Where in southeast Michigan are 1,500 friends waiting to greet you? The Detroit Zoo! Its Royal Oak home is a thriving animal wonderland that’s been dedicated to celebrating and saving wildlife for more than 80 years.
There’s plenty to explore at this 125-acre spread at the crossroads of I-696 and Woodward Avenue, which lures more than a million visitors each year to get their dose of, as the zoo puts it, “Vitamin Z.”
Since it’s open annually, any time of year is a great opportunity to swing by and explore. Particularly in spring and summer, though, more of the 260 species that call the zoo home are out and about. Why not come and meet them?
Awesome annual events
Looking for family-friendly activities to launch your visit? There’s plenty going on at the Detroit Zoo for kids of all ages.
The year typically kicks off with its Wild Winter Weekends program. In January, February and March, you’ll find one weekend (a Saturday and Sunday) each month that offers arctic, African and safari themes. The fun includes ice-carving demos, themed arts and games, and animal enrichment activities.
In spring, watch for the annual Bunnyville event and Earth Day Celebration. Come summer, there’s the Wild Summer Nights concert series to look forward to.
As the fall and holiday seasons arrive, mark your calendars for the Zoo Boo, a Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo opportunity to find a family pet, and Breakfast with Santa at the Detroit Zoo.
Amazing immersive exhibits
Open spaces are a unique feature at the Detroit Zoo. Unlike some zoos that use bars or cages, here, deep ditches or moats surround animals, providing a more natural environment.
“Families can look forward to the unique, immersive experiences that make the Detroit Zoo one of the region’s most popular and beloved cultural resources,” says communications director Patricia Mills Janeway.
One must-see is the four-acre Arctic Ring of Life. Watch polar bears bask in the sun or glide through the water – and glimpse the arctic fox. As you walk through the 70-foot-long “polar passage” tunnel, you can see the bears swim right over your head (if you’re lucky). When you emerge, you’ll pass through an ice cave that’s frozen to the touch, adding an arctic-blast feel.
The African Grasslands offer an up-close look at the animals of the African Savannah. Scope out zebras grazing, warthogs lounging and African wild dogs hoping for a hunt. And don’t miss out on the Giraffe Encounter! Kids can hand-feed these gentle creatures several times a week (it’s $5/piece of giraffe food); check ahead for times and dates.
Over at the Australian Outback Adventure, families can walk alongside kangaroos and wallabies on a winding path that’s prime for photo ops. Kids also can test their hopping skills at “kangaroo jump” in the activity plaza.
The Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden is another wow-worthy exhibit. The glass dome, visible from outside the walls of the zoo, showcases hundreds of butterflies from Central and South America, plus hummingbirds and swallow tanagers. Located in the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery, the creatures fly freely in the indoor garden environment – and a butterfly may even land on your shoulder.
Next door at the Matilda Wilson Free-Flight Aviary, dozens of species of birds also fly, walk and swim around, sharing the same pathway as visitors.
“These are the moments that inspire wonder and make each visit special every time,” Janeway says.
More creatures on land – and screen
Other state-of-the-art exhibits will enchant, too. Watch the zoo’s two river otters swim and play, see apes swing from trees, spot the highly-entertaining grizzly bear trio (Mike, Thor and Boo), view penguins waddling, see lions gnaw a fresh fish snack or check out the majestic tigers, to boot.
Additional critters include wallabies, sloths, ring-tailed lemurs and hundreds of reptiles, spiders and amphibians. The Holden Museum of Reptiles features 85 slithering, slow-moving species.
Step even further into the animals’ worlds at the Wild Adventure 3-D/4-D Theater ($5/person). Experiences here are designed to be a quick, immersive stop in your day, making it great for little ones, too. Films pop to life with effects like wind, scents and leg ticklers, packing thrills and education into one motion-simulated seat.
“Imagine feeling a rhino’s hot breath on your face (or) being shaken from the power of an elephant’s charge,” Janeway says, of this multimedia theater. “These are just some of the features that keep visitors guessing what will come next.”
For a more leisurely go, try the Tauber Family Railroad ($3/one-way fare, free/under 36 inches) or a $2 carousel ride. No matter what you choose, it’s sure to be an action-packed day for the entire family.