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San Francisco Zoo: What You'll Find at this SF Attraction

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: July 20, 2021

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The San Francisco Zoo is a great SF attraction for kids of all ages. It's located next to the Pacific Ocean on the western side of the city.

The zoo is full of interesting animals, including everything from giraffes to an endangered snow leopard. At the zoo, you can also ride the carousel, take a trip on the little puffer steam train, and hear stories about the animals.

How big is the SF Zoo? They currently house around 2,000 animals with about 250 different species. The grounds cover around 100 acres.

Due to its size, I recommend setting aside at least 3 to 4 hours to cover the entire attraction.

You can get through it in just a couple of hours, but it's more fun to spend additional time just admiring the animals here.

Admission Tickets

Sign at the entrance of the San Francisco Zoo

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

At this time, you must purchase your tickets online and in advance of your visit to the San Francisco Zoo. You will have to enter the date and time that you want to visit it. 

Ticket Prices

  • Adults (12 - 64): $25
  • Seniors (65+): $20
  • Children (2 - 11): $18
  • Children (under 2): Free
  • Active and retired Military members receive $3 off the usual ticket price.

>> You can also find advanced tickets on GetYourGuide

Hours

It is open 365 days a year including Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Their regular hours are:

  • Mid-March to October: 10 am to 5 pm
  • November to Mid-March: 10 am to 4 pm

Parking at the San Francisco Zoo

Another thing to note is that there is a fee for parking right at the zoo. The cost for parking during the week is $11. The cost on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays is $13. They have valet parking on weekends and holidays for $25.

San Francisco Zoo Exhibits

The San Francisco Zoo is organized into seven different areas. Within each one, you will find several exhibits dedicated to a specific group of animals. Click the links below to jump ahead to each section and to learn more about the animals you will find there.

Primate Discovery Center

The Primate Discovery Center is one of the first exhibits you'll see when you enter the zoo. The different species of monkeys are all in separate areas and it's fun to watch them socialize with others in their community.

Here you'll find everything from chimpanzees relaxing in the sun to the colorful faces of the mandrills. Other highlights in this San Francisco Zoo exhibit include a variety of lemurs as well as the Leapin' Lemur Cafe.

Chimpanzee hanging out at the San Francisco Zoo
Mandrills at the San Francisco Zoo

African Region

The African region is a large complex full of giraffes, zebras, and gorillas. The area is really open with a lot of great spots to see the animals. It's one of the first areas you will find when you enter the San Francisco Zoo.

Inside this region, you will find Gorilla Preserve, the Giraffe Lodge, and the African Savannah. Other highlights here include the African Aviary and Hoofstock Barn which is home to our ostriches.

Here are just a few photos from my last visit.

Giraffe hanging out at the San Francisco Zoo
The large male gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo
The zebras at the San Francisco Zoo.

Cat Kingdom

The Cat Kingdom is another highlight of the San Francisco Zoo. Here you will find the tigers, lions, and snow leopards. You will also find Penguin Island and two species of endangered rhinos.

Most of the large, endangered (and dangerous!) cats are behind glass and fences, so it's tough to get a photo of them. However, here are a couple of photos of the penguins and a great photo of the black rhino, who was new and just couldn't wait to get his photo taken!

Penguins at the San Francisco Zoo
More penguins hanging out on penguin island at the San Francisco Zoo

Bear Country

There are currently four bears that call the San Francisco Zoo home. You will find two black bears as well as two grizzly bears. You can also check out Wolf Canyon and the Chacoan peccary area.

Another highlight of Bear Country is Eagle Island. During my visit, I was able to see two bald eagles hanging out on the island. This picture shows you how close you can get to them.

One of the bald eagles hanging out on Eagle Island at the San Francisco Zoo.

Outback Trail

The Outback Trail features several animals from Down Under. Here you will find kangaroos and cassowaries. My favorite part of this area is Koala Crossing. That's where I saw this little guy taking a nap.

Koala sleeping during the day at the San Francisco Zoo

What I learned when I was at the zoo is that koalas are nocturnal. This means they sleep during the day and stay awake all night. So, all of the koalas were sleeping during my visit, but it gave me a chance to get a close-up view of them in their little bedrooms.

South America

The South America exhibit in the San Francisco Zoo features animals from South America. You will find the sloths, an anaconda and free flight birds in the South American Rainforest and Aviary. Other things to see here include guanacos, anteaters, and capybara.

Exploration Zone, Also Called the Children's Zoo

The Children's Zoo is where you can learn even more about the animals. They have several interactive displays and exhibits designed for learning.

The Children's Zoo sign at the SF Zoo

Here you can watch communities of meerkats and prairie dogs interact. You can also step inside the Insect Zoo, visit Hawk Hill, stop by the Animal Resource Center, and learn more at the Family Farm.

