The Oakland Zoo is a perfect balance of animals, play areas, and (dare I say it?) rides for kids. In fact, there is so much other fun stuff going on, sometimes it's a challenge to remember to see the animals. The nice thing about an Oakland Zoo membership is that you can go, see an animal or two, have a meltdown, and leave without stressing about the price of admission (and parking!). Let's do the math on whether an Oakland Zoo membership is worth it for your family.
How many times do I need to go to the zoo to break even? Is it a good deal if my kids are toddlers or babies? Let's break it down for my family and compare it to yours. To see our calculations, jump down to find out if an Oakland Zoo membership is worth the money.
The Oakland Zoo recently made a huge expansion nearly doubling its footprint and has added many new animals and play areas. The expanded area is on the hilltop, behind the bison enclosure, only accessible by a free-and-fabulous gondola ride.
California Trail at the Oakland Zoo
Hop on the gondola just past the giraffes for sweeping views of The Bay and a visit to the new California Trail. Watch airplanes land from Oakland's airport, view the cityscape, bridges, and spy on animals down below. You can ride the gondola up to the Landing Cafe for lunch. The cafe is cafeteria-style and serves burgers, pizzas, seasonal salads, parmesan truffle fries, avocado toast and more. Arguably the best food you'll find at the zoo, and most definitely the best lunch view.
The ride up the gondola to the Landing Cafe is about 4 minutes long, and each gondola holds 8 people. We rode it more than once throughout the day, and didn't even have to hop off. Anna's boys loved watching life move down below.
The best part of the ride – it's FREE with zoo admission. The downside? Your kid is sure to spot Adventure Landing – the ride area which IS NOT free. Ha!
Once you're to the upper part of the zoo, you can enjoy new bear and condor habitats along with a super cool play structure.
Regular admission prices to the Oakland Zoo:
Under 2 and Over 75: FREE
Kids age 2 to 14 or seniors age 65 to 75: $20
Ages 15 to 64: $24
Car Parking: Another $10
For my family of two adults, three kids, and one vehicle, that's $118 per regular-priced visit
Perks of Membership at the Oakland Zoo:
In addition to the savings of regular admission, it is worth considering whether you will use any or all of these extra benefits. Since my family lives near one of the reciprocal zoos, we get a little boost when we go see grandma, too.
- FREE admission 362 days of the year at The Oakland Zoo
- FREE parking at The Oakland Zoo
- DISCOUNTS at the Gift Shop, for ZooCamp, Birthday Parties, and special events such as Walk in the Wild and ZooLights
- DISCOUNTED or FREE admission to over 125 zoos and aquariums nationwide
- When a kid gets snoozy or worse falls into the frog pond (like my kid did TODAY!), you can leave and not curse the entrance price (priceless)!
What Membership to the Oakland Zoo doesn't get you:
- Free admission to annual ZooLights events, birthday parties, special events (except for special Member Mondays, which you should totally look for!)
- Additional guest passes or ride passes
Doing the math on the break-even point of an Oakland Zoo membership:
Though pricey at $174 my family of five (two adults and up to four children between 2 and 17 allowed) would have to go to to the Oakland Zoo less than twice to offset the ~$118 (gulp!) of a visit. That's not factoring in guests passes or ride tickets, but I think it's a slam dunk.
Two visits per year is very easy to meet. However, being members means we should go as often as we feel the urge to visit the gondola, new play structure, kangaroos, monkeys, giraffes, lazy lions, and zoo train. Membership also means discounted admission to local attractions, we also get half off when visiting the grandparents at the Cleveland Zoo (no, I don't mean to imply my parents live at the Zoo!).
Pro tip: I like to purchase a membership in the middle of December in order to get two ZooLights member visits out of one calendar year. We go once in the second half of December for this year and can go once at the start of December next year before it expires.
When Zoo membership is not worth it
If your children are under age two, it may not be worth it yet; they're still free. Can you glom onto a friends' membership? Do the math on your own family and let us know if it's worth it for you.
Other membership levels:
- There are many other zoo membership levels depending on the size of your family and whether you want to include other caregivers or frequent guests.
[All photos 510families unless noted; rate information updated 9/18]