I used to get so freaking excited about going to the zoo when I was a kid. The zoo was always a good time. There was an aquarium, play structures for children, immersive exhibits, and a small trolley tour, which seemed absolutely magical in my child mind. Additionally, my childhood zoo would host summer day camps, where children would learn about the animals, interact with them, and do other campy stuff that I can’t quite remember. Similarly, when I was in Girl Scouts, I remember once we had a sleepover at the zoo, where we also did campy stuff but only over the course of one evening.
With these childhood memories tucked in the back of my mind, I naturally had a good feeling about the zoo when a friend and I visited Franklin Park in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. The Franklin Park Zoo, which rests on 72 of the park’s 500 acres is, surprisingly, not a site to see. In fact, one might not even guess that the small, fenced gate at the front of the zoo is even the main entrance (it’s quite underwhelming).
When a friend and I had made plans to visit Franklin Park, the zoo was not our destination on that day. However, we approached the entrance of the zoo, walked past it, and then quickly turned back and headed toward the ticket counter, because why on earth were we about to pass up the zoo on such a lovely day??
We paid the $22.95 each for adult tickets and entered the park. The first thing to see was the hyenas. Did you know that they have one of the strongest jaws of any animal of their size? Facts like this were plastered alongside the exhibits, making the park not only a fun, but also an educational experience. We saw lions and tigers (but no bears — oh my!), as well as birds in the “Bird House” (a building curiously designed to look like some sort of east Asian temple for some reason), and small reptiles, among other creatures. We ate at the festive little Giddy-Up Grill, which serves basic fried fair (with a few salads and wraps thrown in) and walked the rather short path up and down the park.
If you come from a city with a big zoo (like Cincinnati, NYC, or San Diego, for example), you may scratch you head and innocently ask yourself — is that it? And, the answer is yes, yes it really is it. For as big as Boston is as a city, for as beloved as it is as a sports mecca, and for as much culture as it houses in its wealth of museums, it is just does not have a big, shiny zoo.
Whether you love or hate zoos, you must admit that the U.S. has a great collection of large, entertaining, and even exciting zoos — Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo does not make this list. To be fair, the zoo has most of the basics —zebras, giraffes, gorillas (with names and personalities), birds, warthogs, and a few camels among other creatures. Notably, it does not have some of the animals that you may expect at a zoo like elephants, orangutans, toucans, or cheetahs for example. Also, not all exhibits were fully running, for example, the “flight cage” (where birds soar up above and perch around you) and the “butterfly hollow” (where the colorful bugs flutter in the green house garden as you pass through) were both closed. For a big city, Boston sure does have a small zoo.
Why is Boston’s zoo so small? In short, the answer is money and politics. In a Boston Globe article about the zoo, the struggle over who controls the zoo (the government or private enterprise) and chronic underfunding are cited as reasons for why the Boston zoo isn’t … awesome.
Again, for my friend and I, we were not planning to go to the zoo on this day. Perhaps, for this reason, a short visit (and on a gorgeous day no less) was a pleasant surprise. However, if one is all revved up for a gosh darn bonanza at the zoo — well, then, one may just be a smidge disappointed at Boston’s totally adequate showing. (Expectations matter!)
So, if you’re looking for touristy things to do in Boston — try the Museum of Fine Arts 😉