Zoo in Crystal Lake

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When he shuts up his workshop at the North Pole after another successful holiday season, Santa Claus doesn't simply hibernate until next December. Instead, he packs up his sleigh and heads to his summer home at the Fox River Valley's Santa's Village Azoosment Park. Open from May to October, the wonderland greets guests with three separate amusement experiences. The fun begins in Santa's Village, where quaint alpine building and expertly manicured pathways awaken feelings of nostalgia in hearts young and old. There, visitors can zoom down the original Santa's Tree House Slide, hitch a ride on the Kringle Convoy, or snap a picture at a recreation of Santa's North Pole home. They can also tap into the amusement rides including the antique carousel, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and Dracor the Dragon's Coaster.

A renowned lover of animals, Santa has also filled his park with a menagerie of creatures both familiar and exotic. After visiting Rudolph and company at Reindeer Ridge, visitors can grab a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh on their way to see the denizens of Parakeet Paradise, Tortoise Island, or Old MacDonald's Farm and Petting Zoo. In addition to grabbing up-close peeks of everything from a red-tailed boa to a fennec fox, visitors can also take in an exotic animal show that educates audience members about the park's wild residents.

Always in the holiday spirit, the park welcomes groups looking to add a spark to reunions, birthday, or group outings. This accommodating spirit even extends to the park's rule book: parking is free, and picnic baskets are encouraged.

601 Dundee Ave.
East Dundee,
IL
US

Over the past quarter century, Serpent Safari's indoor zoo has amassed a collection of rare reptiles that have appeared in publications such as National Geographic. Animals of impressive age, unusual coloring (such as an albino alligator), and Guinness World Record-holding weight have all called the Safari their home. Originally founded as a reptile adoption and education center, the Safari now runs guided tours and birthday parties that usher children through the world of scaly, cold-blooded creatures known as bankers into the diverse realm of reptiles. Following the tours, patrons can partake in photo opportunities with giant snakes, or take home a friend from the pet store.

6170 Grand Ave
Gurnee,
IL
US

The experienced handlers at Animal Quest travel to a range of soirees and other events, introducing humans to more than 35 species of exotic and native animals. Based on audience preference, they showcase the natural attributes and behavior of creatures such as an albino Burmese python, a gargoyle gecko, a giant rabbit, and a parrot. Handlers can organize their parties in interactive game shows with the audience or themed performances focused on subjects such as pirates, ninjas, and detectives. They also perform casual, one-on-one animal presentations, where they move freely throughout the crowd.

Since all of Animal Quest's animals are comfortable being handled, the company encourages patron participation—inviting audience members to get up close, touch the creatures, and view slides from the animal's most recent vacation. The critters also perform in television, film, and advertising segments, and on-staff animal behaviorists also travel to homes to train domesticated animals.

27163 W Nippersink Rd
Volo,
IL
US

In 1961, Bob Terese and Corinne Owen opened a small pet shop in downtown Chicago. Part of their mission: to employ workers with developmental disabilities so they can lead productive and fulfilling lives. That little pet shop has since relocated and expanded into a 70-acre campus called Lambs Farm, which has a variety of residential and vocational programs that continue to help those in need. Nearly 250 individuals live here today in group homes and individual apartments; they have access to employment opportunities and a number of recreational services, such as camping and hobby clubs. In addition to the expansive pet shop, the campus also has a farmyard, a bakery, and assorted shops that sell goods handcrafted by Lambs Farm residents.

14245 W Rockland Rd.
Libertyville,
IL
US

In 1990, the owners of Summerfield Farm set aside part of their grounds and turned it into a zoo. Since then, they have introduced countless visitors to some 200- plus animals: monkeys, camels, zebras, and mountain lions, just to name a few. While Summerfield offers a unique, intimate viewing experience to guests across its 17-acre facility, the staff also showcases up-close interactions during animal encounter presentations. Summerfield Zoo also has a petting zoo, and visitors can ride ponies and feed baby goats with bottles.

3088 Flora Rd.
Belvidere,
IL
US

In Wheaton, a day at the park is never the same twice?unless, of course, you want it to be. The Wheaton Park District maintains 53 facilities that encompass everything from pools to hiking trails that weave through the area's lush outdoors. With just a glance at a few of its destinations and attractions, it becomes apparent that the district is serious about its commitment to "enrich the quality of community life."

The Prairie Path Minigolf Course and The Rail, for instance, take up residence at Clocktower Commons. Here, 18 mini-golf holes wind past a central water feature while a 12,000-square-foot skate park lets inline skaters and skateboarders practice tricks that are simply too rad for their parents' driveways. Wheaton Park District also includes The DuPage County Historical Museum and the Cosley Zoo, where a trip into the barn introduces visitors to goats, wooly llamas, and other local wildlife.

102 E Wesley St
Wheaton,
IL
US