It is time to move on and discover quite a popular place to visit in Saint Paul: The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, which has around 2,5 mln visitor a year. The entrance to the park, zoo and also the conservatory is for free, although they do appreciate a voluntary donation of $2 for an adult and $1 for a child.
I love seeing flowers and gardens, so I was looking forward in visiting the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory itself, rather then the rest of the park. The Victorian style Conservatory from 1915 looks really nice and promising on the outside (photo 2 and 3), the inside however is a bit disappointing. It is filled with all sorts of tropical plants and a whole section is dedicated to ferns. You can see some huge palms at the palm dome, but on the downside I have to say that the amount of flowers is rather limited. Nevertheless I had a nice stroll around, and made a stop as well at the "Sunken Garden". The Sunken Garden is the part of the greenhouse that has a different display of flowers each season of the year. During summer these are mainly roses and geraniums. In between the flowers, at the end of a little pond, you can see a little cute sculpture called "Play Days" by Harriet W. Frishmuth (photo 2).
You are allowed to take photos inside, tripods however are not allowed. I also should maybe warn you that it is very warm and humid inside the conservatory, and you run the risk of being "sprinkled" by a mist of rain, needed to keep the humidity up inside the conservatory.
I am not sure if I would visit the conservatory itself again, as it was rather average. But then again, it is for free, so it certainly is not a rip-off neither a tourist trap. If you have time to spare you might want to drop by here.
The Como Zoo and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory are open daily all the year round. During the winter (October - March) from 10am to 4pm and during the summer (April - September) from 10am to 6pm.
However I haven't been that enthusiastic about the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, I somehow was charmed by the Japanese Garden. The only way to get here into this garden though is to take the whole tour through the conservatory, and at the end of it there is a door that leads out into the Japanese Garden.
Maybe it was the tranquillity and harmony of the Japanese garden, maybe it was the blue-purple lilies and lotus flowers in the pond that I so much loved to see, maybe it was the enthusiasm of the volunteers offering a guide around the garden, I really don't know, but the place did charm me. It is a very small garden, but it does capture a certain atmosphere. I wouldn't make a huge detour to visit this garden, but when you are at Como Park area, I would recommend dropping by here.
The garden is a gift from the city of Nagasaki, the sister-city of Saint Paul and is open during the summer: May 1 through September 30.
Como Park was the brainchild of former Park Superintendent, Frederick Nussbaumer (1891-1922), whose cherished legacy of an economical, multi-functional recreation area for St. Paul's citizens is carefully maintained today. This is a huge, gorgeous park that offers something for everyone - and a particular favorite with families. Among the many amenities are a great little zoo, a children's amusement park, mini golf, walking/biking paths, botanic conservatory and gardens, picnic areas, canoe and paddleboat rentals, a lakeside cafe, 18-hole golf course, pool and historic carousel. The best part is that many of these activities are either free or very reasonably priced so even large families can have a fun day out without breaking the bank.
One of my favorite places in the Twin Cities - I'll cover some of the high points in additional tips.
Note: click "Como Park" and then "Amenities" on the website for info on the individual attractions.
The Como Park Zoo & Conservatory has been in existence for over 100 years. It is very popular with both local families and visitors.
We saw a variety of aquatic birds, tigers, lions, polar bears, zebras, etc. My favorites were the incredibly slow-moving 2 toed sloth and the month old baby giraffe (born on August 11, 2010, 5 foot 6 inches, 145 pounds!). There was also a Sparky the Seal show and a very colorful butterfly exhibit.
The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has separate wings dedicated to a variety of plant life and seasonal flowers.
We were lucky to have nice weather for our visit and the company of local VTer goodfish (Kate) and her husband. After visiting the zoo, Kate and Jerry took us to the Lakeside Pavillion for lunch. It was a short walk from the zoo through some very nice grounds (all part of the Como complex). It was a little cool to eat outside on the lake but it would be a lovely spot on a nice day. There were breakfast and lunch options available at the time.
Next door to the zoo is a family friendly amusement park. There are several rides and attractions. There is a separate fee for the rides.
The Zoo & Marjorie McNeely Conservatory are open year round. During the winter, the zoo and conservatory are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. During the summer, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission is free to the public, however a $2 donation for adults and $1 donation for children is suggested.
This is not just your average merry-go-round but an honest-to-goodness, real carousel. How it came to be here and why it's known to many Minnesotans as "our" carousel is a great story that you can read about on the website. The abbreviated version is that this beauty was commissioned to be built for the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in 1914 and was a much-loved fixture there for 75 years. Its 68 horses and 2 chariots are all hand-carved wood and mostly original paint - very rare. Well, the thing was privately owned and, horrors, was unceremoniously sold off one day! The locals went nuts and some enterprising individuals swung into action and got the word out that donations, big and small, were needed to raise 1.1 million dollars to buy back this beloved piece of history. And donate people did - in nickles, dimes and dollars. Some local businesses also pitched in, and one terrific individual pledged $600,000. They got our carousel back, had it restored, and it's now named for that very generous man who bankrolled the lion's share of funds.