Another popular stop is Carousel Plaza, where you can ride the newly restored Dentzel Carousel.

Animal Talks and Feeding Schedule*

Although subject to change, here are the times and locations where you can usually watch the trainers feed the animals.

  • 10:15 am: Red Panda at the Exploration Zone
  • 10:30 am: Barnyard Stampede at the Family Farm and Penguins at Penguin Island
  • 10:45 am: Wolverine at the Wolverine Exhibit
  • 11 am: Grizzly Bear Feeding at Hearst Grizzly Gulch
  • 11:15 am: Chimpanzee talk at the Great Ape Passage and the Animal Encounter at the Family Farm
  • 12:30 pm: Sifaka at the Sifaka Exhibit and the Prairie Dog and Meerkat show at the Exploration Zone
  • 2 pm: South American Animals at Puente al Sur and Animal Encounter at the ARC Exploration Zone
  • 2:15 pm: Mandrills at the Mandrill Exhibit
  • 2:30 pm: Incredible Insects in Action at the Insect Zoo and Big Cat at the Lion House
  • 3 pm: Rainforest Animals at S.A. Tropical Rainforest and Aviary and Animal Encounters at the Family Farm
  • 3:30 pm: Penguins at Penguin Island
  • 4:45 pm: Giraffe Lodge Open House at Bernard Osher Giraffe Lodge

*NOTE: These can change or be cancelled at anytime. We offer this list as a way to give you an idea on what to expect during your visit. Please ask at the front desk to confirm these times and locations for the day of your visit.

More Ways to Enjoy Your Experience

Little Puffer Steam Train: This fun train ride will take you past the animals and around the San Francisco Zoo. The train is almost 100-years old and is a fun treat for kids of all ages. You can buy tickets for the train upon arrival.

Dentzel Carousel: Take a spin on the San Francisco Zoo's carousel. This historic gem is also almost 100-years old. You will find it near the Children's Zoo. You can buy tickets upon arrival.

Elinor Friend Playground: Spend some time goofing around at the Elinor Friend Playground. Access to the playground is free with your San Francisco Zoo admission ticket. There are three distinct areas. The first is for toddlers, the second for preschoolers, and the third is for pre-teens.

Zoo Keys: One of the things I love about this zoo are the interactive Storybooks that start with Zoo Keys. You can pick up your Zoo Key when you arrive.

Tours: The San Francisco Zoo also offers four different walking and informational tours. They are offered at different times and dates depending on the season. Visit their website for details and to sign up for one of these fun tours. Zoo admission is included in the prices of some of these tours.

BikeAbouts: Enjoy a 90-minute bike ride through the zoo as your guide teaches you everything you wanted to know about all these amazing animals. These run from April to October.

Senior Stroll: If you are 65 or older, you are in for a treat! You will be able to take this tour without almost no one else in the zoo since it is early in the morning. These are very limited and only run each quarter of the year on the 2nd Thursday.

Annual Events at the San Francisco Zoo

In addition to all of the fun happening every day here, they also offer up several fun annual events and activities. Here are just a few of the most popular ones each year.

Boo at the Zoo: Throw on your best costume and head to Boo at the Zoo. This annual event features trick or treating, a haunted nature trail, and Halloween crafts. One of the crowd favorites every year is the Pumpkin Chomp N' Stomp where the animals get their chance to have some fun. Find dates for this and other fun kid's activities for Halloween.

Zoo Lights: Celebrate the holidays with Zoo Lights. This annual event is in the evening and features plenty of activities. Not only with the zoo be lit, but Santa will visit and it will be snowing in certain areas. Find dates for this year and additional details.

My Review of the San Francisco Zoo

Is the San Francisco Zoo worth it? You can't beat a day full of fun for the little ones at the San Francisco Zoo. You could spend hours on end just watching the animals playing around. I think it's absolutely worth it if you are traveling with kids.

As an adult, I really enjoy it too. I typically spend about 3 hours here each time I visit. My favorite areas are Bear Country and the Primate Discovery Center. It's so interesting to watch these animals in a setting that is safe and enjoyable.

Plus, I love learning more during the daily talks they offer. There are several a day and they are free with admission, so make sure to check them out when you arrive.

I also often interact with the trainers or employees when I see them. Even if it isn't during an official talk, I've learned quite a bit from them over the years.

Hotels Near San Francisco Zoo

If you are interested in staying nearby, there are a couple of great options just a few blocks away.

Ocean Park Motel

Ocean park hotel in SF near the Zoo

The highest rated lodging option near the zoo is the Ocean Park Motel. This motel is about two and a half blocks from the entrance to the zoo.

