The first part of my guide to the Ione and Paul Harter’s Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo was teased as evidence that the area isn’t just for kids. While that’s certainly true, there is also a very family-friendly atmosphere at the Children’s Zoo that many parents should take advantage of. Hands-on interactions, learning opportunities and places to burn off some energy abound. Read on to find out more.
Again, the Children’s Zoo is located in the Discovery Outpost area in the southern most area of the zoo. To get there, walk south past the Skyfari East station and look for the sign on the left side. You will also see a short arched bridge over a pond with the “Boy And Gull” bronze statue. The area isn’t specifically labeled on the zoo map, so you’ll need to look for the red Clark Theater banner in the lower left corner of your map.
In fact, the first attraction for kids is found on the bridge. Wait for a few moments and several streams of water will shoot overhead, forming a tight arc of water that will leave patrons underneath dry. Continue on past the bridge and marmoset house and you will come across the Discovery Playground on your left. You can’t miss it—your young kids won’t let you. The playground was retrofitted a few years back and now features a tiki theme. Your kids will enjoy walking bridges, a slide, climbing nets and more, while you get the chance to take a load off on a nice, shady bench.
Older children may find more to like in the Petting Paddock, a traditional petting zoo. Whereas the Safari Park’s Petting Kraal has mostly deer, the Petting Paddock at the zoo is for barnyard animals. (Two different styles of petting zoos is yet another reason why the zoo/SP tandem is so great.) Inside, you will find goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, miniature horses and more goats. The rabbits can be pet through the bars of their cage, while the pigs and mini horses are kept away from prying hands. The goats are plenty intrepid though, and finding one to pet is not a problem. The sheep are part of the petting area as well, but are often huddled in the safe zone where animals go when they need a break from visitors.
Pro Tip: Washing your hands at the sink is a must after petting the animals, but don’t forget to watch where you step. Your kids may not be so aware, so watch them even closer.
Apart from the Petting Paddock, there are a few other animal encounters that are very kid friendly. One of these is the Mouse House that features a large loaf of bread carved out to resemble a house. The naked mole rat exhibit showcases their tunnel systems and rooms with specific purposes, such as bedrooms, bathrooms and pantries. The prairie dogs are fun to observe as a sort of North American equivalent to the meerkat (which can also be found in the CZ), even if the gardener inside you shudders a bit at the sight. Kids will also love watching from the underwater viewing area as the North American river otter and spot-necked otter dart around playfully.
Fun Fact: River otters can be domesticated and trained to catch fish and birds for their owner.
The shows at the zoo are all designed to be family friendly, but none more so than the Dr. Zoolittle Children’s Show, which runs at 11:00 am, 12:00, 1:00 and 2:00 pm daily during the summer, weekends and school holidays. You will find this show in the teardrop-shaped Clark Theater. The “physician of fun” uses humor to introduce you and your children to a number of animals with unique adaptations and behaviors. The doctor frequently enlists volunteers on-stage lend a helping hand. This is another great way to entertain and educate your kids while you rest your weary legs (it’s a big zoo, after all!).
There are a ton of great places to pose for photos. There are statues galore and plenty of those cutouts you put your head though—even colorful macaws that make for a great backdrop. Your photos will be further enhanced if you go to the face painting booth located outside the CZ entrance.
Finally, no Children’s Zoo would be complete without some information on how to help the environment. Surprisingly, the CZ is fairly light on this topic compared to a few of the institutions that I’ve written about before, namely the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Much of the zoo’s environmental causes are championed in newer areas like Polar Bear Plunge and Elephant Odyssey. You will, however, find some information in the Compost Garden on turning your organic waste into a great mulch, along with their worm bins to show you how it’s done.
Check back soon to read the final post in my guide to the Children’s Zoo about the excellent bug house, Spineless Marvels.