Toronto Zoo

One of the largest zoos in the world, the Toronto Zoo's vision statement proclaims that it is "a dynamic and exciting action centre that inspires people to love, respect and protect wildlife and wild spaces." With over 5,000 animals, 710 acres, and over six miles worth of walking trails, there's plenty of wildlife and space to discover. In addition to the animals, there's the Discovery Zone -– with Kids Zoo, interactive wildlife experience, and water play area –- for the younger set, making a trip to this zoo a ton of fun for all ages.

Best and Worst Times to Visit the Toronto Zoo
While the warmer months are when the majority of the animals will be out and about, it can also get amazingly hot in the summer sun. The crowds tend to increase later in the day, so if you must go in summer, go early in the morning (the zoo opens at 9:00 a.m. from early May through early September). Early September is a great time to visit, as kids have gone back to school and the field trips haven't begun yet. For those lucky enough to live close by, a membership is an excellent way to come and go as you please if you don't want to spend more than a couple hours at a time there. Membership has the added benefit of giving discounted admission to some other zoos in North America.

Must See/Do at the Toronto Zoo
The Toronto Zoo has no end of special events to attend; from International Giraffe Day to the Oasis Zoo Run, there are plenty of additional opportunities to learn, as well as donate to great causes.

One of the most popular exhibits features Er Shun and Da Mao, two giant pandas on loan from China. The Giant Panda Interpretive Centre gives some fascinating and interactive exhibits that help teach more about these exotic creatures.

Other must-see areas include the ten-acre Tundra Trek with polar bear habitat and underwater viewing area, Gorilla Rainforest, and Great Barrier Reef with its multiple viewing aquariums.

Admission to the Toronto Zoo
Admission for members is free and single or family memberships are available. For non-members, general admission from early May until the end of October is in the $28 range for adults, about $5 less for seniors, and $10 less for kids twelve and under. Kids under age two are free. For early November until the end of April, the cost drops by about five bucks in each category. Admission includes access to all pavilions, exhibits, and daily shows; it excludes any separately ticketed events, rides, and exhibits.

Parking at the Toronto Zoo
There is a per-vehicle charge to park in the zoo lot; if you purchase admission tickets online, you can bundle in a parking pass to speed up the in-and-out process. There are plenty of spaces, including many handicapped accessible spots, so finding a place to park should not be an issue. That said, it's a large lot, so getting there later in the day could result in getting an extra walk if spaces are far from the gate. Members do not get free parking, but a discounted parking pass can be purchased -– which is only worthwhile if you visit multiple times during the year.

Public Transportation to the Toronto Zoo
As far as public transportation, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) has two bus routes to the Toronto Zoo from four rapid transit stations, including: the 86A, Toronto bus route from Kennedy Station every day during the summer from about 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (after Labor Day, 86A Toronto buses operate to the zoo from Monday to Friday only); the 85 Sheppard East bus route from Don Mills Station and Rouge Hill GO Station on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays; and the 85A "Via Toronto Zoo" and 85B "To Toronto Zoo" buses serve the zoo directly, from about 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. In addition, the zoo is close to the Rouge Hill GO Station – just board a TTC 85 Sheppard East bus to the zoo right at the station. Once at the Zoo, all TTC buses stop near to the main entrance.

Food at the Toronto Zoo
While picnic tables are sprinkled throughout the zoo's grounds and you're allowed to bring in outside food, you can't bring anything to cook it on. So a picnic lunch in a cooler (for those who feel like it schlepping around) is fine; just don't feed the animals and don't bring straws – those are banned from the zoo. There are various eateries available, and some may be closed during the colder months or if the weather is bad. As with any tourist attraction, they're also not that cheap, so fueling up before you go and bringing portable snacks along may be the best bet. Once you're done exploring, there are plenty of sit-down restaurants and fast food options not too far from the zoo.

Insider Tip for Visitors to the Toronto Zoo
A vitally important thing to remember before visiting the Toronto Zoo is that its massive size can be intimidating for first-timers, so it helps to have a game plan and map out your route beforehand. Seven geographic locations and their representative animals mean tons to see and lots of strolling. The Zoomobile will get you around for an additional charge, but may not be in operation for weather or maintenance reasons – and it can't accommodate wagons or larger strollers.

Author's bio: Kimberly Mintz is a writer and voice actor who lives in the Buffalo area. Find her on Twitter @KimIsWriting.