Opened in November 1966, the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens is one of the city’s most popular destinations, drawing nearly two millions visitors each year, and for good reason. It is home to more than 1,400 animals representing some 270 species, many rare or endangered. So whatever your favorite - meerkats or mandrills, komodo dragons or kangaroos - chances are you’ll get to see them here. Cool, overcast days offer some of the best viewing opportunities. But even on a hot summer afternoon there's tons to see and do. The L.A. Zoo is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year except Christmas Day.
The Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens spans 113 acres. There's lots of walking, so comfortable shoes are a must. You can rent single and double strollers near the entrance - the cost is $10 for the single for the day and $14 for the double. The zoo also allows visitors to bring in wagons and other adult controlled ride-on toys if you want to push your kid around in their beloved plastic fire truck. Another option is the Safari Shuttle, which stops at six different spots along the perimeter of the zoo. There is an additional charge to use the shuttle. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2.50 for kids 2-12. But you can ride it as often as you like.
Instead of trying to do the entire zoo in a single visit, choose a few animals you really want to see and take your time. The playful chimpanzees are always a crowd pleaser - “Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains” has been hailed by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall as one of the finest chimpanzee habitats in the country.
There are numerous opportunities to learn more about your favorite animals. The schedule of presentations and keeper talks changes daily and is available on the zoo's website. Note that not every demonstration takes place every day.
One to keep an eye out for is the Elephant Care Demonstration. At 11am every day (except Tuesdays and Thursdays), visitors can stop by the Wasserman Family Thai Pavilion and learn how the zoo keeps six-ton pachyderms happy and healthy. The zoo recently celebrated World Elephant Day (August 12) with two days of festivities that highlighted the Elephants of Asia exhibit and offered fun activities and learning experiences.
Kids will never forget the Giraffe Feeding Experience, which takes place twice daily: 11am to 1pm, and 2-4pm. Get up close and personal with these graceful giants for just $5 (cash only).
There are two parts to the California Condor Rescue Zone, located inside the zoo entrance. In the larger of the two rooms, kids become condors, foraging for (fake) meat hidden in cavities in the cliff walls. Older kids like to climb those same walls. In the second room, kids don white lab coats to tend to "injured" stuffed animal condors. They can also see a live camera feed of the zoo’s condors and enter a pretend bird blind, the sort scientists use to observe bird populations. The attraction is open Friday through Sunday as well as major holidays. But during the busy summer season, it is open seven days a week.
Take a cue from zoo staff and hit Reggie’s Bistro for lunch. Named for the zoo's famous North American alligator and located at the International Marketplace near the zoo entrance, the ultra casual eatery offers an appealing menu of sandwiches, wraps, and salads. The kitchen also turns out some pretty bodacious burgers, including a hearty black bean entry. There are several options just for the kids. And grown-ups can even enjoy craft beer or a glass of wine. If you prefer to bring your own lunch, there are plenty of tables just inside the entrance and several shaded areas throughout the grounds. No glass bottles or aluminum cans please.
Kids can get up close and personal with sheep and goats at Muriel’s Ranch. (An adult is required to enter with them.) There are brushes for grooming. Be sure to stop by the Animal Care Center nearby. Most zoo visitors skip the center altogether, but often you can see some amazing things. Recent visitors witnessed a baby colobus monkey, who was born weak, being bottle-fed - not something you get to see every day.
If you fancy birds, be sure to check out the World of Birds Show, scheduled every day except Tuesday. The kid friendly comedic and educational show, which stars various macaws, parrots and hawks, lasts about 15 minutes and takes place in a large amphitheater with ample seating.
Acquiring tickets to the Hippo Encounter Tour, which is offered weekends and holidays at noon, does require some advance planning. Tickets go on sale two months in advance and are very limited. The tour gives visitors a unique chance to meet resident hippo Mara and her daughter Rosie, who was born in 2014. Participants even get to pet a hippo. Rest assured this is all done under the watchful eyes of an experienced zookeeper - the hippos are in their enclosure the entire time. Children must be at least four years old to participate.
If you have a kid who is constantly clamoring to go to the zoo, why not send them to Summer Zoo Camp? Offered for kids age 4 to 12, the day camp is offered throughout the summer months as well as for one week each over winter and spring break, following the Los Angeles Unified School District calendar. Pricing is $280 per week for zoo members, $310/week for non-members.
You can also spend the night at the zoo. The popular Creature Camp Outs run from Saturday early evening to Sunday morning and tickets go quickly. The zoo provides spacious tents and a substantial breakfast. Guests also enjoy a special close-up animal visit and lots of fun nighttime activities. Can you say, night vision goggles and make your own ice cream from scratch?
The annual Family Jam is a nighttime, all-ages ticketed party that includes kids’ karaoke, a chance for attendees to create their own animal inspired artwork to take home, food trucks (at an additional charge), and of course the opportunity to see the zoo’s residents after dark.
Animal lovers come in all shapes and sizes, so the zoo hosts several adults-only events like the popular Roaring Nights music series for the 21 and older crowd. Starting at 8pm, guests will enjoy live bands, three dance areas, interactive art gallery, full bars and food trucks. '80s Night on September 14 is a favorite, featuring DJ Richard Blade, '80s covers by Flashback Heart Attack, and more - big hair and Flashdance inspired attire are encouraged.
Brew at the L.A. Zoo, which took place on August 3 this year, offers 5-ounce samples of 40+ local breweries, paired with pub-style grub, live music, DJs, pop-up zookeeper talks and close-up animal encounters.
If you are a family of four with school-age kids and you plan to visit the zoo more than once in the coming months, it is well worth becoming a member at the Family level. You’ll enjoy unlimited free visits during your membership, express zoo entry, members' only exhibit previews, docent led tours, discounts at zoo gift shops and restaurants, and free or discounted admission to more than 170 zoos and aquariums, including 15 in California.