Spring is here, and it’s a great time to head to a zoo, aquarium or even a farm outside the city. From an arty farm on the Upper East Side to stellar petting zoos great for little ones, aquariums and the world-class Bronx Zoo, we’ve rounded up the best places in the city to talk to (and often touch!) the animals. FYI: The cost of admission to many of these can add up, which is why a WCS membership is one of the best values in town. Also note that you’re going to need to reserve tickets in advance for most of these destinations.
photo: Wai Sze Zara
Petting Zoos Within Zoos
There is a children’s zoo at each of NYC’s four great zoos; a dedicated space carved out specifically for little ones, where they can explore at their own place. They can meet, touch and feed a variety of domestic animals.
The Central Park Zoo’s Tisch Children’s Zoo
Yes, there is a zoo right in the middle of New York City, and it’s great! Upon entering, kids are free to climb, crawl and roam free. Then they can get a hands-on experience with some familiar animals like pot-bellied pigs, goats, sheep and also some not so familiar like the zebu, the Patagonian cavy or the mini Nubian goat. No matter how many times you visit. Zoo admission includes a bonus 4-D theatre experience.
Tickets: adults/$20; 3-12/$15; 65 and up/$17; two and under/free.
Southeast corner of Central Park
830 5th Ave. (64th Street and 5th Avenue)
The Queens Zoo’s Domestic Animals
This charming area is located just across from the main entrance of the zoo. Its farm-like environment features animals like the Jacobs Four-Horned sheep, the Belted Galloway cow as well the adorable Flemish Giant rabbit.
Tickets: adults/$10; kids 3-12/$7; seniors/$8; two and under/free
53-51 111th St.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Prospect Park Zoo Barn & Garden
Be ready to fill up little hands with some grain so that they can feed the friendly barnyard animals like the alpacas, sheep, pigs and the zebu. Plan your visit here. Don’t miss the sea lion feeding which happens three times a day.
Insider Tip: The only (people) food available at the zoo comes from vending machines, so be sure to pack lunch.
Tickets: adults/$10; kids 3-12/$7; 65 and up/$8; two and under/free
450 Flatbush Ave.
Staten Island Zoo
This is a cozy but very manageable little zoo filled with interesting animals to see including capybaras, leopards, Onyx the binturong, Gregory the fennec fox, Polly the pig and Benny the resident Sloth. In past years, the zoo has held a sheep-shearing event. This usually happens right in the beginning of Spring when sheep are ready to retire their Winter coat. Check the calendar to stay informed.
Reservations can be made in advance but are not necessary to enter. Please review current Covid guidelines before visiting.
Open daily 10a.m.-4:45p.m. (Weds. 2p.m.-4p.m./free for all)
Tickets: 15 and up/$10; 60 and up/$7; 3-14/$6 ; two and under/free
A game plan is recommended in advance when visiting the largest zoo in the country. With that said, the Children’s Zoo is a must-visit and worth the extra $6 fee. Get up close to a giant anteater, two-toed sloth, South American squirrel monkeys and so many more gentle and ready-to-be-fed and touched animals.
You can also climb to new heights here. There are two options for climbing enthusiasts: the Treetop Adventure course and zipline experience as well as the Nature Trek more suitable for little ones. Be sure to schedule into your plan animal feeding times and energy for more activities including a ride on the Wild Asia Monorail, the Bug Carousel and more. A complete guide is here.
Tickets: 13 and up/$31; kids 3-12/$23; seniors/$29; two and under/free
2300 Southern Blvd.
photo: The Art Farm
The Art Farm NYC
Learn and play at this USDA-licensed indoor space located right on the Upper East Side. The Art Farm was recently renovated to include new play and party spaces, and children can feed and snuggle up with some lovable animals in The Art Farm NYC’s petting zoo. There are a variety of classes to engage children that includes art, music, creative play and even cooking. Join for open play or register for a program. This is also a great place to throw a birthday party. Good to know: You can join a free trial before you commit to a class.
419 E. 91st Street (between York & 1st Ave.)
Upper East Side
photo:Julie Larsen Maher
New York City Area Aquariums
New York Aquarium
The New York Aquarium is must-see destination on Coney Island’s celebrated boardwalk. All the more reason to go now: the aquarium just debuted its new interactive imaginaton space “Playquarium,” (shown here) where young children can explore a kelp forest, coral reef, and the sandy shore—and transform themselves into a shark, a sardine, or a whale. Other creatures to check out here: spineless animals featuring pacific octopus, moon jellies and zombie worms, “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” where you are inches away (but protected) from sharks, sea turtles, and more. Use your imagination and “snorkel” at Glover’s Reef where you’ll see colorful fish galore, then take in a sea lion show at the Aquatheater and say hello to the latest sea lion pups Ruby and Deno. Visit with penguins, sea otters and seals, all of which like to hang out at the Sea Cliffs. Read our full guide to the New York Aquarium here.
Tickets: 13 and up/$25; 3-12/$20; 65 and over/$22; two and under/free. Get “Value Admission” tickets, which can be used on Wednesdays.
Surf Ave. & W. 8th St.
photo: Wai Sze Zara
Long Island Aquarium
One of our picks for a fun spring day trip from NYC, this aquarium features one of the largest all-living, closed-system Coral Reef displays in the Western hemisphere. There are 800 types of fish and other marine life to look at, and the aquarium makes use of both indoor and outdoor spaces. You’ll find a variety of animals including reptiles, otters, penguins and porcupines, as well as jellyfish, eels, butterflies, bugs, seahorses and birds. Want to interact with bugs? How about a treetop adventure or taking a selfie with a penguin or sea lion? All these experiences and more can be planned ahead of time here. (Some are seasonal and extra fees apply.) Remember to check out the events of the day so you don’t miss out on the sea lion, penguin or shark tank learn and feed sessions. Don’t leave without visiting the touch tank including the Ray Bay to see and touch stingrays up close. Hot tip: You can visit on your birthday for free(visit within 7 days of your actual birthdate).
