COVID Safe Fun at the Oakland Zoo

As the vaccine continue to roll out, the cases lessen, and the world begins to open up, there are more activities in the Bay Area that are open for some COVID safe fun.  Recently my kids on break wanted an outing that “wasn’t just another hike”.  My friend suggested the Oakland Zoo and we were sold.  We spent two hours and I can say it was one of the most fun, and safe outdoor fun activities we have done in a long time.  Check out why the Oakland Zoo is the prefect COVID activity with kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

COVID Considerations

With the current public health crisis still ongoing, the Oakland Zoo has made several changes you need to be aware of before enjoying a day at the zoo.  The changes do not lesson the joy of the zoo, but do require you to be prepared with some changes and do some planning:

Reservations:  You can not enter the zoo without a reservation.  And they go quickly.  You can purchase the reservation on the website.  The tickets with times and dates are non-refundable so be sure you pick the right date and time.  Also be aware that they will require you to purchase parking at the time of the ticket.  If you do not purchase parking, you will not be able to enter the lot unless on foot or via public transit, and there is no place nearby to park.  The tickets are a timed entry, but they do not limit your time in the park.  If you wish to spend a full day, you will need to be sure to select an earlier timeframe.  Since we booked our tickets last minute, we were only able to get a 3pm time slot, and two hours was not enough time to explore all we wanted to see.  3:30 pm is the last entry time available in the system. 

Closures:  The play areas, including Adventure Playland and the Skyride, are currently closed at this time.  This is to comply with social distancing.  In addition, the smaller food stands around the park are also closed at this time.  You can still purchase food, but at the main café at the entrance, and at the Landing Café at the top of the Gondola.  All the animals, however, are out in full view. 

Arial photo of the rides at the Oakland Zoo
The rides in Adventure Landing are closed for now

Face Masks and Social Distancing:  It should be no surprise now that face masks will be required.  I would say that everyone was complying with the face mask mandates, and I saw very few mask-less people or under-the-nosers.  In addition, there are markers everywhere to encourage social distance and marking off where pods should stand, especially where lines tend to form.  In addition, there were extra barriers around animals that are sensitive to COVID-19, making sure people not only distanced from each other, but from the animal’s enclosures as well.  And all throughout the park were hand sanitizing stations. Note, you are only allowed to eat in designated areas, away from the main path.  You may remove your face mask only when actively eating or drinking.   

Young girls in front of flamingos
Masks were required and enforced

Main Attractions

Now that I told you all that is closed, you may wonder what is open?  Well, the most exciting part of the zoo, the animals!  I would say that with the capacity at the zoo limited, and the timed entry controlling the crowds, I found the exhibits much more fun and agreeable.  Without a lot of shouting children and less people, the animals are freer, coming out and playing a bit more than I have seen in the past.  A few of the highlights

Monkeys, Chimpanzees and More!

Siamang and Chipanzees
The Siamangs and Chimpanzees were out and playing
They even had a fight!

Flamingos and Giraffes

The flamingos and giraffes are some of my favorites in the zoo.  They are in open enclosures that allows you to view them almost up close and in their element.

The beautiful African Spoonbill flamingos are right at the entrance, and great you when you come into the zoo
The giraffes may be my favorite; I love to watch these graceful creatures walk along the enclosure

The California Trail

This is new since our last visit.  Opened in 2018, it includes animals that are native to the California Area. 

Animals from the California Trail at the Oakland Zoo
There were wolves, grizzly bears, bald eagles, and even the almost extinct and saved California Condor
Dinosaurs at the Oakland Zoo
The kids however, also got a kick out of the dinosaur area with replicas of the great beasts and the opportunity to become dino-chow

The Gondola

Opening in 2017, it is the only way up to the California Trail, but it is a treat in and of itself.  It provides 360-degree views of the Bay Area as you travel to the top of the hill.  One side is open and gated, allowing fresh air in.  They will only put one group in the Gondola at the time, so you will not be placed with strangers.  I went with a friend and her daughter, and we felt safe together because of the open air. 

Images from the Gondola at the Oakland Zoo
The Gondola Ride is one of the best parts of the zoo, beautiful views of the Bay, open air, and one of the few ways to see the Buffalo


Glowfari was a new event intended for the holiday season.  Unfortunately, due to the California Health Order, it was postponed.  It opened in February and is still open until March 13.  Unfortunately, it looks sold out, but through that time you can still enjoy these beautiful decorations during your visit in the daytime.  Update: The Oakland Zoo has confirmed it will return in November of this year!

Pictures from Glowfari at the Oakland Zoo
The beautiful fixtures for Glowfari are up all over the zoo to enjoy, even though they are not lite up during the day

At the end of the day, we had a fantastic two hours in the zoo, much more fun than any of us had expected.  The kids were upset at the end that the two hours went so quickly, and they were not able to see all of the zoo.  Some took it harder than others.  But in the end, we are glad we had a day that was different than the Groundhog Day we have been living repeatedly for almost a year.  Sure, things have changed, and we are all learning to live in our new normal.  But it is nice to get out and almost escape for a while, in a safe, outdoor activity, that is fun for everyone. 

* Some photos taken by my friend L.T. who joined us with her daughter. Photos shared with her permission

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that allows me to earn a small commission at no cost to you. I only link to products I would or have used myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. You can read the full disclaimer here.

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