Pro Tips for Having a Great Day at the Houston Zoo

Houston zoo2
houston zoo1

It’s no secret that the Houston Zoo is one of my most favorite places in Houston. If we have a day off school, chances are we are spending it at the zoo.  A little known fact though, our first trip to the zoo bordered DISASTER.  It was hot, the kids were not feeling it, and we spent WAY too much money.  After that day I vowed NEVER to go through that again and I figured out {after many more trips} how to make the most of a day trip to the zoo.

Before you go ::

  • Get a Zoo Membership.  At $20 per adult/$15 per kid, a day at the zoo can be a pricey adventure.  That’s why I have been a proud Houston Zoo member for the last 5 years.  A membership pays for itself in as little as 2 visits.   And if the membership is too much, ask for it as a gift.  Grandparents and loved ones LOVE giving gifts that keep on giving {and for goodness sakes you know your kid has too many toys anyway}.  Having a membership makes the zoo trip “free” and takes so much stress off of trying to do ALL the things.  As an added bonus, being a zoo member comes with perks such as admission to Zoobilee {THE annual not-to-be-missed member appreciation event}, discounts on programs and adventures in the zoo, and early admission mornings.  If you are visiting from out of town and want to visit the Houston Zoo definitely check out the reciprocity program.  We’ve taken advantage of it in other cities and its a great way to save some money and visit new places.
  • Bring a backpack.  I ALWAYS pack a backpack to go to the zoo.  Lugging around a purse or diaper bag can be a back breaking job.  A few things I like to keep in my bag for the zoo are:: bug spray, sunscreen, sunglasses for all parties, a small first aid kit with band aids and hand sanitizer, water bottles {that stay filled thanks to the convenient water refill stations located throughout the zoo}, cash {for feeding the giraffes}, treasures for the swap shop {more on that later}, lunch and snacks.  The zoo has some great food, but to feed my boys and me it can easily cost around $30 or more and I prefer to use that money on experiences like feeding the giraffes or riding the Hermann park train afterwards.
  • If you have littles, this tip is for you ::  Bring a stroller.  Or a wagon. Or some other mode of transportation for your kids, because when they get tired {when, not if} you will be at the absolute farthest point from the entrance.  Take my word on this.
  • Arrive early!!  I cannot stress this enough.  With the zoo nestled in arguably the busiest area of Houston, parking can be a challenge.  We try to arrive before the park opens or at least within 30 minutes.  This will assure that you can get a decent parking space.  Another option is to wait until the morning crowd leaves {around noon or one} to snag one of their spots.  If you arrive between the hours of 10-12 be patient as you WILL be circling the parking lots looking for a spot.

Once you get there ::

  • Grab a map.  Heck grab a few maps.  My kids love deciding where we go next, and its a great learning experience for them to read the map and tell us which direction to head.  Also on the map is the daily schedule which includes so many amazing things like zookeeper talks, times and places to see the zoos ambassador animals, and fun events like toros training camp.
  • Head to the swap shop.  If you get there early, you might get lucky and catch them feeding the animals.  If you miss that, there is still tons to see as well as an opportunity to trade in your treasures.  The swap shop accepts up to 3 natural items per visit {list of accepted and prohibited items here}.  The kids then talk with the Natuaralist and get points for the item that they can in turn use to buy other items from the swap shop.  It’s not uncommon to find me to carrying around a snake skin in a plastic bag or cow bones in my backpack.
  • Splurge on feeding the giraffes.  It’s an experience your kids won’t soon forget.  After all these years, I still get giggles from my boys when the giraffes reach those long tongues out to snag the lettuce out of their outstretched hand.
  • If it’s hot check out the indoor exhibits.  The zoo has air conditioned exhibits {yes, AIR CONDITIONED} scattered throughout the zoo that house some of the coolest animals.  The reptile and amphibian house is always a hit with my boys, as well as the natural encounters exhibit located nearby.
  • Make a stop at the Children’s Zoo.  There are a few playgrounds to play on, a petting zoo, and the most adorable animals like otters, llamas, and a fox.
  • Let the children decide where to go next.  Every time we go to the zoo we stumble across something we haven’t seen in a while.  Whether its the world of primates, the flamingos, or the meercats, there is just so many different animals around every corner.
  • Explore the wild before you leave!  The newest playground, the Nature Playground, is located close to the entrance and I like to let the kids burn off any remaining energy there before we leave.  It can turn into a messy stop, with water features and mud pits, but the boys love it and it’s a great place for ME to relax for a bit before the drive home.

What are your favorite things to see and do at the Houston Zoo?  Leave us a comment!


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Jessica L
After graduating college, Jessica moved to Fort Worth to pursue her love of fashion, listen to some Texas country music and have a little fun. One night out with a friend, 615 miles would be erased when this small town southeast Texas girl met her tall west Texas boy. Eventually jobs would move them to Houston where they would settle down into suburban life and have two sweet and VERY active boys, Jett {January 2011} and Jay {November 2012}. It wasn’t until having kids and becoming a stay at home mom, that Jessica truly fell in love with Houston. Her perfect day with the kids would begin EARLY at the zoo {because we all know parking there} with a strong cup of coffee, around lunch time they’d hop on the Hermann Park train and head over to Centennial Park for a picnic lunch and then they would end the day checking out the dinosaur exhibit at HMNS. When not exploring Houston, Jessica loves to shop online for amazing deals, watch Texas A&M football and basketball, and plan their next family adventure.


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