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A Day at Central Park Zoo with Kids

When you think of New York City and Central Park a zoo probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. I mean how could the largest city in the United States have a zoo? Well it does and trust me you’ll want to check out the Central Park Zoo if you’re in the area.

In this blog post, I share our visit to the zoo while providing insights into what to expect, and also provide helpful tips to ensure your visit is memorable and enjoyable.

Central Park Zoo

New York City

Some people dream about visiting New York City their entire life and never have the opportunity to go. I spent the first 32 years of my life wanting to see and explore the city but never having the opportunity.

Then, the military sent us to.. you guessed it, New York City, and my family has spent the last two years living just four miles from outside of Manhattan.

One of my goals while living here was to take our four children out to explore the local sights as much as possible.

If you’re not familiar with New York City, it is made up of 5 boroughs (or distinct towns):

  1. Bronx
  2. Brooklyn
  3. Manhattan
  4. Queens
  5. Staten Island

Central Park

Central Park was one of the top destinations on my “New York City” bucket list when we moved here.

Central Park is an 843-acre green space in Manhattan. Most NYC residents enjoy it and call it their “backyard.”

If I had to choose a “favorite” part of New York City, it would be Central Park, no questions asked. It is a beautiful spot to wander, full of life, playgrounds for the kids, and a way to “escape” the city.

Central Park Zoo

Established in 1861, the Central Park Zoo is one of the country’s oldest and most beloved zoos. It covers 6.5 acres at the southeast corner of Central Park in New York City.

The zoo was designed as a quadrangle with the sea lion pool at the center, which you can see in the map below.

I was already fond of Central Park in general, and I was thrilled to get the chance to see the zoo.

Our Day at the Central Park Zoo

Usually, I take all four of the kids when I explore new places. However, my husband had an unexpectedly short day at work & we took the opportunity to bring our two younger children to Central Park Zoo while the older two were in school.

We drove into the city from New Jersey and found a parking garage about two blocks from the entrance to the zoo.

The kid’s were hungry for lunch when we arrived but we were short on time. I knew if we went into a sit down restaurant or tried to find one it would cut into our time at the zoo so we opted for the restaurant at the zoo, The Dancing Crane. The restaurant had a little grill with chicken nuggets, french fries, hot dogs, and pizza. There was also a small cooler with drinks as well.

It wasn’t the “best” lunch I have ever experienced but it worked since our mission was to sneak in a quick trip to the zoo before we had to pick up the older kids at school.

Upon entering the zoo, I was mesmerized by the beautiful architecture of the structures within the zoo. The ivy so beautifully lined the walkway to the Tropic Zone.

Central Park Zoo, Photo Credit: @TandraNicole

The first animals we saw were the Sea Lions, right in the center of the zoo. Their tank was a focal point for all the guests that were surrounding it, watching them swim laps.

The weather was cloudy and a little rain here and there which meant the Sea Lions weren’t up on the side of the tank but rather just swimming laps and occasionally jumping and that was enough to make my kids happy. They loved watching them swim by.

We headed up the hill where we saw the red pandas sleeping in their box and then made our way to the snow leopard. I could have stayed and watched the snow leopard all day, it looked so majestic but my kids had other plans and darted to the next exhibits.

We made our way around the zoo by the grizzly bears and into the building with penguins.

Our favorite exhibit was probably the Tropic Zone. We actually almost missed this exhibit all together somehow and I’m so glad we didn’t.

We spent the most time in the Tropic Zone. The building has a very unique set up with the birds roaming free, which we all loved. It was extra humid in there which meant the lens on my Nikon ended up foggy and all my images from here are from my iPhone.

The kids loved watching the birds walk past them and thought it was so neat that they weren’t in a cage.

If you’re planning a trip, I’d save the Tropic Zone as your last exhibit! It’s like the grand finale.

We were able to explore the entire zoo with a 2-year-old and 4-year-old in a little under 2 hours.

Things to Know Before You Go

Address: East 64th Street, New York, New York 10021

Hours: Central Park Zoo is open every day at 10am.

The closing time varies by season.

April – October the zoo closes at 5pm, Monday through Friday, and 5:30pm on weekends and holidays.

November – March the zoo closes at 4:30pm everyday.

Tickets: Tickets are sold for specific entrance times each day.

Per their website “you can arrive at the zoo within one hour of the entry time you select. For example, a 10:00am time spot means you can enter between 10:00am – 11:00am.” And once you’re in the zoo, you can stay as long as you would like.

Tickets can be purchased in advance and honestly I would recommend buying before you go. If it’s like everything else in New York City, during peak times it will be busy and time slots will sell out. Since we went on a rainy Thursday morning, it wasn’t too busy and there was plenty of ticket availability.

Tickets to the Central Park Zoo also grants you admission to Tisch Children’s Zoo.

Ticket Prices:

Adult (Ages 13 & Over): $19.95

Senior (65 & Over): $16.95

Children (3-12): $14.95

Child (2 & Under): Free

Military Discounts:

The Central Park Zoo does offer a Military Discount!

Active US Military and Veterans are eligible to receive a complementary ticket for themselves and 50% off tickets for up to 3 guest. Advance ticket reservation is required.

Military Discount Code:

  1. MILITARYCITY for active personnel
  2. VETERANCITYDEPT for Veterans

Discount codes and information was collected from CentralParkZoo.com


If you are driving, the zoo does not having parking.

There are several parking garages nearby but if you’re not familiar with these parking garages, be prepared to pay a lot for parking.

We found a parking garage about 2 blocks away from the zoo and it was $70 for 2 hours.

You can look for street parking that is cheaper but unless you get lucky you will waste so much time driving around looking and trying to find a parking spot.

I just recommend factoring Parking into your total cost of the day.


Strollers are permitted in the zoo but some buildings have signs that say “no strollers permitted” with designated stroller parking.

When I talk to anyone about visiting NYC, I alway recommend baby wearing over a stroller if you can.

If you absolutely have to have a stroller, then try to bring a small stroller.


The zoo does have a local spot with food known as the Dancing Crane Cafe.

We were there in the “off-season” so the cafe was limited, I think? , they had hot dogs, chicken nuggets, pizza, and French fries.

I’d recommend looking for food outside of the zoo. If you’re in a pinch like we were on time, the cafe is okay but there are far better options. I’d even recommend grabbing lunch from a local food truck and having a picnic while watching the Sea Lions swim!


The restroom inside the Dancing Crane is for guest ONLY. The door does have a code on it that you’ll have to know before enter.

Would I Recommend the Central Park Zoo?

Absolutely! This iconic zoo should be on your list of things you “must-do” when visiting New York City. You get to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a moment and escape back into nature. It’s an unexpected but pleasant surprise in the middle of the big city.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is not a traditional zoo that has hundreds of acres and exhibits. It is thoughtfully designed and small but it adds to the charm of the experience.

Whether you’re a kid, or kid at heart, make sure you head to the Central Park Zoo on your next trip to New York City.

Don’t forget to check out my post “11 Tips for an Amazing Day at the Zoo with Kids!”

If you’re exploring New York City, check out my tips for visiting the New York Aquarium. It’s located on Coney Island and you can explore the boardwalk afterward!

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