LIPGLOSS Goes Out: The Austin Zoo


Alright, I know I didn’t mention zoos in my post about awesome outdoor dates. However, that’s because I think the zoo deserves a post all to itself. More specifically, the Austin Zoo does.

For those of you not hip to central Texas zoo culture, here’s a quick primer: the Austin metroplex has two zoos. One is the Capital of Texas Zoo, which is, oddly, not located in the actual capital city of Texas. It’s technically in Cedar Creek. From what Google images tells me, Capital of Texas Zoo’s got zebras, hippos, camels and kangaroos. Looks like a pretty typical zoo.

Then there’s the Austin Zoo. It’s unlike any other zoo I’ve been to (pretty much the polar opposite of the one in Forth Worth), and I love it. It makes for an exemplary early-spring-outside-daytime date.

The atmosphere: Let me set the scene for you. You’re driving in southwest Austin with your date, supposedly heading toward this zoo place. The GPS is counting down the minutes until you arrive. You experience a bit of highway hypnosis, and by the time you hear the computer voice say your “destination will be on the right,” you look up and see houses. Rows of houses. You’re in a residential neighborhood with narrow roads and plenty of pickup trucks everywhere. There must be some mistake.

But no! You see a very blunt little sign that says “ZOO” with an arrow under it. You follow the arrow, and before you know it you’re driving into a tiny gravel parking lot. You assume this is the “ZOO.” You get out of the car.

Then, another sign: “ALL VISITORS MUST CHECK IN AT FRONT OFFICE.” You decide that maybe you have accidentally driven to an elementary school, but you follow the instructions anyway.

Then the magic happens. The “office” is really more of a gift shop, and you buy a ticket for–you were right all along–the Austin Zoo! You’ve made it, my friend.

The entire visitor experience at the Austin Zoo is kind of similar to this–always a little strange, a little quiet, a little I-dont-know-if-I’m-supposed-to-be-walking-here. And that’s what makes it so fun.

There aren’t any speakers or screens installed anywhere on the zoo grounds. There are no paved sidewalks. No operating concession stands, no resting areas with misting fans, no huge garden installations. And hardly any people, actually. That’s another thing–you won’t have to push past anyone to see all the animals! The whole place is low-tech, low-maintenance and delightfully straightforward.

The date: Speaking of the animals, there’s a surprisingly nice little variety going on here. There’s like, four species of monkey, lions, peacocks, foxes and bears. And tortoises–they love tortoises here; it seems to be their filler animal. And, since there’s like twelve people on the zoo grounds at any given time, you and your date will have the perfect vantage points to kick back and watch some animals just bein’ animals.

The other huge plus for this place in terms of date suitability is their expansive petting zoo portion. If you don’t love goats now, you will after you go through their Land of Goatsy Mysteries. Why are they jumping on the top of the haystacks? Why are they kneeling on their front legs like that? Why are their mouths so soft? Such are the questions that will spark some truly fulfilling conversations between you and your date.

After you finish wandering through the grounds (which will take an hour or two), you can make your way back to the air conditioning of the “front office” and admire all the zooish gifts–mainly Beanie Babies, but the kind with the huge, adorable, soul-sucking eyes, not the kind from the ’90s. This in itself is a rewarding cultural experience. They also have foam visors that look like various animals; highly recommended.

Overall, the Austin Zoo is a weird, wonderful little date spot. If you love animals, but hate crowds, cement, technology and noise, this is a great option. If not, it’s still a great option–expand your horizons. Feed some goats. Try on a chimpanzee visor.