Continuing in the tradition my husband and I began in 2021 with Travel Dates to fun places in our backyard, we spent a hot summer day at Como Park, Conservatory & Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota USA. This is definitely one of the Top Ten places I would recommend to a visitor to the Twin Cities of St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota – at any season of the year!
Como Conservatory & Zoo has been an important part of my life since I was a young child.
For the first two years of my life, my parents and I lived just a few blocks away from this great destination.
As a young child, my mom loved to take me for delightful strolls through the conservatory, a respite in the cold Minnesota winters. I recall being mesmerized watching the water splash in the waterwheel on the cottage by the flamingos in the bird yard. Built in 1951, its rust colored stone walls add to its nostalgia!
When I grew older and we moved out of the city, our family continued to regularly make the trek to Como in the summer. We visited the animals in the zoo, rode Toby the Tortoise – and of course, took a stroll through the conservatory!
The real Galapagos Toby the Tortoise is now gone but he has been immortalized in bronze by artist Tischler. It is located in front of the original Zoological building in the Donor Plaza.
This Como tradition continued with my own young family! Our daughters celebrated a few birthday parties at Como, enjoying the animals and the flowers of the Como complex!
This Family Fascination with Como came full circle when our daughter, Anna-Marie, chose the Conservatory as the site of her beautiful, memorable wedding in the Sunken Garden and reception in the Bonsai Room!
Como Conservatory, Park & Zoo
History of Como Park, Zoo & Conservatory
Its origins began in 1873 when the city of St. Paul purchased about 300 acres of land for a public park around Lake Como. The vision began to blossom when Frederick Nussbaumer became superintendent of the St. Paul parks in 1891. He enhanced the natural landscape of Como Park by balancing it with space for recreation, artistic floral displays, and exotic plants. This vision continues to this day.
Como Conservatory & Gardens
Marjorie McNeely Conservatory
The centerpiece of Como Park, the conservatory covers 0.5 acres. This well-maintained example of a Victorian greenhouse was first opened to the public in November 1915. This facility is open to the public every day of the year. It includes a variety of gardens and galleries.
It has remained a center for horticulture, recreation, and education for over a century Sadly, many similar “crystal palaces” have been torn down, making this one all the more special.
The conservatory continues to change and evolve in order to keep up with technology and the demands of the time.
In 2002 the building was renamed in honor of Marjorie McNeely, a founder of the St. Paul Garden Club, after her family gave a large donation to the Como Zoo and Conservatory Society to establish an endowed fund.
The grounds surrounding the conservatory are filled with native Minnesota plants.
The Lily Ponds surround the conservatory and add a magical ambiance to the landscape.
The picturesque Sunken Garden is my absolute favorite room – as it is for countless others. A favorite venue for weddings, the interior of the Sunken Garden in the conservatory rotates its five seasonal flower shows with the seasons and the holiday. This one is a summer display.
The interior of the conservatory is divided into separate rooms which provide a respite from the world outside its clear glass walls and roof.
The Palm Dome is under the central high glass dome. A circular courtyard filled with majestic palm trees that reach to the sky. Paths on which to wander and places to sit to read, converse or meditate, fill the spaces.
Palm Dome Center Court
The Palm Dome is 64′ high and 100′ in diameter with more than 150 palm species, as well as orchids and bromelaids on a rotational display.
The North Garden, opposite the Sunken Garden and across the Palm Dome, is filled with lush, aromatic – and useful – plants such as aloe, bamboo, bananas, cacao, coffee, figs, macadamia, mahogany, manila hemp, manioc and papaya.
The Fern Room features a wide array of ferns among rippling water in fountains, falling down craggy rocks and shining in reflecting pools.
The Japanese Garden is a hidden gem just outside the Bonsai Gardens. We discovered that the path leading to it required some sleuthing! Well worth the effort, the garden was restful, private and a sensual feast! Visitors can wander through winding stone paths amidst lush greenery, picturesque rocks, and peaceful streams of water.
The Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden was created in 1978 with money generously donated in her honor by the local Ordway family. The design for the garden was gifted to St. Paul by its sister city of Nagasaki, Japan. It represents friendship and peace between the two cities.
Tucked away in one corner of the garden is a fun surprise – a traditional Japanese Tea House. It is built to the specs of an authentic one, with local ADA accommodations to make it more accessible to a broader audience.
If interested, one can actually experience a Japanese Tea Ceremony! Check the website for details on reservations and cost.
A Bonsai Gallery and native grass terrace are featured in the Ordway Garden. This room is available for receptions, including the one for our Como wedding. It converts to seating at tables for up to 50 people.
