There’s lots of fun in the air at Turtle Back Zoo which recently launched a fabulous African animals exhibit. But that’s not why I recently made my way to West Orange, NJ, on a steamy summer Wednesday evening. No, it was so my son and his friend could “catch em all” as they scoped Pokéstops amidst the animals.
Here’s how the night unfolded:
Me: Look, there are giraffes!
Two 12-year-old boys: Cool! Look, there’s a PokéGym!
I kid (a bit). It was hard not to be amazed as we watched the gentle giraffes eating romaine lettuce out of a zoo employee’s hands. But the boys also equally enjoyed their time roaming the hilly park-like zoo looking for virtual creatures. And in many ways that’s the pleasure of the new and improved Turtle Back Zoo; there’s something for everyone to enjoy here.
The Zoo looks great after a facelift that’s includes a fantastic new Africa exhibit with giraffes, ostriches, and kudu and also a (desperately needed) snack bar and food court, and a rooftop wine and beer bar!
In addition, there are sea life touch tanks, above and below water viewing areas at Sea Lion Sound, and the spiffy new Southeast Asia Exhibit —home to both Amur leopards and red panda.
As someone who’s been going to the zoo since I was a little girl, I’m happy to see the evolution into a true destination spot.
Turtle Back Zoo is an easy place to entertain tots, toddlers, and elementary school kids — there’s a fun train, merry-go-round, playground, and an expanded petting zoo area. There are also year-round special events, such as the very popular annual Holiday Lights Spectacular.
And now, to bring in the always hard-to-entertain teen and tween crowd, the zoo has jumped on the Pokémon GO craze and added Poké Nights on Wednesday and Thursday evenings through Labor Day with “lures” that attract Poké launched every half hour from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.
We had a great time roaming the zoo in the evening and checking out all the animals, many of whom were getting dinner or evening snacks while we were there. And the bird house, where budgies fly free and you can buy a seed stick for $2, turned out to be the highlight of the night. As the birds flew over to the boys to nibble on the seed they were holding, they said “Look, it’s a REAL lure!” Indeed.
Of course you’ll still find the eponymous turtles that have been with the zoo since the beginning; always a great way to end or begin a stay.
Turtle Back Zoo
560 Northfield Road, West Orange NJ
Hours: M – Su: 10 am – 4:30 pm / July & August: 8 pm on Wednesdays & Thursdays
Cost: April 1 – November 30: Adults $14, Kids (ages 2 – 12) $11 / December 1 – – March 31: Adults $12, Kids $10