Tucked away by Ocean Beach, it took nearly an hour to get to the San Francisco Zoo from my house so it felt more like a daytrip than a simple outing. But what a daytrip!
First, the animals
I was on a scavenger hunt for animals that I don't see at other places like the black rhino and anteater (our family's favorite!). You can also find red pandas, grizzly bears, and wolverines. My nine-year old could have stayed all day watching the penguins do their thing.
While my older son was still staring at the penguins, my seven-year old camped out by the front door of the Pachyderm Building waiting for the LEGO exhibit, Nature Connects, to open for the day. The exhibit room featured a dozen enormous yet intricate LEGO sculptures inspired by nature. Whoa.
After we ran through to observe the master builder's creations in about six minutes, my kids plunked on the floor to play with the bricks. I set a timer for 20 minutes and let them go to town.
nine year old shown for scale at Nature Connects exhibit
It's just a playground, right?
After we visited the animals, and toured the new LEGO exhibit, 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 newly renovated playground at the SF Zoo before we went. It had been under construction forever (in kid years) before its grand reopening in late 2013. And again, wow! Once your children discover this play area, they will stop caring about the whole rest of the zoo's offerings.
This world onto 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.
This is how they describe it on SFZoo.org, but let's just agree that it is amazing and you must check it out.
The newly renovated Elinor Friend Playground ignites the imagination of children of all ages. This unique space is modeled after three distinct bio-regions, which take their themes from specific ecosystems and appeal to distinct age groups: a River Play Area for toddlers (6 months – 2 years), a Polar Zone exploration space for pre-schoolers (2-5 years), and a Banyan Tree climbing structure for pre-teens (5-12 years). Along with striking natural forms, the architecture integrates a wide range of materials and textures in glorious detail that mimic those found in nature and encourage curiosity among young explorers.
I'm sad to report that we didn't make it to the children's zoo because we ran out of time, and the puffer train was down for service when we were visiting.
I'd love to know your kids' favorite attractions!
Plan your visit
Though the hours vary, the San Francisco Zoo is open every day of the year. They offer discounts to other zoo members (like this one in the East Bay) and to San Francisco residents. Find out more at sfzoo.org.
You might also want to know that there is a zoo key for $3, a steam train for $5 per person, and a carousel for another $3 each. The gift shop is enticing. Parking is extra.
The ocean is across the street from the zoo. Make sure to allow time to run around and get sand in your shoes.
The San Francisco Zoo is a current sponsor of our website and they provided free admission for my family. All opinions are mine and those of my children.