Como Park and Zoo

Como Park, which is now 384 acres in the heart of St. Paul, was originally 300 acres and was farm land and wilderness in the 1870s. St. Paul at its heart is a Victorian city and many things happened along very English lines.

The original space of Como Lake was actually a resort escape from downtown St. Paul which is why the direct road, Como Avenue, (back then a trail then soon a street car line) was initially constructed. Several hotels were built alongside the lake, but as the late 1800s seemed to be a kindling box, every single one of them burned down over the years.



The Arrival

There are several ways to approach the park, and I typically arrive up Lyndale Avenue from either I-94 or a cheater road off I-35E in St. Paul called Ayd Mill Road. You can also access it from the University of Minnesota by getting on Como Avenue and heading east through a lot of city neighborhoods.

The Grounds

Well, it's a park, and the grounds are park grounds, with trails surrounding the lake, gardens (and kinda hidden gardens), the grand pavilion, and well the zoo and conservatory. (Oh there is some golf here too, meh).
The lake, and rental boats, paddleboards, etc. The 1897 pavilion.  And yes, it did burn down before and had to be rebuilt so this one is really like 1930s Tasty food, wine (which sometimes my Editrix needs for fuel to continue doing this stuff for me) and surprising to me, real drinks
The pavilion stage, many times there are things going on here Ice cream?  Of course, ice cream is a must So I have searched and searched, and I am not able to find the reason the memorial to the USS Swordfish (the first successful submarine to sink a Japanese vessel) is here in St. Paul
A delightful pond in the less traveled section of the park between the conservatory and the pavilion, but walking the park is a long haul The east entrance to the gardens, with a statue of Dr. Shiffman who donated the Japanese garden A bog garden outside.  Greek classical fantasy elements of temples on cliffs are persistent
The old street car tunnel which would take you across town to some Minneapolis lakes The last victim of the General Motors bribery scandal where GM paid officials to kill the wonderful streetcar line in favor of buses
One hundred years old, saved multiple times from auction and destruction by the people of St. Paul.  Still fully operational Go for a ride! A playground for the kiddies in one of the picnic areas. Although they're huge, they're almost always all in use on weekends

The Zoo

At the end of the 1800s the zoo started with some donated exotic animals; it was small and well, I guess indicative of the time. The zoo became basically the size and scope it is now when the WPA program built several of the facilities on the grounds (one still exists), and this is the reason I believe most people come to Como.

There are multitudes of buildings and areas in the zoo for each animal or region, and it has been evolving for 40+ years. It's a very amazing place given the small amount of space it actually takes up, and it's free, which to me is the sign of the best institutions as they have the support and love of the community to keep it growing and going.
The WPA building which housed a lot of the zoo's animals before modernization.  The cages were torturously small Indoor, and there is a large outdoor area too, which they have had to redesign as the gorillas are sometimes smart enough to overcome them and walk around the zoo
In the winter, there is a modest, but heated area for the African animals Tigers have great cold weather protection; he's actually pretty comfortable
Ahh, livin the dream, just lion around while the women do the work The African savannah during warmer times
Penguins, not very interested in being near people Seals, part of the famous (like seriously famous for decades) Como Seal Show
Tropical area with smaller animals, a fairly Amazonian setting which is also very warm in the winter
Mold-A-Rama!  These have been around since 1962, and the visual operations and then the customized related local content make them a mainstay even today of zoos and museums.  Yes, I have a lot figurines of these around the house A cafeteria on the zoo grounds, kids' food, some healthier stuff, I found it pretty pricey, but I guess it's also helping to support the zoo
More or less attached to the zoo is Play Town, a little amusement park that has been here since before I was born, which is a long time ago. My youngest daughter will not let me leave without a visit.
Rides, amusements, and generally a bunch of things to really burn off the excited energy of children coming here Mini golf!

The Conservatory

A complete Victorian gem, modelled after Kew Gardens (which is my favorite botanical gardens in the world). This location is such a great escape from the artic winters we have in MN with so many tropical plants and actual color still existing. It's also really warm inside.
The Victorian class of St. Paul, rebuilt in the same form after over 100 years Towering palms, warm weather, lots of green You're in a jungle here, many excellent examples from the tropical belt of Asia and South America
A fern and plant area modeled after Hawaiian lands How humid is it?  Omg so humid.  In the winter I had to microfiber wipe the camera lens, take a picture, and it fogged back up before I set it back down
A well represented Japanese garden with all the classical elements such as demon avoiding bridges across the pond And a little garden house which can be rented for events
Now, there is an area called the Sunken Garden, and it's an idyllic little formal garden with pond. They have changing displays throughout the year, and the concentration of fragrance from the floral aspects is a depression beater.
Summer time display Winter time display, and probably an eliminator of suicidal tendencies from extra pale Minnesotans It takes massive greenhouses in the unseen areas of the park to support all these plants which are also used on the groomed sections of the rest of the park too

Summary

An excellent city zoo, compact, concise and enjoyable. Just in between Minneapolis and St. Paul downtowns, you'll probably need a car to come visit and be prepared for creative solutions to where you park to visit.

Containing my favorite zoo in all of Minnesota, the intimacy and the rest of the park are jewels of the city and an exceptional mental health retreat.
Very animal- and plant- oriented gift shop.  The amount of stuffed animals will bankrupt you when you bring the little ones, as you're trying to prevent a meltdown before leaving...