It's warm, comfortable, and an exceptional value for the money. Here are just a few of the amenities you'll find at the Ocean Park Motel:

  • Free parking
  • Pets allowed
  • Some offer full kitchens
  • Entirely smoke-free facility

This is a quiet, secluded motel to relax in after a long day of sightseeing in San Francisco.

It's also right across the street from the L-Taraval Muni stop, which gives you easy access to downtown San Francisco.

Find the best deal and book your room today at the Ocean Park Motel.

Other Top SF Hotels

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Booking: Find great deals all around San Francisco for your upcoming stay

Getting to the Zoo

The two best ways to get to the San Francisco Zoo are by public transportation and by driving.

Public Transportation: The best way to get to the SF Zoo from downtown San Francisco is by taking the L-Taraval train. The final stop for the L train drops you off about a block from the zoo entrance.

You can pick up the L train at any underground Muni station along Market Street. It will take you about 30 minutes to get to the SF Zoo from downtown San Francisco.

Transit map to SF Zoo

Driving: There is plenty of parking both on the street and in the parking lot at the San Francisco Zoo. As I mentioned above, there is a charge for parking in the official zoo parking lot. If you park on the street, you'll want to check the permit parking signs to see how many hours you can stay before getting a ticket.

Weather at the San Francisco Zoo & What to Wear

The San Francisco Zoo is on the far western side of the city. This part of town is often much cooler and windier than on the eastern end. On some days, it will be up to 10 degrees cooler on this side of SF.

I highly recommend coming prepared for a cool, windy day. Since our temperatures are mild, you will find it ranges from around 50 degrees to the mid-60s out here most of the year. 

In the Summer, expect this area to be covered in fog for a good portion of the day. This will make the temperatures feel cool and it's usually in the mid to lower 60s out here in the Summer months.

In the Winter, expect it to be partly overcast with cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean. You will also want to prepare for some rain out here in the Winter months.

Spring and Fall are both mild with a bit more sun and a little bit warmer temperatures. 

To prepare, make sure to wear and bring along layers. You'll want to bring along light jackets that you can add and remove as the temperature changes. I'd also wear long pants and comfortable walking shoes. 

Restaurants Nearby

Brother’s Pizza: The Sangha brothers have been running their amazing pizza parlor for over 30 years! Along with the “usual” pizzas, pastas, salads, Indian food, and everyday fare, their food is unique in that they’ve mixed Indian food in with it.

If you are adventurous, you might want to check out some of them like the “Chicken Tikka Masala”, “Tandoori Chicken”, or the “Indian Style Vegetarian” pizzas. We love places that experiment and try something new. If you do also, make sure to check out Brother’s Pizza. 3627 Taraval Street

Chalos: We love going to Chalos since eating somewhere different is in our blood. While you will find many restaurants in SF that focus on food from Mexico, Chalos focused on food from Argentina.

Some of their specialties include their yummy churros, empanadas, and our favorite drink, the Dulce de Leche Latte! The husband-and-wife team that wanted to spread their enjoyment of this delicious food with everyone else. 2240 Taraval Street

Cypress Grill: If you want some classic San Francisco treats, such as clam chowder or crab cakes, and want an amazing view of the golf course, then this is the place for you. Some of our other favorites include the spicy fried chicken on a brioche bun.

It is a great place to stop before, or after, a game of golf since it is right there. They also have a great happy hour, and They have both indoor and outdoor dining. An added bonus is that parking is free. 99 Harding Road

History of the San Francisco Zoo

Established in 1929, it was originally named the “Herbert Fleishhacker Zoo” after its founder. It officially took the name of the “San Francisco Zoological Gardens” in 1941 because Fleishhacker suggested it as he’d rather it be known as a zoo for the whole city.

The first two directors were a wild animal collector named George Bistany, and then a famous zoologist named Edmund Heller. As they slowly built the zoo, there were a lot of restrictions, and the animals were kept in very small enclosures.

It originally only had 10 buildings which included animals such as birds, elephants, lions, an island for monkeys, and a small lake for water animals like otters or beavers. There was also a restaurant and not much more.

However, as new leaders took over, and people learned more about the natural habitats of how these animals live, the zoo adapted and began to expand, be more realistic to the animals’ homes, and more caring towards them also. As you can see now, especially compared to the early incarnation of the zoo, it is much more impressive and expensive!

Something that every visitor love is that, even after all these changes, there is still bits of history left her at the San Francisco Zoo. Some of these touches include the handmade wooden Dentzel Carousel from 1921, the Little Puffer miniature steam train from 1904 (this is so fun to ride!), and a few other special buildings and sites.

The zoo continues to update and change to be helpful to the animals who live there and to the people who visit them each day.

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