The last time I had been to John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I must have been about five or six years old. Not surprisingly, I had little recollection of the zoo when it hosted a group of local bloggers for a private tour in June 2017.
It felt like I was experiencing the zoo for the first time — with all the wide-eyed wonder I probably had 25 or so years ago. I gazed in awe of the grizzly bears wrestling with each other in the water of the North America exhibit. And, of course, watching the penguins dive into the water and swim past me was one of the highlights of my morning.
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Lions, Tigers, and Grizzly Bears — All In A Day At John Ball Zoo
During my John Ball Zoo visit, I realized it is neither too big nor too small. After walking almost the entire zoo in about two hours, I didn’t feel worn out like I sometimes do after a zoo day in San Diego, Detroit, Toledo, or Washington, DC. Yet I still left feeling satisfied I’d seen a variety of animals, including a lion, tigers, grizzlies, penguins, flamingos, and monkeys.
Families visiting Grand Rapids can see most of the zoo in less than three hours and still have time to add another activity. I’d suggest going to the zoo in the morning when the animals are more active. That leaves the afternoon open for visiting one of the city’s museums or Frederik Meijer Gardens.
Speaking of family-friendly activities, throughout the zoo were plenty of children’s play areas where the other bloggers’ kids climbed, jumped, and ran around. Since the children’s activities are scattered throughout the zoo, the kids never seemed bored or antsy. In addition to jungle gyms, kids can pet animals, feed birds, ride camels and the funicular train, and climb the ropes course.
Due to the manageable size for a 2-3-hour activity and the opportunities for kids to play and learn, John Ball Zoo is one of the best family-friendly attractions in Grand Rapids.
Visiting John Ball Zoo In 2020
John Ball Zoo has reopened for summer 2020. To visit, you’ll need to purchase a timed-entry ticket. The zoo recommends reserving your tickets online or by phone.
Also, the zoo asks visitors to maintain six-feet distance between themselves and other guests. Face masks will be worn by all employees, and guests are encouraged to wear them as well. Face masks are available for purchase in the gift shop.
Please note: Some exhibits and experiences normally offered by the zoo remain closed. Among the closures are the Budgie Aviary, Zip Line, Sky Trail Ropes Course, Funicular, Hobby Farm, John Ball Zoo Gem Company, Tools of the Trade Animal Encounters, and camel rides.
However, concessions at the zoo will be open, and you can skip the line at the Monkey Island Cafe by ordering online. Among the food offerings are vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options.
When you visit the zoo this summer, please keep safety measures in mind. And be sure to see these find these seven adorable animals!
This Hungry Wallaby
This Regal Bateleur Eagle
This Swinging Spider Monkey
These Feeding Pink Flamingos
This Adorable Howler Monkey
This Storytelling Parrot
Things To Know Before Visiting John Ball Zoo
Location: 1300 Fulton St. W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (hours may vary)
Parking: Free, on-site parking lot
Tickets: Reservations can be made for timed-entry tickets online or by phone
Admission for April 25 – Sept. 27: Adults (13-61): $14 | Seniors (62+): $11 | Children (3-12): $11 | College Students (with valid student ID): $11 | Children 2 and younger: Free | Military (for active military, veterans, and spouses with military ID): $11
Admission for April 3-24 and Sept. 28 – Dec. 6: Adults: $11 | Seniors: $9 | Children: $9 | College Students: $9 | Children 2 and younger: Free | Military: $9
Stroller and wagon rentals: $12
Accessibility: Free wheelchair rentals available, all public restrooms and merchandise locations are accessible, and wheelchair accessible dining tables can be found near the Monkey Island Cafe and Tiger Paws Snack Shop. For more information, please refer to the zoo’s website.
Please visit the John Ball Zoo website for up-to-date hours and admission.
Hotels Near John Ball Zoo
Want to stay near John Ball Zoo during your Grand Rapids trip? There are several options within three miles of the zoo.
- Marriott Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown — Located only 1.6 miles from John Ball Zoo, this three-star hotel is also a great base for exploring downtown and attending concerts at Van Andel Arena or 20 Monroe Live.
- CityFlatsHotel — Located two miles from John Ball Zoo in the heart of downtown, this stylish three-star hotel is a short walk from the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, shopping, and dining options.
- JW Marriott Grand Rapids — Located along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, this upscale four-star hotel is only 1.8 miles from John Ball Zoo.
- Amway Grand Plaza — Located 1.8 miles from John Ball Zoo, this four-star 1920s hotel sits along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.
- Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown — Located 1.5 miles from John Ball Zoo, this three-star hotel offers free parking, easy access to US-131, and walking distance to the Grand Rapids Public Museum and Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Grand Rapids Downtown — Located three miles from John Ball Zoo, this three-star hotel is easily accessible from I-196, a short drive to the heart of downtown, and just down Michigan Street from drinking and dining options including Logan’s Alley, 7 Monks Taproom, Palio, and the Friesian Gastro Pub.
- Homewood Suites by Hilton — Located 1.9 miles from John Ball Zoo, this hotel has a pool, free breakfast, and close proximity to many downtown attractions and dining.
Where To Eat Near John Ball Zoo
Hungry after visiting John Ball Zoo? You can head east on Fulton Street to downtown or northeast to Bridge Street to discover some of the tastiest foods in Grand Rapids. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Tacos El Cuñado — Authentic Mexican food and delicious tacos served through a window with outdoor seating.
- One Bourbon — Comforting Southern small plates and fried chicken available for patio dining or curbside to-go orders.
- The Sovengard — Scandinavian menu featuring local produce best enjoyed in the spacious beer garden or for takeout.
- Ferris Coffee — House-roasted coffee, nuts, and chocolates for carry-out.
- Two Beards Deli — Sandwiches and salads, including a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, for carry-out.
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Which animal is your favorite to see at the zoo?