Oakland Zoo 9777 Golf Links Rd., off Hwy. 580, in Knowland Park. Fee. No pets.
The Malayan sun bear exhibit here is the only one in a Northern California zoo and is the largest such exhibit in the U.S. You can visit the sun bears via webcam right now in their truly spectacular enclosure. Naturalistic habitats here mix several animals together. The Skyride chairlift offers a good view of the outstanding African Veldt enclosure, with its watering hole for giraffes and vultures, and is the only way to view the bison and tule elk. Kids love the Children’s Zoo, with its grassy petting area for goats and sheep and its awesome fruit bat exhibit, and the Adventure Landing kiddie ride area outside the zoo entrance includes a roller coaster, carousel, and the Outback Express train ride through Wild Australia.
When you visit the zoo with children, you have an excellent opportunity to teach them more about language. Challenge them to see how many “superlatives” they can find—the sleepiest, the quietest, the cutest, etc. Currently:
●the OLDEST is OJ, an Aldabra tortoise that is thought to be more than 100 years old. She’s been at the zoo since 1977. Though the Oakland Zoo doesn’t advocate catching animals in the wild, OJ was probably originally caught that way.
●the BIGGEST is Osh, an African elephant that is 19 years old. He’s 10-feet 5-inches high and weighs more than 12,400 pounds. Osh came to the Oakland Zoo from Howletts Wild Animal Park in England. This zoo is the ONLY Zoo in Northern California with African elephants.
●the LOUDEST is Nikko, a white handed gibbon that can be heard whooping it up throughout the zoo—even out into the parking lot! He sings a particularly lovely song in early morning.
I visited the zoo recently with my three grandchildren, two of whom afterwards stuck to their guns about pre-visit animal favorites—the 4-year-old loves the giraffes and the teen adores the big cats. I’m not sure about the 2-year-old, though he did stare for a long time at the meerkats. This time I personally settled on the zebras--which we saw chasing each other--and the vividly colored frogs in the children’s area.
A cafe at the main entrance offers hot lunch items—including a vegan burger and some vegetarian selections--but the food is ordinary and can be expensive for a family. I suggest taking a picnic and supplementing it with a soda, ice cream, or other sweet treats that are dispensed from stands around the zoo. A scattering of benches and grassy expanses invite a relaxing break.
You’ll know it is time to start for the exit when you hear something like, “I’m done with the zoo,” as I did from my 4-year-old granddaughter, or, “But I don’t want to see the rabbits,” as I overheard another pre-schooler whine. But before we left, we exited the zoo and boarded the Outback Express Adventure Train ride around Wild Australia, a part of the zoo you don’t otherwise see.
Gondola Experience and Hilltop Restaurant (opening in June 2017) An electric gondola passes over a herd of majestic bison, and the restaurant has views of the San Francisco Bay region.
California Trail (opening summer 2018) A wide array of California wildlife will join the zoo--grizzly and black bears, wolves, bald eagles, California condors, mountain lions, and jaguars.
In December you can visit the zoo at night to see the holiday light display known as ZooLights. Hundreds of thousands of sparkling lights illuminate the night sky then. ZooLights is not included in regular zoo admission.