The Bonsai collection at Como honors a Japanese art. Bonsai, pronounced bone-sigh, means “tree in a pot.” It is an art form with origins that go back more than 2,000 years when Japanese emigrants adapted a similar art form developed in China.
Bonsai trees have always fascinated me due to their unique shapes. This one also had one of my favorite colors!
The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory houses the largest public Bonsai collection in the upper Midwest.
I enjoyed this Bonsai tree in the outdoor display for its bent-over shape.
This Zen Garden just outside the Bonsai Room is a new addition to the space. It can be visually experienced through the windows of the hallway connecting the Palm Room and the Bonsai Gallery as well as from the exterior garden courtyard. Though unable to walk in the space, its peaceful patterns add to the restfulness of the garden visitor.
The Carousel. . . just the sound of the word floods music to my ears and thrills to my heart!
The Carousel pavilion is one of the first buildings to greet the visitor at Como.
For 75 years, the historic merry-go-round that occupies this site today on Como grounds was originally at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, just a few blocks away.
It was here, as a toddler, that I first experienced these magnificent creatures and this magical experience!
The Carousel – as a Toddler!
This carousel remains a fond part of my childhood memories. We lived within walking distance from the Minnesota State Fair grounds and attended each year. My parents shared stories of how I would immediately burst into my fastest “toddler run” when the first sounds of the carousel music came into ear shot!
The Carousel – as a Volunteer!
So fond are these memories that one summer a few years before the pandemic hit, I volunteered at the Cafesjian’s Carousel, sharing the joy with new generations of fans! One of the perks was a free ride (or two if it was slow!) with every shift!
The Carousel – For Sale…
This Carousel, complete with wooden horses, was built in 1914 and dubbed PTC 33 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. In 1988, it was put up for sale. Its fate was uncertain. Even the horses were put of for auction – individually! (That is a whole other story…) Fortunately, it was rescued as a unit by Our Fair Carousel, a non-profit group created for this purpose.
A grand pavilion to house the carousel was created at Como, thanks to it most generous donor, Gerard I. Cafesjian along with contributions from the City of St. Paul, Ramsey County, and people of Minnesota.
Sadly, I did not get a ride the day we visited. The 95 degree temps were “too hot” for the horses to run – and the ride to be open.
Tropical Encounters – true to its name, it is “tropical” and very humid! This is great on a frigid winter’s day, but not as welcome on a hot humid day in the summer! In a separate exhibit located in the Visitor’s Center, it opened in 2006. It features animals animals and plants from Central and South America and butterflies that alight on our hands!
Brief History of Como Zoo
In 1897 . . . the City of Saint Paul fenced-in a pasture in Como Park to hold three deer gifted to them, thus beginning Como Zoo.
In 1902 . . . the animal collection at Como Zoo was expanded to include animals native to Minnesota such as elk, moose, foxes, and two cebus cattle.
In 1930’s . . . construction projects began at the zoo by the federally funded WPA (Works Progress Administration).
Workers built the Bear Grotto and Monkey Island habitats as well as a barn.
In 1937 . . . the main zoological building – seen in the background of this photo – was completed. It housed most of the zoo’s animals.
Today, this original building is used for administration offices
Sparky saves the Zoo!
In 1955, the City of St. Paul recommended closure of Como Zoo. Local citizens were alarmed and sprang into action, ultimately saving the zoo!
In 1956, Archie Brand brought his trained sea lion act to Como the following year. Attendance soared – and the “Sparky the Sea Lion Show” has been a hit with generations ever since!
Sparky – the Star!
Popular Zoo Animals
Como Zoo has a wide range and variety of animals including lions, tigers, wolves, bears, reindeer, bison and more. The playful polar bears are especially high on the “must see” list for visitors!
African hoofed stock – giraffe, zebra, kudu and ostrich – are popular.
Gorillas & Monkeys
We were fascinated with the interaction with the gorilla on our visit. Like us, the hot temperatures outdoors were impacting his lack of energy as well! He leaned lethargically against the viewing window. At one point, he caught me staring at him. He looked back at me, rolled his eyes, and returned to his nap!
1225 Estabrook Drive, St. Paul, MN 55103
- Cafesjain’s Carousel – ourfaircarousel.org
- Como Conservatory – ComoZooConservatory.org
- Como Conservatory & Japanese Garden- mnopedia.org/structure/marjorie-mcneely-conservatory-como-park-conservatory
- Como Town – comotown.com
- Como Zoo – mnopedia.org/place/como-zoo
This family-friendly amusement park is home to rides, concessions and General Store.
The gift shop has treasures for all ages and all budgets! It is a fun place to browse – and explore!