A flurry of excitement erupts from the island. The crowd of penguins swim around satisfied after zookeepers throw tiny fish into eager beaks. An everyday scene at the San Francisco Zoo, this early afternoon feeding allows visitors to witness animals in action, not merely sleeping behind a fence.
The San Francisco Zoo dates back to 1929, when construction began next to what was once the largest swimming pool in the nation. Signs of its foundation still remain, adding a dose of a bygone historical period to an otherwise modern attraction. The classic Little Puffer mini-stream train was built in 1904 and is one of three remaining 22-inch gauge engines in the entire world. In 1935, it was the only train in the city that transported passengers every day, burning coal and operated by one employee, who acted as the engineer, conductor, and shopworker. Next to the Fisher Family Children's Zoo lies another beloved attraction: the Dentzel Carousel. As one of only seven remaining carousels built by William H. Dentzel in the United States, the 1921 amusement ride displays two chariots and 50 exquisitely painted and bejeweled hand-carved wooden animals. This practice went out of style during the Depression, due to high costs, and is now a rare sight.
The zoo currently boasts 250 different types of species and the title of the largest and oldest zoo in Northern California. From Madagascar hissing cockroaches in the Insect Zoo to a bald eagle named after popular Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert, the zoo's wide range of animals and exhibits is transportative. Stroll into the South American Tropical Forest, and you'll be surrounded by extravagant trees, strong humidity, a 15-foot-long anaconda, a green-winged macaw, and many other fish, birds, and reptiles. Zookeepers have also gone beyond simply maintaining suitable environments for their animals. As part of a national conservation effort spearheaded by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, they care for a range of species in danger of extinction, like snow leopards and black rhinos.
When you first arrive at the zoo, stop by the admissions gate or membership office, and purchase a plastic Storybook key. This tradition ensures you access to background stories and tidbits at certain exhibits. Take a listen, and you'll be able to say more than the fact that you saw a grizzly bear. You'll leave the zoo with valuable memories and knowledge.
- 10am to 5pm daily, check website for special exhibits
- Adults 15 – 64: $15
- Seniors 65+: $12
- Children 4 – 14: $9
- Children 3 and under: Free
- Metro Stop:
- Muni train L
- Muni buses 18, 23
- Location: Sloat Boulevard at the Great Highway
- Phone: 415-753-7080
- Website: www.sfzoo.org