Why Visiting the Como Zoo Is Totally Worth It
In Minnesota, zoo goers have two main options: The Minnesota Zoo and Como Park Zoo. The Minnesota Zoo is the larger of the two, but the Como Zoo has a leg up on a number of fronts. The Minnesota Zoo can't hold a candle to Como's pristine gardens, for example, and it doesn't come with an amusement park.
For an easy day trip, Como Zoo is the way to go. Read on for why it's an excellent choice for locals and tourists alike.
It's Free. Yes, Free.
It seems like you can't walk out the door these days without dropping $100 on something. Just taking the kids to a movie is expensive. One major perk of visiting Como Park Zoo is that it's totally free.
Admission, parking and entrance to the conservatory is all free. The point of a zoo is to educate the public about nature, wildlife and conservation, and knowledge shouldn't come with a price tag. Anyone can visit the zoo for free 365 days a year, as long as they make a reservation first.
The Gardens Are Nothing Short of Stunning
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory boasts one of the largest garden exhibits in the country, with more than a dozen unique gardens to stroll through.
There's an enchanted butterfly garden, a Japanese garden, a collection of ancient bonsai trees, a fern room, a water garden, an orchid house, towering palm trees and so much more.
The Tropical Encounters Exhibit Is Like Walking Into a Rainforest
The Tropical Encounters garden can't be missed. This $2.1 million exhibit lets visitors walk through a realistic rainforest experience demonstrating the relationship between flora and fauna.
The two-story exhibit has been around since 2005, and visitors come back year after year just to see it.
And the Sunken Garden? Perfect First Date Material
The Sunken Garden wows all year round. Set in a towering greenhouse full of natural light and mid-century charm, the Sunken Garden is populated with an artful display of seasonal flowers and foliage.
Rows of geraniums and serene walkways melt into warm shades of gold and orange chrysanthemums in fall, a lush palace of poinsettias around the holidays and brightly colored tulips in spring. Bring your journal and reflect for a while. There's no shortage of inspiration.
The Como Zoo Has Live Reindeer
Moving onto the actual zoo animals, the Como Zoo has something most zoos are missing: cuddly-looking Christmas reindeer. Hailing from the far north, reindeer have impressive antlers that visitors can see up close. There's even a reindeer cam around the holidays, so kids can check up on their festive friends.
Fun fact: Reindeer and caribou are one and the same — only reindeer are domesticated and caribou are wild.
And Monkeys With Handlebar Mustaches
Como Park Zoo also has plenty of primates, from ginormous gorillas to tiny tamarins. Emperor tamarins only weigh about a pound and grow up to 10 inches in height, but their mustaches give them so much personality. Every adult emperor tamarin has a striking white mustache.
We wouldn't be surprised if they have an after-hours barbershop quartet, but their mustache actually helps them recognize each other. We wonder what would happen if an emperor tamarin dyed their handlebar pink.
And a 20-Foot Long Anaconda
Of all the animal exhibits at the Como Zoo, the green anaconda might be the spookiest. If you visit around Halloween, skipping this exhibit is practically a crime. The massive green serpent is 20-feet long and weighs more than a grown man.
Green anacondas are considered to be one of the world's largest snakes, giving Nagini from Harry Potter a run for her money. They usually only eat once every month or two, but when they do, their prey is scarily huge. Thankfully, Harry isn't around to accidentally magic away its glass enclosure.
There Are Tons of Activities for the Littles
No one is too old to enjoy the children's exhibits at Como Park Zoo. Let's face it: Some of the activities intended for kids are just as fun for grownups. The Leonard Wilkening Children’s Gallery is jam-packed with hands-on educational activities.
Move on to the Ribbit Zibit to take a peek at all kinds of frog species, including the rare Panamanian golden frog, red-eyed tree frogs, poison dart frogs and more. Don't miss the tadpole window to see how frogs transform from legless blobs to colorful works of hopping, fly-eating art.
While most of the park is free, riding the nearby carousel costs a few bucks. With 18 scenic paintings and four rows of horses to pick from, it's totally worth it for the photo-op.
Plus a Sea Lion Show Grownups Will Love, Too
Sparky the sea lion isn't actually one, single sea lion. Seven different sea lions take turns performing to allow all of them ample time to rest and relax.
The Sparky show happens daily in the zoo's amphitheater at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Every sea lion has a unique personality, so it's worth stopping by more than once to see their amusing antics.
There's Even an Amusement Park Next Door
Como Town is a separate attraction, but it's mere steps away from the Como Park Zoo. It has over 20 rides and attractions, plus snacks and a convenient general store. It won't impress serious roller coaster aficionados, but younger kids and less daring individuals will love the laidback, county-fair vibes.
It's only open seasonally, though, so visit Como Town’s website to check its current hours and rates.
The Sensory-Friendly Mornings Allow All Visitors to Have an Enjoyable Zoo Experience
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is usually busy and packed with people. For some visitors, the upbeat zoo environment is overstimulating and stressful.
To make sure everyone is included in the zoo experience, Como offers sensory-friendly morning visits with limited admission for those with autism or other conditions that make sensory experiences overwhelming.
No Zoo Visit Would Be Complete Without a Trip to the Gift Shop
Last but not least, visitors need to at least window shop at the Garden Safari Gift Shop. There are three different gift shops at Como Zoo, but the best one is found in the lobby of the Visitor Center. It has all the typical souvenirs, like stuffed animals, educational toys, apparel, unique gifts and jewelry, plus more unique finds like gardening tools and live bonsai trees. Just make sure you have enough room in your suitcase!
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