Why I Love the Detroit Zoo

Detroit Zoo Polar Bear

Childhood Dreams Lived Out at the Detroit Zoo

I recently got the chance to live out my childhood dream and visit the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak. And share it with my daughters.

“I loved seeing the polar bear through the tunnel! He sat on top of us! It was so hilarious!”

That was one of the highlights of the Detroit Zoo for my 4-year-old daughter.  And yes, a polar bear really did sit on top of her, she just happened to be in a see-through tunnel.

When I later asked my 2-year-old her favorite part of the zoo she dug into her little memory bank and proudly produced this gem: “ANIMALS!”

Detroit Zoo Hunt Lion Statue kids

But what did I, the mom, love about the zoo?

Well, all of it! (I guess my two-year-old comes by her simple answer honestly!)

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Designed to be Open

When the zoo’s current 125-acre location was built back in 1928 it was the first in America to use barless exhibits. Its creators wanted a wildlife refuge that also felt like a big park.

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I felt so relaxed as I walked the zoo with my husband, two young daughters, sister, and 82-year-old grandmother. In between exhibits there were wide pathways lined with lush trees and beautifully landscaped grassy areas.

Detroit Zoo with Kids

The exhibits were the closest thing I’ll probably ever get to one of those wildlife parks in Africa. The animals were out in the open and easily visible. Some were kept in by simple fences. Others necessitated deep stone moats around their home so as to keep them from getting too close to visitors.

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I think my grandmother was a little disappointed at this, as she remembers attending a field trip with her son’s class back in the 1960’s when a tiger walked near a group of unruly students and lifted his leg on them. Now the tiger has no such recourse for rude visitors. Poor tiger!

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Over 3000 Animals at the Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo boasts over 3,300 animals of 280 species. You could spend an entire day at the zoo and still not take in all of the exhibits. That being said, families with school-aged children will get the most out of the zoo. My two preschoolers were quite bushed after our two hour visit, yet I wanted to stay another two hours. Because of this we missed out on the  Butterfly Garden and Free Flight Aviary, housed in this architectural beauty.

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Another unexpected delight was seeing the giraffe so close. Normally, for a few dollars you can walk up to and feed this graceful creature out of your hand. At the time we were there the feeding section was closed, but someone had put a large branch into the fencing along the walkway and a group of us got to see him munching on greens up close.

I was so close I could smell him.

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And then he walked quietly back into his brightly adorned home. This was one of my 4-year-old’s favorite parts. Indeed, watching him walk was captivating.

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One of my highlights of the park were the peacocks. The peacocks were like the squirrels of the zoo–they were everywhere! And so much more beautiful and less annoying than squirrels!

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The Arctic Ring of Life

This is what my daughter was so excited about.

The Arctic Ring of Life is one of the Zoo’s premier attractions. Visitors can walk through a glass tunnel inside the polar bear’s pool and watch him swim over, under and around them.

It was in this Arctic Ring where the polar bear “sat on top of us” according to my daughter. She was thrilled. I was a little less thrilled because by the time I got in there myself the polar bear was already taking a swim break.

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I was looking forward to the Australian Outback Adventure where you can walk around among the kangaroos. Your barrier along the path is simply knee-high cables, allowing the kangaroos to roam as they please: and maybe even come up to say hello! The exhibit was temporarily closed when we were there. We did see the wallabies chilling out as we walked past the outside of the exhibit. But now we have another reason to return!

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Tips for Visiting the Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo is a great day trip that is sure to entertain family members of all ages. Pack up some snacks and sunscreen and head on over to the eastside where the peacocks roam free and your kids can tell you at the end, “I had a fun day. It was a really good day!”

  • The zoo is located at 8450 W 10 Mile Rd  Royal Oak, MI 48067. (248.541.5717)
  • Bring a stroller for smaller children. They also have wagons, strollers and wheelchairs available for rent if you don’t have one.
  • Or if you get tired, take a ride on the Tauber Family Railroad, which runs along the southern and western edges of the zoo!
  • If you have a membership to John Ball Zoo, bring it along. It will get you 50% off of your admission to the Detroit Zoo.


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