The Oakland Zoo is a lovely escape from real life. You may have to book well in advance for tickets, so make your reservations when you finish reading this article. All in all it felt pretty safe and well run, and my four kids had a blast. We arrived at our designated time (10 am) and parking was easy and we only had to wait about three minutes in a socially distanced line. Guests can arrive anytime within the hour after the designated reservation time.
Pro tip: Print out zoo tickets to make things easy. Public internet near Knowland Park can be spotty.
We went straight to the gondola since that’s everyone’s favorite. I was worried about the cleaning situation since the gondola doesn’t really stop, but what they’ve done is slow it down a bit so that attendants can clean the high-touch areas in between groups. There are also hand sanitizing before and after the ride. The windows are open in the gondolas, so there’s plenty of air flow. We only had to wait in line about 5 minutes, though the ride itself is slightly longer given the new sanitizing protocols. But that was a plus for us since my kids love the gondola so much.
As we were leaving, around noon, it felt much more crowded than when we arrived. It seemed like the earlier crowds hadn’t cleared out to make room for the later entrants like normal. I’m not sure if folks were more leisurely or more excited to be back at the zoo, but the parking lot was pretty full as we left.
Covid-19 Changes and Restrictions
All guests, including members, must make reservations for a specific date and entry time. You’ll want to print out your tickets or save a photo of the barcode before you get to the parking gates. Plan to come only with your immediate family members and bring face-covering masks (required for all guests 3 and over). There will be sanitizing stations throughout the Zoo and many high-touch exhibits and indoor buildings will be closed.
They have masks available for purchase if you forgot yours or want a souvenir mask.
In general, people seemed to be doing their best to stay with their groups and keep distanced from others. Every once in a while, the different animals — bears and otters, I’m looking at you! — did something adorable, and people seemed to forget those rules and cluster up. We just kept moving.
Luckily none of my kids had to go to the bathroom. There were cleaning attendants near the bathrooms we passed though.
Some areas are still closed
For everyone’s safety, indoor exhibits and high-touch rides are closed including:
- Zimmer Bug House
- Reptile and Amphibian Room
- Petting Area and Children’s Zoo
- Adventure Landing rides and train
- Picnic table areas and restaurant dining areas (although food will still be sold at food carts, Giraffe Ridge, and Tuskers Grill)
- All water fountains
Some open areas might surprise you
- California Trail (the area above the gondola) including water bottle filling stations
- Tusker’s Grill has outdoor seating and online order-ahead
Up high, 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 newest zoo expansion, 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 cafe for lunch. The ride up the gondola to the top part of the zoo 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.
Tips for families visiting the Oakland Zoo
- Bring a stroller. You will want it, especially toward the end of your visit.
- Pack a lunch. We always tote water bottles, sandwiches, and snacks. There are many shady places to sit down for a snack or lunch.
- Hit the gondola early and often. It is included with admission price, and you don’t even need to disembark.
- Consider a membership. To see our calculations, jump down to find out if an Oakland Zoo membership is worth the money.
All in all it was fun for the kids and they were happy to be out and about. For me there was just that added layer of complexity/stress that comes with keeping everyone from touching things and getting close to people. This is to say, I don’t plan on making this a weekly outing anytime soon.
More ways to support the Oakland Zoo
Ways to help the Oakland Zoo financially
- Buy or renew your membership (on sale now through August)
- Donate to the animal care fund
- Adopt an animal — adoption is sort of mid-way between donation and shopping because it comes with a few goodies.
- Donate animal toys (wish list here) or fresh fruit and veggies (list below in the tiny type)
- Buy gear and merch for your little zookeeper, they stock animal-themed masks and toys.