Today (President’s Day), my husband and I both found ourselves with a day off from work, but the kids still in school. Alone time?
With excitement, we wondered what to do?!
What we knew is that we did NOT want to stay at home and get trapped doing household chores and I know my husband really didn’t want to do anything on my very long ‘Honey Do’ list that has been growing year over year.
After much thought, we decided to go to the Pittsburgh Zoo. We had recently been to Frick Park & Museum and to Phipps Conservancy and Botanical Garden – so that left us with the National Aviary and Pittsburgh Zoo. Our youngest really wants to go to the National Aviary, so we decided on the Pittsburgh Zoo.
BEARS, SEA OTTERS, LIONS, and ELEPHANTS – OH MY!
To kick things off, we got up this morning we got up, kissed our youngest as she headed to the bus stop, and then got ready for our day-date! We ended up packing our own snack bag because of the restrictive medical diet that I am on (learn more here, watch my cooking Frustrated Foodie). Our snack bag consisted of: butternut squash soup in a thermos, water, fruit salad, carrots & hummus, and a variety of dried fruit (like mango). We snacked on this while we walked around the zoo. The warm soup was perfect for a cool day (I think it was around 40-45 degrees when we were there.)
We got to the zoo right around 10:30 AM and the first thing we noticed was that the parking lot was fairly empty with maybe only 40-50 cars in the lot. This was a terrific sign as we did not want to fight with crowds or a bunch of kids.
If you have never been to the Pittsburgh Zoo it is certainly worth a visit. There is a great Pittsburgh Zoo app you can find in Apple’s App Store which is a free download. I played around with the app a little while we walked through the zoo and could see the value if you had kids, were fighting lines or just wanted to understand the layout of the zoo. However, we already knew our way around and without the delays of large crowds did not use it at all. Also, the zoo is easily walk-able with plenty of areas for seating for when you get tired or you need a break from the crowds. There is a large project going on right now to add a large patio, seating, and large ‘living’ wall which will add to places to sit and relax.
For our trip, there were no crowds to maneuver around or need to stand in line to see the animals. For each exhibit we were able to get up front and center and see everything we wanted to see, stay for as long as we liked, and not feel like we were blocking anyone else’s view of the animals.
Easy Parking and No Lines at the Ticket Booth
After parking, we went directly to the ticket booths (no line) and took the elevator up to the main zoo path (the escalator was shut down for repairs). From here, I think you immediately notice the two downsides of visiting the zoo in the winter. 1 – the outdoor gift/food huts were mostly shut down and 2 – there was very little flowers in bloom, the trees were lacking leaves, and the tall grasses were cut back. However, the benefits of no crowds, low noise, and easy animal viewing way outweighed those small issues.
When you get into the park you will first encounter the large African cats in the ‘Forest Passage’. We were able to get up and very close with the leopard who was walking inches from us in front of the glass! From there we went through the ‘African Savanna’ and into the elephant enclosure where we saw four different elephants. We then wondered around the ‘Tropical Forest’ and ‘The Islands’ where we saw a variety of different monkeys.
From there we went to the ‘PPG Aquarium’ which is a favorite of mine. As scuba divers, we were able to take a close look at the sharks, lion-fish, turtles, and so much more that we see on our dives, but are sometimes scared of getting too close in open water! It was nice to look at them through the glass and watch them swim around. As a side note, we noticed that the aquarium has a reef restoration project going on. We made a note that we want to reach out to the Aquarium and see if they allow volunteers to help or if it was more of a showcase for visitors.
TAKE THE PLUNGE!
THE BEST PART OF OUR DAY BY FAR were the polar bears at the ‘Water’s Edge’ exhibit! They put on an amazing show for us with the larger of the two jumped into the water making a huge splash and then swimming laps around the pool.
Shortly after that, the smaller bear jumped in and started playing with different toys in the pool area. It was amazing! We were literally about 5 inches from the bear itself (the thickness of the glass) and it passed by us no less than 10 times (check out the video!). I think my husband could have stayed there all day watching it swim around.
There are three or four different observation areas for the polar bears. We spent most of our time at the second observation station, right at the water level looking down into the pool and then we moved below to an underground viewing area that provided us another angle to watch the bears swim. (NOTE: there was the distinct smell of fish there which I did not like, and I imagine in the summer months the smell is just awful between the smell of fish and sweaty humans.)
After the amazing polar bear experience, we wondered around ‘Kids Kingdom’ and snapped this cute picture of a pig, went through ‘Worlds of Discovery’ and then wrapped things up walking by the ‘Education Complex’. Without kids in tow, these last 2-3 areas went quickly as we didn’t spend much time looking at the goats or pigs.
Wrapping It Up
All-in-all we spent about 2 or 2.5 hours in the park. With kids or crowds, I could easily see this taking 4-5 hours to see everything, take breaks, get food, etc. It was a wonderful date-day event and something fun to do with your significant other that won’t break the bank. It also made for a day of talking – for the most part our phones were put away, we were looking at the animals, and just enjoying the time together.
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Michelle is a Pittsburgh native, local personality, and entrepreneur.
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