One of our favorite go-to places to hang out when we need to get out of the house is our local Bridgeport zoo, Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo. We’ve never been disappointed with a trip to visit the animals. The manageable size of this zoo makes it a doable day trip with just me and the three kids (and a stroller). Even at the peak of the summer season the zoo doesn’t feel over-crowded, although sometimes at its busiest you need to get creative with parking in the small lot.
As soon as you enter, your kids are welcomed by painted paw prints on the walkway, which gets them thrilled every time. A few steps away we stop to measure our arms outspread to see what kind of bird we would be. I believe at last check I would be a turkey vulture. Across from that is the Sensory Garden, which I’ll admit we usually skip over in our eagerness to see animals. There’s a large Wolf Observation Learning Facility where you can often see a wolf gnawing on some raw meat, which can be quite the conversation starter (and there are some seats in an air-conditioned glassed-in observatory that’s a lovely treat in the summer.)
The Rainforest Building, or as I like to call it, the monkey house, is a must-stop on everyone’s list. There’s one room in the center where you get to walk right through where the monkeys are swinging. Be aware though that there are no strollers allowed inside. If you’re only making a quick visit, I’d recommend skipping the large loop to the back of the zoo; this section is the most walking-intensive and has the least “flashy” animals.
The bears and tigers are worth a visit right off from the picnic area, but we sometimes skip the walk through Aviary because we almost never see any birds. We actually see more birds just walking around the zoo because there are free-range peacocks everywhere. You never know when one is going to waddle out of the bushes.
The New England Farmyard is the kids’ favorite area and mine, too. We visit with the usual suspects like sheep, pigs, goats, and the barn critters. You can buy those animal kibbles for a quarter to feed to the goats, which is always fun. The barn is kept dark, which keeps it nice and cool—a good spot to cool off in the summer heat. Speaking of the heat, right across from the gift shop there’s a cool-off fountain for the kids to run through (and, yes, I’ve soaked my head in there on a hot day, too).
The zoo has a simple café, Jungle Canteen, and a gift shop with only one other snack stop, which isn’t overly advertised either, which helps in not having your kids beg for treats while there. We pack a little cooler with cold drinks and stick it in the bottom of the stroller. We always stop in the carousel house for a ride; the rides are cheaper than the traveling carnivals that pass through Fairfield County in the spring, and for a much longer and nicer ride.
There’s a new playground right by the carousel and stage. The last time we visited there was a show going on for no additional charge—a singer who really engaged the kids and got everyone singing and dancing.
If you think you’ll visit more than a few times, it’s definitely worth it to become a zoo member, which includes some coupons for free carousel rides and a discount on snacks.
On your way out of the zoo, you can drive through Beardsley Park where you’ll often find a very large flock of ducks and geese to feed along the water and there’s a full-sized playground, large fields and picnic benches. The staff is excellent from the ticket booth to the volunteers who share information about the animals with the children. A man in the Aviary even made time to let my daughter interview him for a school project. Overall, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is a great place to spend a free hour or even an entire afternoon.
*Editor's Note: During the months of July and August check out the zoo's FREE Animal Bytes Program. Animal Bytes gives Zoo guests the chance to meet amazing animals up close, get answers one-on-one from expert Zoo staff, and learn how to get involved at the Zoo. Thursday - Sunday 12-2pm.
Hours: Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
The New World Tropics Building is open from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm daily.
The Carousel Building is open seasonally from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm.
The Zoo accepts all major credit cards. Parking is free.
Originally published on 7/1/11 by Sheila Hageman.
Photo courtesy of Beardsley Zoo.