Some new parents buy seventeen different versions of “what to expect” during your baby’s first year when their first child is born. Others scour websites and register for mommy-baby yoga classes (ok, so I looked up some mommy-baby yoga classes but opted to save the money for diapers). We bought a membership to the Maryland Zoo.

Yes, a zoo membership. Why? The zoo is really convenient to our house (less than 10 minute drive), and has a ton of stroller-friendly walking paths. On my three months of maternity leave, it was great to be able to wander around the shaded, paved trails with Lila comfortably snapped into her strolling infant seat. As she’s gotten older, the membership has quadrupled it’s value. She LOVES going to see the animals. And because we have a membership, it’s ok to just go over for an hour and visit with the penguins. It doesn’t have to be a huge day-long production, or wallet-draining event.

Last weekend, we had a picnic with the giraffes. We grabbed a picnic blanket, sun screen, take-out sandwiches and macaroni salad from Eddie’s Market, and met up with our friends, the Pepin family (their little girl is month younger than Lila). The six of us wandered around all of the zoo exhibits. We visited the polar bears and the elephants, laughed at the penguins, breezed through the chimp house, fed the giraffes and wandered through the Maryland wilderness. Mid-way through our excursion, we spread out our blankets near the giraffes and pulled out our lunches. The girls crawled around on the grass, snacked on whatever was convenient (including each other’s sippy cup of juice-water), and people-watched.

A day at the zoo, especially during the summer, can get quite warm. So here are our favorite cool-off spots:

  • The Tundra Buggy in the Polar Bear Exhibit: no strollers allowed, but lots of seating and AC!
  • The shady area by the elephant overlook: this wooded area seems to be about 10 degrees cooler than the unshaded parts of the African exhibit trail! There is also a concession stand with vending machines that take (gasp) credit/debit cards.
  • The cave exhibit in the Maryland Wilderness Area: although this is definitely a cool area, the snake-like, dark paths can be a bit disorienting. Fair warning.

Beyond the obvious reasons why a trip (or frequent trips!) to the Maryland Zoo are great, here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • The giraffe feeding station (open daily from 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM). When else will you be able to say you fed a giraffe? The experience costs a whopping $2.
  • Exercise. Remember that? You probably did it daily before kids and now carving out 30 minutes every few days can be challenging? Calorie Count estimates that 150 lb. person burns approximately 170 calories per hour of stroller pushing. Our three hour trip to the zoo burned approximately 425 calories (we stopped and picnicked for 30 minutes or so). Granted, we probably consumed just as much during our lunch. But then ask yourself, even if you had put in 45 minutes on the elliptical that morning, wouldn’t you have still had lunch?
  • The giant tree slide. Not stroller friendly, but big enough for both you and your child to shoot down together.

Like any excursion with progeny, there are some potential pitfalls with an outing the Maryland Zoo. If your child is having a bad day, it’s a REALLY long walk back to the gate. Exceptionally long. And there are two slight hills that can make pushing the stroller a bit intense. Most everything at the Maryland Zoo is stroller-friendly, with the exception of the Giant Tree slide (there is a walk-around path) and the Kid Zone in the farmyard area. Oh, and that first hill you walk up. You can always take the tram, too – – but where is the fun in that?

The Maryland Zoo is open daily (except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day) from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM. You can buy your tickets online at a discount ($14/ages 12+, $10/ages 2-12) or at the gate ($16/ages 12+, $11/ages 2-12). Parking is always free!

(cool) tip: Kids under 2 are always free.

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