Tickets: 13-61/$40; 3-12/$28; 62 and up/$30; two and under/free
431 E. Main St.
photo: Gennessy Palma
Guided Birdwatching in NYC Parks
Despite being a major metropolis, NYC attracts plenty of feathered friends, especially to its parks, and the city offers lots of resources to get out and see the birds in their natural habitat. Check out our full guide to bird-watching with kids in NYC.
New York City parks offer a fantastic and free birding program. The guided tours are led by the Urban Park Rangers who are eager and excited to share their knowledge. These tours are offered seasonally and different birds can be spotted depending on the time of the tour. Tip: Urban Park Rangers also offer a variety of other free events. See the full calendar of programs and activities for more information.
NYC Audubon is a grassroots community with a mission to protect and conserve the birds in the NYC area. They offer guided bird tours in many of our parks including Central Park, Governors Island, Inwood Hill Park and even Oyster Bay in Long Island. Registration and fees information can be found here for current offerings.
Visit the Prospect Park Audubon Center which is the first urban area Audubon center in the nation. Led by a member of the Brooklyn Bird Club, free Introduction to birdwatching tours allow visitors of all ages to partake in their nature-centric activities. (Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult)
Prospect Park Audubon Center
95 Prospect Park West
Prospect Lefferts Gardens
This Bronx institution hosts birding events throughout the year, which provide great opportunities to see migratory birds heading through, as well as ones that stay in town. Fees include admission to the grounds. Note: Birders of all levels are welcome but must be ages 10 and up and with an adult.
1 W. 249th St. and Independence Avenue
Animal Farms Near NYC
Visit this farm to see small creatures like bunnies to the big fellows like buffaloes, emus and long-horn cattle. Bring some coins to purchase animal feed because feeding and petting is encouraged. (Read and adhere to the Family Farm rules before visiting.) Pick your own fruit is available later in the year. Stop by the country market for some farm favorites like fresh-pressed apple cider, local honey, 16 different kinds of pies and more.
451 Sport Hill Rd.
Stamford Museum and Nature Center
Experience what life is like on a small New England Farm. The Hecksher Farm features a variety of animals including cows, a chicken coop, a pigpen, llamas and more. Interested in getting a hands-on learning experience? Visit Hecksher’s Wild for a chance to touch a furry Chinchilla or meet the resident tortoise who is currently 48 years old. This exhibit is jammed packed with more exotic animals including tarantulas, lizards and snakes just to name a few. Remember to get a schedule of the day’s events to see if there are any demonstrations or feedings available. Besides animals, the nature center also features a fun playground, wheelchair-accessible walking trail, a museum and more. Please take a look at the Center’s safety guidelines before visiting.
Tickets: adults/$14; 4-17/$8; 65 and up/$12; three and under/free; students 18+ with ID/$10
Open daily (except major Winter holidays); Heckscher Wild! open Tues.-Sun. 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
39 Scofieldtown Rd.
Stamford, CT (Main entrance)
Online:Stamford Museum and Nature Center
photo: Wai Sze Zara
Long Island Game Farm Wildlife Park & Zoo
Visit the largest combined children’s zoo and wildlife park on Long Island. They are committed to providing a natural playground for their animals using reclaimed materials from storm-damaged trees and bringing new life to used materials. Get up close and meet wild creatures like their newest marsupial, the wallabies. Meet with the zookeeper to learn about the zebra, (Zephry the Zebra may be expecting soon) camel, lemur and others. Spring is the best time to see the mommy goats with their newborns and guests are encouraged to feed a variety of animals including llamas, goats, deerpark and the miniature Sicilian donkey. Bobo the giraffe, a favorite, returns this spring and will be turning two this year.
Tickets: adults 13-61/$25; kids 3-12/$19; 62 and up/$22; two and under/free
Weekends, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
250 Old Country Rd.
White Post Farms
There’s lots to experience at White Post Farm’s Animal Farm. Observe squirrel monkeys in the primate enrichment barn. Step into Ronnie’s bird landing or Poppie’s Lorikeet Landing where exotic birds are free to fly and feed off your hand with either a special birdseed stick or sweet nectar. Visit Grant’s Zebra and wave hello to Patches and Ollie at the giraffe observation deck (that latter is only open when temperatures are above 60 degrees). There are colorful Budgies, Cockatiels and Lovebirds to meet, pony rides, a Koi pond, a train to ride and even shows to watch. While you are allowed to bring in food (no hard coolers please) the farm market serves up a great selection of sandwiches, soups and salads. (We love the banana bread.) Covid protocol is here. Check out the Facebook page for seasonal events and up-to-date information.
Tickets: $21(packages available at an additional rate)
250 Old Court Rd.
Mark Your Calendars for these Fall Favorites
The Tompkins Square Dog Run Halloween Parade
Typically held in the week or two leading up to Halloween, The Tompkins Square Dog Run Halloween Parade is a spectacular event where hundreds of dogs get the opportunity to dress up in their wildest, fanciest or wackiest costume. It is so popular that it has garnered worldwide coverage and has been called “the largest dog costume parade in the world!” It’s a must-see experience!
East River Park Amphitheater
East River Park
The Yearly Blessing of the Animals
The Yearly Blessing of the Animal is observed annually on October 4th. Several churches designate this day to celebrate and honor the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. The most renowned blessing is hosted by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. Animals are brought forth to get their blessings and it’s a very special event. Check their calendar or follow them on facebook to stay tuned for event updates. (Also, check your local Catholic church to see if they are observing this celebration.)
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave.
featured image: New York Aquarium