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Wildlife Adventure at the Oakland Zoo

Oakland Zoo

One of our favorite family outings in the Bay Area is a trip to the Oakland Zoo. With a variety of amazing animal exhibits, cable cars that whisk you to spectacular views, and the stunning new California Trail that's a who's who of our state's wildlife, the Oakland Zoo is a fun and educational place to visit at any time of year. We love the whole experience, and try to visit a few times a year.

Located off Interstate 580 in the southeast part of Oakland, the Oakland Zoo is fairly small, compact, and easy for a family with small children to take in. The zoo is divided into several sections: the Tropical Rain Forest, the African Veldt, the African Savanna, Wild Australia, the California Trail, and the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children's Zoo, with the appropriate animals grouped around each area. All the exhibits have been recently build or updated, and the animal enclosures are modern, natural, and spacious.

While the Oakland Zoo is on the small size, its more natural habitats makes for a more intimate and up-close-and-personal experience. The Oakland Zoo also has African elephants, which you aren't going to find anywhere else in the Bay Area. We also really loved the zebras, elephants, meerkats, monkeys, camels and the giraffes.

Oakland Zoo bison

The California Trail expansion, which opened last summer, is the zoo's newest feature. This incredible experience offers eight new animal exhibits with a focus on California wildlife past and present, amazing views of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Landing Café restaurant, and even a cool ecology-inspired playground.

California Trail doubles the zoo's exhibit space and makes it an even more fun and educational place for a family outing. The California Trail exhibit emphasizes the role of humans in shaping the ecology of California and the San Francisco Bay Area and highlights the delicate balance between plants, animals, and human beings and how change affects all of us.

California Trail playground

Get on one of the cool ski resort-style gondolas and take a ride up the hill to begin your California Trail experience. At the top of the hill, get off the gondola and either head up the stairs to the visitor center and the Landing Café or hit the boardwalk right away and go visit the animals. You can grab a bite to eat at the Landing Café, which offers wood-fired pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and salads with sweeping Bay Area views from its outdoor dining area.

Oakland Zoo

Gondola rides are included with zoo admission, so you can take as many rides as you like. My kids loved it so much, we ended up riding it several times. You don't even have to get out at the top—you can stay on board for the round trip.

Oakland Zoo

One of the highlights of the trip was the Children's Zoo. In it you'll find lemurs, otters, alligators, tortoises, the reptile and insect house, and a really cool fruit bat exhibit housing a large number of Malayan Flying Foxes, the largest bats in the world! There's also a barn with sheep and goats to pet and brush, a spacious playground, food concessions, an education center, and the Clorox WildLife Theater. There's plenty of room for little ones to run around and play, and there's also plenty to do and see.

Oakland Zoo

Another of the Oakland Zoo's unique features is the Sky Ride, a chairlift-like conveyance that takes you on a trip high over the zoo. The route goes over the tiger enclosure, the African Veldt exhibit with its giraffes and gazelles, and up to the hill behind the zoo, where you can see tule elk and bison (only visible from the Sky Ride). The Sky Ride costs an additional $3 per person.

Oakland Zoo

If all this isn't enough, there's a small rides area just outside the zoo, Adventure Landing, where you can find the boarding area for the Zoo Train and a number of different carnival rides including a carousel, a small roller coaster, and a few other attractions mostly geared toward small children. Tickets for the rides are $1.75 each (2 tickets are needed for the train and the roller coaster).

The Zoo Train is worth checking out. It takes you on a ride in open cars through and around the perimeter of the zoo, allowing you to see the zoo and many of the animals from a whole new perspective. You get some amazing views of San Francisco and the Bay Area, too.

Oakland Zoo

In addition to the Landing Café, there's a restaurant—Tuskers—just inside the main entrance at Flamingo Plaza, as well as food stands in the Children's Zoo and Adventure Landing. There are also plenty of picnic tables and a large grassy meadow, so you can bring your lunch or snacks, too.

For more information, visit the Oakland Zoo's website at www.oaklandzoo.org or call (510) 632-9525.

Oakland Zoo entrance

If You Go

The Oakland Zoo is located at 9777 Golf Links Road in Oakland, near San Leandro. To get there from Marin, take 101 to 580 in San Rafael and cross the Richmond Bridge. Follow 580 until it merges with Interstate 80. Head south on 80 toward Oakland, then merge onto 580 after Emeryville (stay in the left lanes). Head south on 580 and take the Golf Links Road exit. Turn left onto Golf Links Road and head east (under the freeway). The Oakland Zoo entrance will be on your immediate right.

The Oakland Zoo is open weekdays from 10 am to 4:30 pm and weekends and holiday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. The gondolas are open until 5 pm, and are free to ride with zoo admission. Adventure Landing and its rides are open from 10 am to 5:30 pm. The zoo is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and during their annual Walk in the Wild fundraiser.

Admission is $24 for adults (15–64), $20 for children 2–14 and seniors 65+, and free for children under 2 and seniors 76+. A discount is offered for military families with current military ID. Parking is an additional $10 per car. Plenty of parking is available right in the upper parking lot, although it can fill up fast on busy weekends.

The Oakland Zoo is located in the hills above the city, so terrain can be steep and uneven at times. If you're bringing small children a stroller is advised, although you can rent them there if you suddenly decide you need one.