Tucked away by Ocean Beach, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the San Francisco Zoo from the East Bay (traffic!). So plan your day as a full-on day trip and you'll be prepared for a majestic animal packed adventure that you and your little ones will not soon forget.
This is a quick highlight reel of our recent trip to the San Francisco Zoo. For a more in-depth look, check out our Ten Special Things to Do at the San Francisco Zoo.
SF Zoo has animals you can't find other places
I was on a scavenger hunt for animals that I don't see at other places, like exotic snakes, the black rhino, anteater and komodo dragon (our family's favorite!). You can also find red pandas, grizzly bears, and wolverines. My three-year old could have stayed all day watching the penguins do their thing. And getting up close and personal with the reposeful tigers was pretty exciting (at other zoos they're often seen from a distance).
The Insect Zoo is small but mighty
My three-, six- and eight-year olds are pretty into bugs as of late, so the Insect Zoo was THE place to be. They ran around like it was Christmas morning, jumping from spiders to ants to cockroaches with glee. After reading so much about all sorts of creepy crawlies in books, it was exciting to see them in the flesh, or exoskeleton, as it were.
It's just a playground, right?
After we visited the animals, and toured the Insect Zoo, the favorite spot of the day (and they would have happily stayed for HOURS more) was the playground.
Wow. I had heard that there was a big fuss about the stunning playground at the SF Zoo before we went. But, wow! Once your children discover this play area, they will stop caring about the whole rest of the zoo's offerings.
This world unto itself is right next to a pretty decent cafe lunch area. Go early to avoid the lines and let your kids run wild while you nibble on your expensive salad.
There are three massive play structures with different themes that you haven't already seen a gajillion times:
- Ice Zone. Looks like a naturally-occurring snow tunnel with hidden crevices and slides within. Let's just say that you really hope you don't have to go inside to retrieve a scared kid. So fun but not made for adult hips.
- Forest. The trees include climbing, ropes, balancing, and some funky basket swings. After they escaped the frozen tundra, they were in heaven over here.
- River tot lot. The little one area has a sweet river theme and is also cool and creative. And baby swings!
There's also an animal sculpture area just beyond the playground that is very engaging. Plenty of life-sized animal sculptures to touch and climb on (though some are hands-off). This area has several picnic tables and so is a great place to have lunch.
Other stuff kids love love at the SF Zoo
Be sure to look out for life-sized dinosaurs lurking as you meander among the statuesque trees and sumptuous greenery. We weren't expecting them, so it was surprising and exciting. Also, to get a more interactive experience, make sure to check the animal feeding schedule (the penguins and grizzly bears are must-sees).
I'm sad to report that we didn't make it to the children's zoo because we ran out of time, and nobody wanted to wait in line for the steam train (but we waved!).
I'd love to know your kids' favorite attractions!
Plan your visit to the SF Zoo
Almost always open
Though the hours vary, the San Francisco Zoo is open every day of the year. Perfect for those holiday days where everything else is closed. They offer discounts to other zoo members (like Oakland Zoo!) and to San Francisco residents. Find out more at sfzoo.org.
More to spend money on
You might also want to know that there is a zoo key for $5, a steam train for $6 per person (kids 3 and under free), and a carousel for another $4 each (standing adults free with paying child). You can also purchase an unlimited ride ticket for the day for $19. The gift shop is enticing. Zoo parking fee is $10/weekdays and $12/weekends and holidays. There is free street parking along Sloat Blvd if you can find it.
Dress in layers. It can be chilly by the ocean. Pack a stroller, snacks/lunch, hats, sunscreen, towels/baby powder for the beach.
If pizza is your thing, check out The Station Pizza Parlor, next to the Little Puffer Depot. They serve tasty personal pizzas and sharing-sized $5 soft serve cones. Yum!
Ocean Beach is a quick hop across the street from the zoo. Make sure to allow time to run around and get sand in your shoes. Arrive early, leave early, avoid the crowds and traffic.
The San Francisco Zoo provided free admission for my family. All opinions are mine and those of my children.