Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Crookedest Street, and clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf aside, there’s much to do on a San Francisco family vacation that’s off the main tourist track. If you’re planning a San Francisco vacation with your kids, I hope you’ll consider paying a call to its lovely zoo out by Ocean Beach. A trip to the San Francisco Zoo can also be a springboard to other nearby sights that are also fun to visit with children (included below).
Here are my SF Zoo tips if you plan to go:
1. Arrive early, but not too early. The San Francisco Zoo is open 365 days a year (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most of the year, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during summer), so you can cross the city after peak morning traffic and still arrive in time for a good parking space.
2. Do not trust GPS to get you to the right gate for the San Francisco Zoo. There is an unfortunate guard who spends each day redirecting GPS-guided tourists arriving at the staff parking entrance to the front visitor’s entrance. Stay on Sloat Avenue until you see the sign to turn off for the zoo. You can click here to see it on the map.
3. Bring warm layers – even if the morning seems warm. The San Francisco Zoo entrance is actually right across the street from the Pacific Ocean–and not the Pacific Ocean they have in San Diego. While this makes it nice and easy to work in some sand castles and a beach picnic after your zoo visit, keep in mind that on a cooler day (which we get many of in San Francisco, particularly in July) there will be a coastal breeze blowing through the zoo. Make sure everyone in your family will be warm enough to enjoy their time outdoors.
4. Plan a strategic play break at the sandy playground. If your toddler begins resisting the stroller, or refuses to stay near you as you walk, just make a pit stop at the massive playground area for some free play time. The playground has suitable areas for toddlers as well as big kids, not to mention family restrooms that include diaper changing tables beneath heat lamps (yes, believe me on point 3!).
5. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, head to the “South American Tropical Forest,” where a warm and balmy indoor world awaits many a chilly traveler. Just watch out for the enormous yellow anaconda – I can’t imagine what they’re feeding it.
6. Rent a wagon or a stroller for your visit. Wagon and stroller rentals are available at $10 / day, available on a first-come first-served basis.
7. Check the daily schedule if you’d like to attend the penguing, pelican, or giraffe feedings, or see snack time for the grizzlies. In addition, the San Francisco Zoo is offering these summer events, from June through September:
Summer Programming in the Children’s Zoo
10:30 a.m. Barnyard Stampede – Family Farm
11:00 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. Nature Trail is DAILY starting June 9, then weekends only through Labor Day – Children’s Zoo
11:15 a.m. Hatchery Tour – Family Farm
2:30 p.m. Incredible Insects in Action – Insect Zoo
3:30 p.m. Pond Feeding – Family Farm
4:00 p.m. Keeper Talk: Raptors! – Hawk Hill
Wildlife Theatre (June – September)
2:00 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
8. Combine your visit to the San Francisco Zoo with a stop at these other favorites in the same vicinity:
- Fort Funston – Dog and hang glider paradise, just south of the zoo.
- The Wilhelmina Windmill at the west end of Golden Gate Park – next to the kid-friendly Beach Chalet/Park chalet restaurant (more info in linked post).
- Driving loop for north central SF – Golden Gate Bridge, Park, Beaches & More
- More San Francisco recommendations from Travels with Baby
For more information about the San Francisco Zoo, visit their website at: http://www.sfzoo.org/.
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