Have your kids turned feral? You may not think so after a trip to the Oakland Zoo. Herd your wild ones and take them on an adventure for a day of animal sightseeing, experiencing native California wildlife, playing at a new playground and going on carnival rides. Read on for the inside scoop to where over 700 native and exotic animals live.

Map Your Visit

A unique trait of Oakland Zoo is that it’s built into the landscape of the Oakland Hills. The landscape is populated with animals that are native to California and from around the world. Keep your eyes open because you might even stumble upon secret trails throughout the zoo. Because of its size, if your kiddos burn energy fast, be sure to bring a stroller or rent one there (single stroller $7; double $9). Given how vast Oakland Zoo is, grab a map at the zoo entrance and mark all the animals that are must see. The map distinguishes each area so you can maximize what type of animal interests your kids the most. It also has a list of feeding times for the animals—the real animals, not your kiddos.

Pro Tip: There are two entrances to the zoo, Main Entrance and Lower Entrance. Map the animals you want to see and pick the parking lot closest to maximize your walking time. The gift store is at the Main Entrance.

Walk The California Trail

This past summer the Oakland Zoo opened its newest addition: the California Trail. Step onto a gondola and take the free (with paid admission) four-minute ride over an ecological recovery zone that’s filled with native plant habitats for local wildlife, including the endangered Alameda Striped Racer snake.

This birds-eye view will give you a 360 outlook of the Bay Area and on a clear day you can see as far as downtown San Francisco. While riding the gondola be sure to keep an eye out below to see the recently-added American bison. And yes, there are even many baby bison calves to see in the herd too!

The gondola will drop you off at the top of a mountain that has a café, playground, overlook and six (soon to be eight) new native California animals including bald eagles, gray wolves, grizzly bears, American black bears and others.

Walk the “California Trail” to the newly-opened playground and watch your kids go wild! This playground has a stream running through it, a rocky mountain to climb, grassy hills to slide down on mats and a mini zip-line. You’ll want to block out a good amount of time for the kids to run and explore here. And don’t be shocked if you see a black bear climb a tree and hangout on a branch from it’s nearby home.

A Real Safari Adventure

A must experience is a ride on the Safari Train that chugs you to Wild Australia—no passport required. The train loops around the home of wallaroos and emus that freely walk around—and yes, they can even walk right up the train. Wild Australia can only be accessed by train, so be sure to buy tickets at Adventure Landing located near the Main Entrance.

Children’s Zoo

The Children’s Zoo, located near the Lower Entrance, is the prefect area for children to roam, explore and play. This area houses a goat and sheep barn where children can pet and brush the animals. If your child is a reptile lover be sure to stop in at the Reptile and Amphibian House. There’s even a special door only for children to enter through.

Keep your eye out for secret trails and a lily pad hop that your children will love skipping around on. But be careful! One small slip and they’ll fall into a shallow pool of water.

Be Amused

If seeing roaring lions, huge elephants and tiny insects isn’t enough excitement stop by Adventure Landing. You can purchase single tickets ($1.75) or a book of 24 tickets ($24) to ride the Safari Train, carousel, small roller coaster and a handful of carnival rides. Be warned, your thrill seeker child may not want to see the rest of the zoo if you start here first!

Parking & Dining

Because of the zoo’s location, be prepared to shell out $10 for paid parking. Also note that pets are not allowed, they are not even permitted to stay in the car.

There are food kiosks studded all over the zoo with meals and snacks. There are three main cafés located near each entrance and one in the California Trail exhibit.

Pro Tip: The café near the main entrance has a special kid’s meal that comes in a zoo-themed container with animal crackers. Kids go crazy for it. You can see the food options here.

Avoid The Crowds

Get a leg-up on the crowds and plan your visit for a weekday morning. Not only will you avoid the masses but you’ll also have a front seat view to see the animals eating their breakfast.

Admission & Hours

General admission: $24/adult; $20/seniors; $20/children 2-14; children under 2 and adults 76 and over are free
Military discount (with current ID): $18/adult; $15/seniors; $15/children 2-14; children under 2 and adults 76 and over are free
Parking: $10 car parking fee; $15 bus parking fee

Members are free and parking is included in membership!

Hours: Entry 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Gondola 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Adventure Landing Rides 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Contact Yard (in Children’s Zoo) 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; The zoo is closed: Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

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Oakland Zoo
9777 Golf Links Road
Oakland, CA
(510) 632-9525

Online: oaklandzoo.org

photos and story by Tarah Beaven