Detroit Zoo: 8 Things I Love About It
No doubt about it, we love the Detroit Zoo. Whenever we ask the kids, “What’s your favorite thing about living in Detroit?”, “The zoo!!” is one of the first responses I hear hollered out. Without further ado – here are eight reasons why it’s a favorite:
1. Space: There’s plenty of space for the animals. Happy animals are simply more enjoyable to visit. Since the zoo is so spread out, let this serve as a PSA to wear comfortable shoes, bring a stroller for the kids, pack a water bottle, and prioritize what you most want to see. It’s hard to see everything in one day with small kids. (Though we’ve tried!) Volunteers maintain the gardens throughout the zoo, making for a beautiful place to enjoy.
2. Live Music: I’m always game for a summer concert and they’re even more fun at the zoo. Wild Summer Nights run every Wednesday evening in July and August from 6:30-8pm and are free with admission! Each concert has a different style of music from opera to classic rock, so there’s sure to be something for everyone. We tried out the Motown concert this summer (when in Detroit..), brought dinner, and made an evening of it. Though we hauled in dinner, lawn chairs, and picnic blankets, we were pleasantly surprised to see tables with chairs already set up (as well as rows of just chairs), making it an effortless excursion. There is some food available for purchase, cornhole games for the kids, and the concert is held near the playground. (Handy if your littles need to get some bug juice out but you want to keep listening to the music).
3. Volunteers: Should you or your kids have any questions about the animals, there is nearly always a greeter, zoo ambassador, or docent nearby (look for a volunteer in a red shirt). I haven’t been to another zoo with such a robust volunteer program, but when you’re trying to find something or have a question, it sure is great to have friendly volunteers to help you out!
4. The Polk Penguin House
The Polk Penguin Conservation Center* is a must-visit every time we’re at the zoo. Naturally, watching the penguins waddle around is a hit (I mean, who doesn’t love penguins?) but the Drake Passage/Shackleford exhibit is a favorite of my boys! A huge room off the penguin gallery has a 4D projection of a ship (usually crossing tempestuous seas) complete with ocean spray and cold blasts of wind. The kids get all dramatic – you’d think they were being washed off deck. 😉 Then you continue down the ramps into the hold of the ship, viewing videos of animals through the “portholes.” In the basement of the Center is more information on Ernest Shackleford’s crossing of the Drake Passage; great for your middle school kids. The littles will most likely have dashed ahead though to the underwater gallery where you can see the penguins swimming overhead. If you happen to time it when they’re being fed, even better!
5. Zookeeper talks
A couple of months ago, we checked out a Zookeeper Talk on the Chinese alligator. I’m always enthusiastic for the kids to learn more in-depth information about the animals they’re seeing. The kids liked it, and was brief enough to hold the kids attention. These Talks are casual opportunities (we were the only ones there) for your kids to meet a real zookeeper! Sometimes these talks coincide with feeding time. Check out the Today at the Zoo page for feeding and Zookeeper Talks locations.
6. Members Entrance Parking If you’ve taken the plunge and purchased a membership (for our large family, it quickly paid for itself!), parking near the Members Entrance can save you some steps. Instead of having to walk the length of the zoo, the members entrance leads you right into the middle of the zoo. that means a lot in terms of convenience!
7. Reciprocal zoos
Because the Detroit Zoo is a member of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), your Detroit Zoo membership gets you discounted admission to all the zoos and aquariums on this list. A reciprocal zoo nearby is the Toledo Zoo in Ohio. It’s only an hour away, and showing your Detroit Zoo membership gets you half price admission! Similarly, if you’re visiting Detroit but are members at another AZA zoo, check the list or call (248-541-5717 press 3) to see if you get discounted admission!
8. Nearby Good Eats: Donut Cutter and Falafel King
If you’ve been here long, you’ll know we’re all about some delicious food. And donuts. Anyway, the Detroit Zoo is located 20 minutes northwest of Downtown in the suburb of Royal Oak. Because we don’t live in Royal Oak, we frequently combine visits to the zoo with a donut or falafel run – as you should too!
Donut Cutter is your classic old-school donut shop. They don’t have seating for more than about 20 people, so taking your haul to enjoy at the zoo is ideal. Favorites of ours are their blueberry cake donuts and chocolate glazed donuts but we never leave without an apple fritter or two. Worth noting – Donut Cutter is cash only, so be sure to come prepared. Address: 28173 Woodward Ave. (about 5 minutes from the Zoo!) Hours: M-F: 4am-3pm, Sat 4am-2pm, Sun 4am-1pm.
Falafel King serves our favorite Middle Eastern food nearby. Somehow, I never manage to get a picture before we’ve consumed our meal, so you’ll just have to take my word for how good it is (until I update this post. ;-)) We love their Combo Plate for Two – with falafel, hummus, shawarma, kofta kabob, and more, it has a great sampling of their offerings. The name of the plate is deceptive; even though it’s labeled “For Two”, it easily feeds our family of six (four small kids) a hearty dinner and with leftovers for the adults’ lunch the next day! There is limited seating inside; again, this establishment is better for carryout. All the better to visit the zoo with. . .
Address: 32748 Woodward Ave. (About 9 minutes from the Zoo) Hours: M-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun Closed.
One final food tip – for picnickers, there is a Trader Joe’s located nearly across the street from Donut Cutter at 27880 Woodward Ave.
What things do you appreciate about your local zoo?
*The Polk Penguin Conservation Center is set to reopen in June 2020 after some foundation repairs.