It’s All Happening At The SF Zoo

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SAN FRANCISCO – The city has a wild side to a far cry from the birthday place of summer love in Height-Asprey, Soma, or Castro.

Among the great features of having a San Francisco backyard is 209 San Francisco Zoo. It’s not only a 90-minute drive from Manteca to the 100 acres where everything from antelopes to zebras roam but you can combine it with some time at the nearby ocean beach or the beaches at nearby Fort Finston. It’s also an excuse to sponsor one of the city’s 4,400 restaurants.

The zoo is arguably the most overlooked attraction in San Francisco. It is located along the Pacific Ocean in the southwestern part of the city away from the worn tourist trails. That’s part of its charm as you can take a car tour of the neighboring Sunset District, once a traditional working-class San Francisco neighborhood.

Although it is not the San Diego Zoo, over the past 40 years it has been transformed into a more in-line zoo with over 250 species housing more than 2,000 exotic and endangered animals rescued surrounded by an abundance of majestic gardens filled with native and foreign plants.

My favorite attraction is the African savannah component of the African region.

It allows mingling of zebras, cods, giraffes, and ostriches in a decent enough area that you almost forget you’re in a city zoo. While it’s certainly not the San Diego Zoo or at large with the 400-acre Safari West near Santa Rosa that costs $90 for an African safari and is worth every penny, African Savannah is spell bound compared to what is offered at other Northern California zoos in The big city in Sacramento and Oakland.

You can enter the three-acre gallery via a covered walkway where you will also find other types of African birds such as the Marabou stork and the crowned crane.

Mixing between species is almost spell-binding. If you’re lucky, you’ll see zebras go through an entire race – something you won’t really see in the smaller spaces.

It’s also designed to give you insight into how animals are cared for – activities that would normally be isolated from the public.

The African region also includes the African bird that harbors endangered species such as Waldrop, Ibis, Hammerkop. There is also the gorilla.

The insect zoo is also a bit unique. The ability to examine samples under a microscope adds a dimension that goes beyond just looking at things like hissing crickets, scorpions, tarantulas, termites and more behind glass containers.

Kids tend to be fascinated by the insect zoo. I’ll admit it was kind of a blah experience for me until a few years later during a visit to Death Valley where I had to move quickly to stomp on one I had grown up and was tossing around. The person I was with asked if he was a scorpion. I answered “No” since it was too late in the year at the height we were at. When I began to bend over to take a closer look–it was around the time of sunset–the scorpion made a hissing noise, the friend jumped about five feet and lowered my hiking boots so fast that I almost got hit. A smartphone photo of the scorpion I took next to the car keys which I showed to the park ranger provided information that it was a medium sized scorpion. I have been fascinated by scorpions ever since initially driven to get as much information about their habits so that I can avoid meeting in the future.

The insect zoo helps feed this magic.

Getting to the zoo for 209 is fairly simple. You can take the Bay Bridge and follow 101 South to Interchange 280 which will head south to Westlake where you exit John Daly Boulevard. Take a right at John Daly Boulevard and continue onto Interstate 35 (Skyline Boulevard). You will turn left at the Skyline/Great Highway intersection. Enter the driveway so you can turn right into the zoo entrance off the Great Highway.

The biggest change due to the pandemic is that you need to book and buy in advance online.

You purchase your parking ticket needed to exit the box office at the main gate before leaving the zoo. The cost is $10 on weekdays and $12 on weekends and holidays.

The zoo’s spring and summer hours are 10am-5pm daily. Admission is $20 for ages 15 to 64, $17 for ages 65 and over, $14 for ages 4 to 14, and free for ages 3 and under.

It takes an effort not to learn and have fun while visiting the zoo.

There are scheduled guard talks daily. There are keepsake zoo keys to use in talking story books throughout the zoo. There are wonderful docs in uniform throughout the zoo who can answer your questions and tell stories about the exhibits and the different animals. There are vital fact carts throughout the zoo filled with vital facts of many different animals allowing you to see and touch their fur, bones and teeth with experienced doctors and young volunteers to provide you with the fascinating physiology of different animals. There are Wild Walks – Guided tours of the zoo on weekends at 10am, noon, and 2pm. Registration is required.

There is also a children’s play area complete with a buggy and Little Puffer steam train.

There are three dining options in the zoo – Leaping Lemur Café which serves BBQ-style items, pizza, sandwiches, soup and salad; Pizza station parlor. and Café Playfield with a kid-friendly menu.

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