Thanks to the San Francisco Zoo for taking us on this insider’s tour of really cool things to do at the Zoo with kids.
I had a hard time narrowing down the must-do stops and exhibits for your trip to the San Francisco Zoo. My list doesn’t even include the carousel, tasty lunch options, or the chance to play in the Pacific Ocean right after your visit. Read on for what did make the cut- and plan a visit ASAP as kids 3 and under are FREE!
Here’s a breakdown of 10 special things to do at the SF Zoo:
Special animals at the San Francisco Zoo
- Out of Africa. The Leanne B. Roberts African Savanna mixed-species exhibit is a dramatic scene right when you enter the zoo. You might see Floyd, the prolific patriarch of zoo giraffes looming over you at 16-feet tall or notice how the other African animals are mixed together with zebras, ostriches, and kudu all living together keeping Floyd and his offspring company in a habitat that mirrors nature and gives them plenty of room to move. Don’t miss the African Aviary house with endangered birds.
- Gorillas. Jones Family Gorilla Preserve is up next, depending on your path. The grouping of four females, one male, and one child replicates a family you might see in the wild and has been brought together for breeding as part of the Species Survival Plan for western lowland gorillas. As one of the largest and most exceptional habitats for western lowland gorillas in the country, it is often very busy but it is so worth finding your spot to watch. A wall of viewing windows lets you see the gorillas up-close as they rest, play, eat and interact with one another.
- Bugs of all kind. Insect Zoo has some creepy crawlers that little ones will love. Budding entomologists will want to stay all day. Cozy up in the reading nook. Hiss back at the cockroaches before you move on! Climb the giant spiderweb outside. At scheduled times on weekends, Insect Zoo staff bring out the insects for the Incredible Insects in Action demonstration.
- Birds and reptiles of the rainforest. South American Rainforest and Aviary. This newish $6 million exhibit houses multiple new-to-the-Zoo animal species: herpetological (49 different reptiles and amphibians!!); 12 parrots; 14 aquatic birds; 15 tropical birds; and four mammals including the sloths. Free-flying birds mean free paper hats for you and the kids. 🙂
- Penguins! Penguin Island is a must-do for our family. Among the more fascinating animals at the Zoo is the colony of Magellanic penguins located on Penguin Island across from the Lion House. My ten-year old son could spend an uninterrupted hour watching these birds play and swim. I also learned that Penguin Island has one of the most successful captive breeding colonies in the world. Coming soon: March of the Penguins, more info when we have it.
- Rhinoceroses rule. Unpredictable and dangerous but also extremely beautiful and enormous — what’s not to love? See Elly the Black Rhino, one of the most prolific breeders in the Zoo, she is the mom of 14 calves. Also meet Boone her three-year old grandson. In the wild, rhinos are critically endangered with fewer than 5000 black rhinos alive today, most of those are protected by armed guards.
- Petting zoo. The fabulous Fisher Family Children’s Zoo includes livestock demonstrations, hands-on activities (grooming goats!), see birds of prey up close, and meet youth volunteers with all kinds of animals on display for gentle touches. The Koret Family Animal Resource Center (ARC). ARC animal encounters occur at 2:00pm on the Nature Trail during summer and allow kids to be hands-on with some of the animals.
Special attractions at the SF Zoo
But what about the awesome non-animal things to do? We’ve got you covered!
- Choo choo. Little Puffer is the Zoo’s popular and historic train ride. It is a fully functional miniature steam train that is nearly a century old. Purchased in 1925, retired in the seventies, and refurbished in 1997, it moves around the zoo to give weary parents and children a different perspective on the enclosures. Costs a bit more.
- Playground! Completely redone in 2013 for about $3 million, the Elinor Friend playground is unlike any other you’ve seen. Bio-thematic play zones are incredible: the river play area for toddlers, polar explanation for preschoolers, and a banyan tree structure for pre-teens.
- The sculpture program is amazing. Designed by Scientific Art Studio who also made the playground, expect to see about 60 sculptures representing animals and species that you can’t find at the zoo. Technically, you’re not supposed to climb on the sculptures. Instead, you can get close and touch in a way that is accessible to those with all abilities. You can find information sheets on these animals and do other activities on the website.
[Photo credit: Marianne Hale, all rights reserved used with permission by SF Zoo]
Thank you again to the San Francisco Zoo for sharing their tips with us. Go visit!