Zoo – plus they have a polar bear. I would love to see the herd of bison, yet bears have hardly any competition in my opinion. AND they have penguins, and penguins…. Well, who can resist a penguin and go look elsewhere?
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..Colorado: When a Quirky Town Meets Halloween…. at Night!

    • Brookfield zoo has polar bears and penguins as well. More of them, actually.

      If you are visiting, you’ll be downtown, which requires a train ride and just under a mile walk to get to Lincoln Park Zoo. Brookfield zoo is a train ride (Metra – the suburb train) and a half mile walk.

      • Thanks for the info on the polar bears and penguins.

        I’m not sure why you assume that visitors to Chicago would be staying downtown – a huge percentage of visitors stay at hostels or use Couchsurfing or AirBnb to stay in residential neighborhoods, from where it’s far easier to get to Lincoln Park than Brookfield.

        • Wrong, most people outside of city limits near the airports, both of which require a car, which would make it much easier to get to Brookfield zoo. Lincoln Park zoo is a nice experience being in the city, but if you’re going for the zoo, Brookfield is far and away better.

  3. I have been to both and I must say I love Brookfield Zoo. The attention to detail is phenomenal and they have my favourite animal there-the alligator! I stood and took a few photos (was there 90mins but it honestly only felt like 10 mins) and I showed a few to the zookeeper that was stood nearby and she said ‘I have never seen anyone take such care when photographing an alligator but the pics are superb’. It was like the alligator knew I appreciated as he came right up against the window so I didn’t get any flash back glare from my camera. The restaurants were clean, tidy and servers very friendly. When I come over from the UK I always make sure I pay a visit. Well worth the money as money to feed all these wonderful animals doesn’t grow on trees. X

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