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Must-See Zoos and Aquariums in the San Francisco Bay Area

Must-See Zoos and Aquariums in the San Francisco Bay Area

Discover mysterious creatures of the Pacific and view exotic animals from around the world at the best zoos and aquariums in the Bay Area. Team


6 min read

July 15, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination, and consider donating to zoos, aquariums, museums, and other educational institutions that may be closed. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

What better way to boost your mood than by spending a lovely weekend in the S.F. Bay Area with your family and friends? It’s pretty hard to imagine something better, especially since many Bay Area attractions belong on your bucket list. You won’t regret taking an opportunity to see the awe-inspiring wildlife inhabiting the region’s zoos and aquariums—you can discover mysterious creatures of the Pacific before chilling with exotic animals from around the world discover mysterious creatures of the Pacific before chilling with exotic animals from around the world. So, enjoy a weekend with the family and head to the best zoos and aquariums in the Bay Area.


View African elephants, American bison, California condors, and other fascinating creatures at the renowned Oakland Zoo.


Address: 9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland

Hours: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. | Weekends and Holidays, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Ticket prices: General admission—Adults ages 15–64, $24 | Seniors ages 65–75, $20 | Ages 76 and over, free | Children ages 2–14, $20 | Children ages 3 and under, free

The Oakland Zoo promotes wildlife exploration but also values the preservation of more than 750 native and exotic animals. The zoo is managed by the Conservation Society of California and features an outstanding animal-care program with the largest wild animal veterinary facility in North America. 

Thanks to the fun attractions at the Oakland Zoo, time will fly by in the blink of an eye. The zoo’s Adventure Landing—an animal-themed adventure park—has something for everyone (the admission hours differ from the park hours). If you like soaring high in the sky to admire stellar views, go for a ride on the Tiger Trek roller coaster. If roller coasters aren’t enough for you, get an extra adrenaline boost and go retro racing. For something a bit more mellow, the Conservation Carousel features a leisurely ride with elephants, tigers, and an ostrich. 

Also, make sure to take a scenic gondola ride up to the newest exhibit: the California Trail, which highlights the ecological history of the state and houses American buffalo, jaguars, grizzly bears, California condors, and more.

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Address: Sloat Boulevard at the Great Highway, San Francisco

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Ticket prices: With S.F. residency—Adults ages 15–64, $20 | Seniors ages 65 and over, $14.50 | Children ages 4–14, $13.50 | Children ages 3 and under, free. (Prices for non-S.F. residents differ.)

Home to over 2,000 exotic flora and fauna varieties, this 1,000-acre urban oasis is located in the southwestern corner of San Francisco, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The San Francisco Zoo and Gardens allows for much more than just admiring the wildlife. Featuring a state-of-the-art,  three-acre African Savanna exhibit; the four-story Osher Rainforest; and lush gardens, the zoo gives visitors an opportunity to connect with the wondrous wilderness. Is there anything better than feeding a red panda, admiring birds (especially the American pelicans, who have a nine-foot wingspan), or watching cute penguins inhabit their own tiny island? We think not, so spend your time wisely amongst these adorable animals.

The fun doesn’t stop here—for those interested in studying life-like sculptures of living organisms, go to the Sculpture Learning Plaza. The Leanne B. Roberts African Savanna is also one of the most popular exhibitions. Featuring African wildlife living in an open-spaced harmonious environment, this exhibit lets you observe giraffes, zebras, kudus, crowned cranes, ostriches, and marabou stork.


Address: Cubberley Community Center, 4050 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. | Sunday, 1–4 p.m.

Ticket price: There’s a suggested $5 donation per person.

Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo is the perfect place to go with your kids. Aside from housing over 200 indigenous species—such as bobcats, hedgehogs, a giant tortoise, and raccoons—the institution also boasts a 2,500-square-foot indoor exhibition that gives kids an opportunity to learn through a fun and engaging process. The displays here are designed to help children better connect with nature and experience science through hands-on lessons.

The zoo is relatively small in size, which makes it even more attractive for parents. Your kids won’t easily get lost and will be able to stay alert and focused during their entire exploratory experience. The zoo even offers programs for communities and schools and hosts summer camps, workshops, and family birthday parties. 



Head to San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39 to admire colorful jellyfish, sevengill sharks, sting rays, and more.


Address: Pier 39, San Francisco

Hours: Daily, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Ticket prices: Adults ages 13–64, $29.25 | Seniors ages 65+, $24.25 | Children ages 4–12, $19.25 | Children ages 3 and under, free

Exploring the enchanting aquatic ecosystem of the Bay Area is a great way to unwind and relax this weekend. The top-notch Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco is among the best attractions for kids and adults in the Golden State and is home to more than 20,000 wonders of the marine world. 

Stars of the show include sharks, octopi, and jellyfish. The aquarium will wow you with its walk-through tunnel exhibitions, featuring transparent touch pools uncovering the secrets of the deep waters. On Sunday, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, you can also watch tunnel feeding—skilled zoo specialists feed the tunnel aquarium’s sharks, rays, and fish. Visit the largest predator of the aquarium, the sevengill shark, or learn more about octopi during the naturalist-led Octopus Chat. 

This San Francisco aquarium also features several exciting exhibitions, including the local favorites Go With the Flow and Under the Bay. Get inspired by the ocean’s fascinating residents, enjoy the sight of the stunning moon jellies (jellyfish), or walk through the 300-foot-long acrylic tunnel. With all of the exciting things happening here, we know you’ll be back to explore some more.  


Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco

Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. | Sunday, 11 a.m.– 5 p.m.

Ticket price: $30–$36

Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Steinhart Aquarium has firmly established its place among the top Bay Area aquariums. The aquarium boasts the largest and deepest indoor reef in the world—the Phillippine Coral Reef. It’s also home to the endangered African penguins (they’re adorable, and they need saving) and nearly 40,000 other animals that represent more than 900 unique species. This exhibition showcases the captivating blue coral forest and now includes an improved dive show and new creatures living in the “Hidden Reef.”

The Golden Gate Aquarium, located on the first floor of the California Academy of Sciences, offers an additional array of galleries and exhibits to enhance your family weekend activities. (Can’t make it to the aquarium in-person? Explore the world’s richest tropical marine life via the Steinhart Aquarium’s live streaming service.)

Get a glimpse into the marine life of Monterey at the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium, which houses 80,000-plus plants and animals.


Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Ticket prices: Adults ages 18–64, $49.95 | Youths ages 13–17, $39.95 | Seniors ages 65+, $39.95 | Children ages 5–12, $34.95 | Children ages 4 and under, free

Situated along the Monterey Bay, close to the popular Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is famous for being the first to exhibit the majestic blue and golden kelp forest in 1984, which is still open to the public. The aquarium houses 200-plus other exhibits and over 80,000 plants and animals, including moon jellies, sea otters, and many coral reefs. 

The focus here continues to be on Monterey Bay marine habitats, offering a peek into the worlds of sea creatures through educational shows, special exhibits, and close encounters. At this incredible aquarium, watch the leopard sharks effortlessly glide through the water and try to spot the sea bass, also known as “the king of the ocean.” (Fun fact: the sea bass is the Golden State’s largest bony fish).

If you want to view the animals from the comfort of your home, too, you can explore the aquarium via the website’s live streaming service. To watch playful penguins hop in and out of the aquarium or to catch sharks swim about, just let the magic begin

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