Summer Fun Begins at Como Park

Memorial Day marked the beginning of summer for my family, and we started our summer last week with a day trip to Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, a perpetual family favorite.

I don’t have clear memories of my first trip to Como because it’s a place my family’s gone to since I was tiny, myself. This large, gorgeous park was constructed between 1891 and 1922, and it remains a staple of family life for anyone near the Twin Cities area. Admission to the zoo and conservatory is free, though donations are gratefully accepted for the work of maintaining the park and for the conservation programs to which the organization contributes.

The grounds have evolved a bit since their earliest construction. Our favorite place to park is at the West Picnic Grounds, which are closest to the zoo and conservatory, contain a well-maintained toilet facility, and include a playground suitable for children ages 3 and up. We like to take a picnic to one of the many picnic tables at the grounds and eat before heading into the zoo at its main entrance.

The main entrance features several well-maintained carnival rides for all ages, for fees that help offset the costs. It’s a fun place to start, or end, the trip. The zoo itself is small, and easily walkable, but features a variety of animals in clean, appropriate habitats. Last week, we saw the tigers, giraffes, gorillas, orangutans, polar bears, bison, zebras, penguins, and many other animals, large and small. The zoo’s popular sea lion exhibit and show is on hiatus this summer, as the entire area devoted to aquatics is under construction and slated to reopen in 2020.

However, that’s not really a deterrent for visitors. The day we were there last week, the temperatures were pleasant and the park was full of school groups taking their end-of-year field trips. We enjoyed a visit to the conservatory as well as the zoo, and my preschoolers loved the children’s gallery inside that allowed them to play with water in an exhibit about planting.

C in particular liked seeing all the plants in the conservatory. She loved the sunken garden, laughed under the spray in the fern room, and excitedly gasped at the sight of a cacao tree. Both girls loved the Japanese garden, and the area that let them build their own paths in puzzle form.

We were mildly disappointed that the butterfly house was not yet ready for visitors; visits in the past have been favorites. But it’s early in the season for butterflies, and the house will open June 15.

Finally, though mine are not yet excited about the big carousel, I’ll relate that it’s one of my favorite places, and has been since I was small. For $2, take a ride on Cafejian’s Carousel, named for the man who helped rescue and restore it. Built in 1914, the carousel features 68 horses.

We finished off our day with ice cream and play at the playground. Como itself is much larger than our day would suggest; the total grounds feature a lake with walking trails and a golf course nearby. Locals enjoy much more than the zoo. But it’s well worth a visit.

If you go: Concessions are available at the park, and it’s all that luscious carnival food you might love. It’s also pricy, as concessions are one way the park is able to maintain a free admission policy. I generally choose to simply “eat” the cost as a contribution to the park, but if money is a concern for you, take a picnic. The grounds are lovely. Just don’t feed the animals.

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