What to Do at The Phoenix Zoo (with Kids!)
Note: The rhyming of the title was totally unintentional. No poets were harmed in the making of this blog. Before my brief trip to Arizona in mid-August, I'd never stepped foot in Phoenix and had no idea what to expect. My limited experience with the state of Arizona covered only the Grand Canyon, a world wonder that I'd visited on a family road trip years back.
So far back, indeed, that I barely remember what it looks like (though I'm sure my parents have photos of it somewhere).
This said, I was lucky enough to stay with a friend and her lovely family during my trip. She moved to Phoenix in December 2015 and has grown so accustom to the area that I trusted her to guide me around town ... and did no planning or researching of my own. I went into the (sadly short) three day trip completely blind.
It ended up being a really great experience! I intend to write about the highlights of Phoenix for visitors (there are some fun places to see!), but that's a story for another post.
Today, I want to write about the Phoenix Zoo.
The Phoenix Zoo
Mr. Nerd and I don't have kids (yet), but we know plenty of friends and family members who do! Which is what brought me to the Phoenix Zoo in the first place, as my friend happens to have three young boys under the age of six.
On the third day of my trip, we packed her oldest son in the car and drove 20 minutes to the zoo. It was roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit that day—which is totally normal for an August morning in Phoenix—so we dressed in tank tops and shorts, donned our sunglasses, and slathered on the sun screen. I wore flip flops which, despite all the walking I did, was quite an excellent way to keep my feet cool.
To maintain reader/blogger honesty, I'll admit that I'm not much of a zoo person and don't generally enjoy visiting them. However, the Phoenix Zoo took the concept of a normal zoo (like the ones we have here in Minnesota) and completely reworked it. I was very impressed with the layout and design, both as a traveler and as a person who wants to travel with future kids.
So with that in mind...
What to Do at the Phoenix Zoo (with Kids!)
The Phoenix Zoo is expansive, exciting, and kid-oriented. There are endless ways you can explore the 125 acres of park area—so much so that I felt a little lost at times (thank goodness for my friend, who goes there almost every week)! But before you get too excited and rush out the gates with family in tow, here are some things to consider.
Things to Consider
Visit in the morning. Of course, this depends on the time of year, but if you visit in the summer months, I recommend going to the zoo before 11 a.m. We arrived around 10 a.m. while it was still "cooler," but by the time we left (around noon), it was heating up and almost unbearable to stand in direct sunlight. My friend takes her family to the zoo often, and they always go between 9-11 a.m.
Bring your own water! You're allowed to bring non-alcoholic drinks into the park, so I highly suggest stashing some bottled water in your bag or stroller. Otherwise, the zoo charges a ridiculous $4 for a small bottle and $6 for a larger bottle of water (a pretty penny when you're sweating buckets in sunny, 100+ degree weather).
There are water fountains scattered around the zoo, but don't bank on them for your water supply. I'm not kidding when I say it's hot, and I assure you, you won't want to spend the time looking for a fountain when you're already dehydrated.
Take time to find shade and rest. The entire zoo (with the exception of a couple small buildings) is located outside. In this summer, this means it'll be sunny with few places to take cover in the shade. Despite having water, by the end of our three hour visit, I was on the verge of heat stroke ... so take your time and rest where you can if it's a hot day.
Watch out for Pokemon Go-ers! A lot of people at the zoo (ourselves included) whip out their phones to find and catch Pokemon. Surprisingly, the zoo and the parking lot are excellent places to rake in the rewards in this game ... but it can cause people to be thoughtless and distracted. If you're walking around with your kids, keep an eye out to make sure no one walks into you (or the little ones) while trying to catch a Squirtle!
Break up the park experience. As I've mentioned, the zoo was a lot larger than I expected. Between the heat and the expansive nature of the park, it's better to break the zoo up into a couple of visits if you have the ability to return. I saw about a third of the zoo the day I went, and we were there for two hours. It really is that big! Otherwise, if you only have one day, grab a map and highlight the exhibits you want to see. (Also, mark the water fountains and shaded areas on there too while you're at it. You'll thank me later.)
Things to Check Out
Now that the gritty details on how to prepare for a visit are out of the way, we can get to the fun part: the things you can do with your kids! Obviously, zoos are generally great for families of all ages, so buckle everyone in the car and head on over.
These are some of the experiences we had during our two hour visit. If you want a more comprehensive list of the things you can see at the Phoenix Zoo, check out their website!
Cool off with the splash pads! Despite the crazy price of water, the Phoenix Zoo knows that the zoo can be crazy hot ... and thus offers two "splash pad" locations for kids (and adults) to cool off. These "splash pads" are areas with water fountains, kiddie pools, water slides, and even water "caverns" that kids can play in, just like a water park.
There's also a shaded area with benches where the adults can sit and watch the kids splash around in the water. My friend's son played for almost 20 minutes here. It was lovely and gave us (the adults) a break too.
Spy on baby monkeys. This was a really neat experience, though I think it had more to do with our timing than the zoo itself. We went to the Monkey Village to see the monkeys and were able to go inside one of the habitats. There are two sets of doors you have to go through (and you have to leave your belongings/strollers with the staff), but once you're inside, you're in monkey territory! Which means they can literally land on you.
On the day we went to visit, we walked down the path and ran into one of the volunteers at the bottom of the enclosure. She pointed out to us that one of the monkeys had a baby—and with some patience and silence, we were able to see it climbing on and off its mother's back. Wow, was it cute!
You're not allowed to touch the monkeys and you need to stay on the designated path, but if you look closely enough with your kids, you're sure to see monkeys jumping from rope to rope and watching you from the bushes!
Check out the view from the Giraffe Overlook. There are a few overlooks you can find throughout the zoo, actually. They're a lot like tree houses. You can leave a stroller (if you have one) at the bottom and climb up the winding staircases and rope bridges to the top. It's shaded up there ... and a fantastic way to have an excellent view of the animals nearby (in this case, we were able to see the giraffes up close).
Note: The other two overlooks are in the Tropics Trail area (see the map).
Play in the air-conditioned Windmill House! This building may seem boring to some, but it's a huge win if you're overheated and need a break from constantly watching the kids (ages 8 and under). Inside, there's one big room full of toys, games, children's books, an interactive TV station, and more. It's also nice and cool. Be sure to check it out! The kids can play games and you can sit back for a breather and safely check your phone.
Brush some goats! Not to be biased or anything, but this was my favorite thing we did at the zoo. The Phoenix Zoo has a small Petting Zoo you can visit (inside the Big Red Barn) where you can ... wait for it ... brush goats! You simply go inside, leave your belongings in a cubby (make sure you do this. Goats will eat anything), grab a brush, and walk into the goat area. The goats all wear collars with their names on them and they'll follow you around, begging to be brushed.
Don't believe me? Look what happened when I sat down on a bench for 10 seconds:
This was a great experience, for me and for my friend's son! Apparently, they brush the goats almost every time they visit. I can see why. Goats are the best kind of friend.
So there you have it! A few things you can do with kids at the Phoenix Zoo (and many more things that we just didn't have time to discover). Did I miss anything? If I did, let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.