credit: Photo by Antonio M. Rosario

What is the best thing about gardens and zoos? They make everyone happy – kids and parents alike. Maybe not for the same reasons – parents like to look at flowers, kids like to dig in the dirt beneath them – but they are true family activities. CBS New York wants to share its picks for the best “free” gardens and zoos in the NYC area.

credit: / Photo by Antonio M. Rosario

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

900 Washington Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11225
(718) 623-7200

Come join the “KinderGardeners” in the children’s garden at Brooklyn Botanic as they dig in the dirt with a purpose: growing flowers, vegetables and herbs. They can also pump water down a bamboo waterfall or take a hike while mom and dad enjoy nature. The Discovery garden has fantastic spots for toddlers where they can explore nature firsthand in their own toddler way. Admission is free all day Tuesday and from 10 AM to 12 PM on Saturday.

NY Botanical Garden

200th Street and Kazimiroff Boulevard
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8700

The NY Botanical Garden (also known as Bronx Botanical) has the truly delightful Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, complete with a Boulder Maze, a Touch Tank with water-loving plants, and giant animal topiaries. Added plus for mom and dad: Bronx Botanical is one of the leading botany centers in the whole world, so there’s plenty for you to see too. Admission is free on Wednesday and from 10 AM to 12 PM on Saturday

Connie Gretz Secret Garden

1000 Richmond Terrace
Staten Island Botanical Garden
Staten Island, NY 10301
(718) 273-8200

This little treasure in Staten Island has the only maze of its kind in the New York metro area – a puzzle made up of complicated pathways which lead to a walled secret garden. Based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic The Secret Garden, it even has a 38-foot kids’ fantasy castle complete with its own drawbridge and moat. Combine this with the fun Staten Island Children’s Museum (in the same region, Snug Harbor Cultural Center), and you’ve got a full day of fun. Although there is a small fee for entrance to The Secret Garden, it is free to visit the general Staten Island Botanical Garden grounds.

Bronx Zoo

2300 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, New York 10460
(718) 220-5100

If we’re talking about zoos, of course we must include the world-famous one in the Bronx. It is huge, but not overwhelmingly so, and the animals look pretty happy in their specially constructed habitats. Yes, it’s a bit pricey, (make sure to get the “upgrade” ticket to see the really good stuff) but completely worth it if you go early and stay the whole day. For an even greater value, admission to the zoo is free on Wednesday.

credit: Photo: Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Queens Botanical Garden

43-50 Main Street  Flushing, NY 11355
(718) 886-3800

Even though this garden does not get as much publicity as those in the other boroughs, it is a lovely spot for nature lovers. The gardens offer a variety of gorgeous plants as well as a special hands-on program for children (ages 5-12), Best of all is the fact that you can sample all of its delights on Wednesdays from 3 PM – 6 PM and Sundays from 4 PM – 6 PM for free.

Shari Simpson-Cabelin is a blogger with Dusty Earth Mother