Located between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Merced in the southwest corner of the city, the San Francisco Zoo, which once had a reputation for being a bit shoddy and out-of-date, has come a long way in recent years. Though grown-ups who are into wildlife will enjoy the visit, it’s really aimed at kids, who get a kick out of attractions like the hands-on Children’s Zoo, the flock of shockingly pink flamingos, the giant anaconda, the recently restored Carousel, and the ageless Little Puffer train.
Founded at its present site near the ocean in 1929, the zoo is spread over 100 acres and houses more than 930 animals, including some 245 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Exhibit highlights include the Lipman Family Lemur Forest, a forest setting for five endangered species of lemurs from Madagascar; Jones Family Gorilla World, a tranquil haven for a family group of western lowland gorillas; Koala Crossing, which connects to the Australian Walkabout exhibit with its kangaroos, wallaroos, and emu; Penguin Island, home to a large breeding colony of Magellanic penguins; and the Primate Discovery Center, home to rare and endangered monkeys. Puente al Sur (Bridge to the South) has a pair of giant anteaters and some capybaras. The Lion House is home to rare Sumatran and Siberian tigers and African lions. African Savanna is a 3-acre mixed-species habitat with giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and birds. Check the website for a daily schedule of animal feeding times.
The 6-acre Children’s Zoo offers kids and their families opportunities for close-up encounters with rare domestic breeds of goats, sheep, ponies, and horses in the Family Farm. Touch and feel small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians along the Nature Trail and gaze at eagles and hawks stationed on Hawk Hill. Don’t miss a visit to the fascinating Insect Zoo or the Meerkat and Prairie Dog exhibit, where kids can crawl through tunnels and play in sand, just like these amazing burrowing species.
There’s a coffee cart by the entrance as well as two decent cafes inside, definitely good enough for a bite with the kids (though the lines can be long and slightly confusing if you’re handling food and kid duty at the same time).
- Erika Lennert