Whether you’ve got children in tow or you’re on a grown-up getaway, the San Francisco Zoo, located on the city’s southwest side, makes for a fun way to spend a day, especially when combined with playtime or strolling along nearby Ocean Beach. The urban oasis originally opened in 1929, back when animal enclosures were mostly cages or concrete pens, and it has come a very long way since. Today, the conservation-minded zoo’s expansive enclosures recreate a range of global ecosystems, populated by over 1,000 animals representing more than 250 species. Spectacular plantings also feature rare, indigenous plants from around the world.
Must-see sites abound. At the Jones Family Gorilla Preserve, you can watch the startlingly human-like interactions of a family group of Western lowland gorillas. The Australian WalkAbout lets you check out kangaroos and wallaroos—look closely for joeys peeking out of pouches. Penguin Island features highly social and highly entertaining Magellanic penguins—squawking, flapping, preening, swimming, and even breeding. Ultra-popular is the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo, a mini-zoo-within-a-zoo where children can get their fill of petting goats and ponies in the Family Farm area. Twice a day, you can go behind the scenes on the 45-minute guided Secret Safari tour, which includes sightings of up to six different animal species. There is also a special exhibit with close-up views of prairie dogs and meerkats, plus a historic 1927 Dentzel Carousel, a miniature steam-engine train ride and a child-friendly nature trail.
Check the San Francisco Zoo’s site for a map and a daily schedule of special events and animal interactions, ranging from grizzly bear feeding time to talks with big-cat keepers. The zoo is open 365 days a year, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Insider tips: Ticket prices are $25 a day for adults, with discounts for seniors and children under 14. Kids under 3 and under are free. There is plentiful parking for a nominal daily fee.