I spent the first few years of my life living on Coronado Island, right off of San Diego, California. My mother would take my sister and I to the San Diego Zoo (one of the best in the world!) every week. She always said that the first sounds that came out of my mouth were animal sounds.
Naturally, once having kids of my own, I take them to the zoo in our hometown of Houston. While it is hard to compare any zoo to San Diego’s expansive habitats, the Houston zoo has much to offer families. Here are some ideas to make your trip an enjoyable one!
1. Arrive Early
This seems so obvious, but you would be surprised at how hard it is to get kids up and at ’em that early in the morning – even with the promise of a zoo visit in the immediate future!
The Houston Zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas so as with anything else outdoors in Houston, try to avoid the heat and humidity as much as possible! I don’t think I will ever get used to it!
We always try to arrive right before opening at 09:00am. This helps with the heat, but it also allows the best chance for parking in the main lot in front of the zoo – otherwise you would have to shuttle in from another area.
2. Purchase a Zoo Membership
Another bonus that we take advantage of is the Zoo Membership. We opted for the Family Membership Package which is $119 per year and it pays for itself within two visits. This membership allows 2 adults (living at the same address) and up to 3 children (ages 2-21) unlimited access for the year. In addition, it also gives you 1 guest pass and discounts on additional guest tickets, gift shop purchases, birthday parties, and more! You are able to enter over 150 other participating zoos for free or at discounted prices. Oh the excitement!
3. Visit the Children’s Zoo
The Houston Zoo has several areas dedicated to the younger patrons. As you wind your way towards the back of the zoo, you can find the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo where the kids can climb with the raccoons…
and slide with the otters…
One of Liam’s favorite animals is the meerkat. Children (and parents) are able to climb down one of three tunnels and pop out into a real meerkat habitat. The little creatures are busily scurrying around right in front of you…literally.
The children’s zoo also has a traditional playground and petting zoo that has adorable goats, cows, sheep and more! On many days, we don’t even make it past the children’s area but that doesn’t really bother me since we have the membership passes and can come back as often as we like.
4. Ride the Carousel
Not far from the Children’s Zoo is the Wildlife Carousel. The carousel at the Houston Zoo is beautiful and has every animal that you could imagine gracefully circling the park! Liam enjoys picking a different animal every time we ride and Addison hasn’t caught on that we can come back as often as we please because she gets upset every time that we leave the ride. Your zoo membership will give you a discount on the carousel tickets – so don’t feel bad about riding several times during a day.
5. Splash in the Water Play Park
As you move through the park past the Wildlife Carousel, you would reach the Kathrine McGovern Water Play Park. The water park is so well hidden, that we didn’t even know it existed the first couple of times we visited to the zoo. Or maybe I didn’t examine the map that closely…whatever. Now that the water park is in our itinerary, we like to make this the last thing that we do. By the time we make our way around the zoo, it is getting later and obviously hotter. The water park allows us all time to cool down (there is shade for parents), have a snack prior to loading up in the car for the ride home, and change out of our wet clothes.
6. Take Advantage of Up Close Experiences
Your zoo membership has several opportunities for you to meet the animals and their keepers up close and personal. On the first Saturday of every month, the zoo offers Member Mornings where you can enter 1 hour before opening (see #1…cooler) and listen to a Meet the Keeper Talk.
If you have the “early wake-up routine” down, take advantage of a Breakfast With the Animals event! You have to register early to enjoy the buffet breakfast with the animals, meet the keepers, watch the animal’s feeding habits and see enrichment activities.
Another awesome opportunity is participating in Zoo Yoga which incorporates animal inspired yoga poses. The class is for children ages 4 – 10 with their parents and advanced registration is required. The experience will start with yoga, then will go out to explore and observe an animal in its habitat, and will return to the classroom to meet an animal ambassador up close.
I don’t know if anyone loves giraffes as much as I do, but I think they are amazing! When I learned that the Houston Zoo had a giraffe feeding platform, I was jumping around like the child in the family! Every day at 11am and 2pm, you can purchase crunchy lettuce leaves for $5 to feed the family of giraffes. Get there early! There are always lines (who wouldn’t want to feed these guys??)
7. Be Amazed at the Houston Zoo Lights
Every year, the Houston Zoo hosts “Zoo Lights” where the entire park is transformed into a magical wonderland. This past year, over 2 million lights were twinkling throughout the park. Enjoy the colorful light displays, the carolers wandering around, hot chocolate, and the nocturnal animals roaming the enclosures.
8. Start a Family Tradition
My parents love taking Liam and Addison to the zoo they did with my sister and I – and I know the kids enjoy it just as much as we did. This family tradition continues. Start one of your own!
What is your favorite part of going to the zoo?