The Zoo (plus so much more) in Brookfield
While the Brookfield Zoo is famously home to one of America’s (and Illinois’) largest zoos, there’s much worth discovering in this suburb of Chicago, from outdoor recreation and adventure to family fun, culture and dining.
Brookfield IL lies between Salt Creek and the Des Plaines River, a little over 3 square miles with 26th and 47th streets, and First and 25th avenues forming its boundaries. (Its suburban neighbors include Riverside, La Grange Park, North Riverside, Western Springs and Westchester.)
The village was originally incorporated as Grossdale in 1893 – in honor of Samuel Gross, the Chicago lawyer and real estate investor who bought up and subdivided large parcels of farmland, prairie and woodland along both sides of the railroad 13 miles west of the city. In 1905, it was renamed the village of Brookfield; by 1918 it had grown enough to open its highly ranked Riverside Brookfield High School.
Today the restored, Disney-style Grossdale Station is home to Brookfield Historical Society, a fun museum with great exhibits and memorabilia. It’s one of Brookfield’s oldest structures. Built in 1889 as a railroad depot, it was moved to 8820-1/2 Brookfield Ave. in the 1970s, thanks to a grassroots effort by Brookfield residents to preserve it from demolition.
But let’s start with the Zoo. Heiress Edith Rockefeller McCormick donated some of the original land that opened in 1934 as the Chicago Zoological Park—always popularly known as Brookfield Zoo. It quickly gained international stature as a premier educational institution and research facility. Today, kids and adults alike enjoy the Hamill Family Play Zoo and Wild Encounters as well as Penguin Encounters and Giraffe Feeding. There are also many zoo events worth checking out, like Boo at the Zoo, Holiday Magic, even a Zoo Brew. The beautiful tree canopy and greenery has been preserved to such a high standard that it’s also certified as an arboretum.
For outdoor adventure seekers, there’s no shortage of hiking and biking routes along the Salt Creek Trail and Des Plaines River as well as throughout the Forest Preserve of Cook County, which include Zoo Woods, McCormick Woods, Brookfield Woods and the 26th Street Woods. Enjoy seasonal canoeing and kayaking on Salt Creek and the Des Plaines—there’s even a landing near village hall. And be sure to get in some forest bathing at the historic and exquisite Oak Savanna in Kiwanis Park.
For a full day of guaranteed adventure for the kids, head to the Galloping Ghost complex along Ogden Avenue. This is the largest video arcade in the world, famed for its amazing collection of 800+ retro and futuristic video games. They’ve just added a new Galloping Ghost Pinball Arcade. And when your wrists get tired, enjoy a fuller body experience at Galloping Ghost Gym & Martial Arts, with martial arts classes for the younger set.
There are art adventures to enjoy: beading classes and shopping for head-to-toe wearable art at Laura Atwood Studios; learn how to paint furniture at Painted Studio; and enjoy fine arts classes while experiencing local art in the galleries at The Compassion Factory.
Sooner or later, everyone has to eat. Start your day at Mary’s Morning Mix-Up—this place is an absolute gem! Or indulge your sweet tooth at Daisy’s Treats & Bakery. There’s great BBQ at Beach Avenue BBQ, pizza at Paisan’s, or a creative burger (and craft cocktail) at Burger Antics. Skadarliya is a great destination for Balkan cuisine at 9237 Ogden, while La Cabanita, at 9438 Ogden, showcases Mexican cuisine.
Don’t miss the lively Brookfield bar scene. The Irish Times, established in 1991, is one of the most authentic Irish pubs in greater Chicago. Try their shepherd’s pie, enjoy the spacious outdoor patio, or come out for special events like St. Patrick’s Day and Oyster Fest. Imperial Oak Brewing offers great craft beers. Or grab an adult beverage at Sebastian’s Ale & Whiskey House or Little Owl Social Club.
There are great events in all year long in easy-to get-to Brookfield! (By car, take interstate 290 or 55. By Metra train, the Burlington Northern line is only a 25-minute trip from downtown Chicago to either the Hollywood train station for the zoo or Congress Park.) The wide-ranging Farmers Market is open Saturday mornings from May through October. The Independence Day Parade is fun for the entire family. There’s a Fine Art Fest in September, and Bike Brookfield Week lets everyone cycle through the village (and be entered for prizes) in late summer. Plus there’s a Classic Car & Bike Show, Concerts in the Park throughout the summer months, and Monsters on Main Street around Halloween.
The Zoo can be your first Brookfield stop, of course, but you’ll want to come back time and again for more adventures.