You'll find it very near the Conservatory and Zoo. Rides are $1.50 for all ages except under 1 year (free). Summer operating hours are Tues - Friday, 11 - 4, Sat- Sun. 11 - 6. Spring and fall hours vary so check the website. Due to its delicate nature, it doesn't run when the temperature is below 45 or above 95 degrees.
This little gem of a zoo is just the right size for small people who can only do so much in one day and bigger people who don't have a full day to kill. The grounds are compact but there are enough fun critters to see to keep the youngsters busy for a good couple of hours. Lions and tigers, birds, fish, polar bears, penquins, primates and zebra are just a few of the animals you'll find here, plus every local's favorite, Sparky the Sea Lion, gives daily shows Tues - Sunday during the summer.
Hungry? There's a cafe in the Visitor Center, a concession area in the zoo itself and food carts scattered throughout the grounds for treats, beverages and more substantial fare. There's also a gift shop, where wheelchairs and strollers may be rented.
The zoo is open every day of the year and while the outdoor concessions are closed in winter, you can visit many of the animals in their indoor habitats. Entrance is free to all but please make a donation of $2.00 per adult/$1.00 per child if you are able as it helps keep the zoo open and new additions possible. Hours are 10-4:00, Oct - March, and 10-6:00 April - Sept. The Visitor Center is also connected to the conservatory so it's easy to visit both in one trip. This is a better option for the very young than the Minnesota Zoo - which covers a lot of ground and has steep admission fees. If they'll burn out in an hour or two.....
This year-round oasis for things botanical is connected to the Como Zoo with a common Visitor Center. Here's you'll find flora - both indoors and out - in the Fern Room, Sunken Garden, Japanese Garden, Orchid House, plus a few more. The conservatory is open every day of the year from 10-4 (Oct. - March) and 10-6 (April - Sept,). The Sunken Garden (main tip pix) is stunning and they change the floral displays seasonally!
Admittance is free but I strongly advise contributing the suggested $2.00 per adult/$1.00 per child donation, if you can, as it helps keep the conservatory and zoo open and well maintained. Strollers and wheelchairs can be rented at the Visitor Center, and persons with disabilities should enter directly through the conservatory (Fri - Sun) or call ahead on Mon - Thur. (651-487-8201) to arrange for an attendant to be there to let you in.
Somes notes of caution: Some of the indoor plants are tropical so the temperature/humidity levels are set accordingly. Be ready to shed jackets and coats!! Also, the Sunken Garden is a very popular spot for weekend weddings so you may only be able to view it through the windows if there are "I do's" in progress. Tripods are not allowed in the conservatory and professional photographers need to contact the office for a permit if shots will be used for purposes other than personal (see website for details).
Another hot spot for the wee ones is this little amusement park designed especially for youngsters 12 and under. They just redid this section in the last year or so, got rid of all the rusty old stuff and now everything is new, colorful, clean and safe. You can access Como Town directly from Como Zoo and entrance is free. You purchase tickets for the rides and they run from 75 cents for a single ticket, 14 for $10.00, 22 for $15.00, 30 or $20.00, etc. Rides take 1-4 tickets and the website tells you how many tickets you need for each individual ride, how gentle the ride is, age limit per ride, etc. There's also a souped-up jungle gym (tickets needed), a sand-scooper area (no tickets needed) and some other fun stuff. Food is available from a few carts throughout this area and zoo concession services.
Hours vary and it's only open weekends in the spring and fall so reference the website before you visit. This is a MUCH better deal for smaller folks than Valley Fair as you pay only for the rides you want, no admission fee for grown-up chaperons, you're out almost nothing if your child has had enough after 20 minutes, and you can, easily and economically, do the zoo, conservatory, carousel and Como Town in one afternoon.
I recommend that anyone visiting St. Paul or any part of Minnesota, visit the Como Zoo and Conservatory. It's a beautiful place with beautiful animals. The best part about it is that you can go any day of the year because they are open 365 days. It is also a free place to visit, but donations are always welcome.
While visiting Comoi Park, have lunch at the pavilion. Meals range form $4 - $8. It is open all year round. After waling around to lake on a Summer day, stop in for a cold glass of lemonade or iced tea... or hwne you are done cross country skiing, stop if for hot chocoalate or hot coffee.
They accept reservations for private parties.
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