I haven’t been to a zoo in years. Yeeeears. I don’t remember the last time I went to a zoo. But, on what ended up being a gloriously warm and sunny Sunday, I found myself in a sea of wide-eyed children. Standing on a boardwalk over a swath of untouched trees and shrubbery, we eagerly awaited a glimpse of one of the two gray wolves that live at the Oakland Zoo. The wolves are part of a just-opened exhibit: California Trail, the reason we were there.
California Trail focuses solely on animals and plants native to California. The whole exhibit works hand-in-hand with conservation groups and serves to educate and involve visitors on “the delicate balance between plants, animals, and humans – and the impact of change on all three.”
You can only access California Trail via gondola ride. Having never been on a gondola ride outside of ski season, I was stunned by the summertime views of San Francisco and the Bay. Insider tip: the gondola line was lengthy, but if you’re a small, stroller-less party, then speak up and you will likely get fast-tracked.
California Trail includes a boardwalk path that loops around the top of the hill, guiding visitors past a handful of exhibits, showcasing mountain lions, grizzly bears, and bald eagles to name a few. Each one is hosted in partnership with a respective conservation group. The California Condor exhibit is thanks to Ventana Wildlife Society’s rehabilitation program and, once back to health, the condors will be released back into the wild. After breaking into a home, the Black Bear family was transported by B.E.A.R to the zoo, as an alternative to being euthanized. By providing the younger generation (and ourselves) a firsthand look at the true California locals, the Oakland Zoo is keeping us cognizant of our impact on their habitat.
This was the stand-out exhibit for me, but there are plenty of other animals in the main part of the zoo that are 100% worth seeing. The Oakland Zoo similarly supports conservation programs for each of these sections as well. It goes without saying, this place is the friendliest of kid-friendly places. There are tons of different play areas and even a Children’s Zoo.
We just happened to visit on Feast for the Beasts Day and had the opportunity to feed the elephants their breakfast! This only happens two days a year and the lucky visitors get to help scatter donated fruits and veggies around the enclosure (sans elephants, of course). We were happy to learn that this is one of the elephants’ favorite days of the year. Our good timing continued and we arrived at the wolf enclosure while zookeepers tossed in fish for lunch. Insider tip: the feeding schedule is available on the website, so you can plan accordingly and see the animals on the move. FYI the zoo regularly accepts donated goods and food for the animals.
What to see:
-Enter and hang a left to do the loop: Tropical Rainforest → Children’s Zoo → African Savanna (Oakland Zoo map).
-Optional: the Sky Ride is a chairlift loop, which brings you near the tiger, lion, and camel exhibits, but mostly over undeveloped open space. The additional $3 was worth having a moment to rest our feet.
-Gondola up to The Landing Cafe for lunch (the veggie burger was A+).
-Hit California Trail to check out all the animals. Insider tip: read the Zookeeper’s Notes, posted on many of the exhibits for extra info on the animals.
-Round out your transportation for the day with a train ride – it picks up near the base of the gondola and loops around to Wild Australia.
-Throw some spare change in the Conservation Station on your way out!
How to get there:
-From downtown San Francisco: pick up BART at Montgomery, head toward Dublin/Pleasanton.
-Get off BART at Coliseum Station.
-Walk across San Leandro Street and pick up the 90 bus (heading to Foothill Square).
-Get off at MacArthur Blvd/98th Ave.
-Walk east (left) on 98th Ave until you get to Golf Links Road.
-Hang a right and you’ll be at the entrance of Oakland Zoo.