When the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in October 2012, they did it with the unlikeliest of good luck charms: a baby françois’ langur. The tiny monkey had been born at the San Francisco Zoo, and its arrival coincided with a winning streak for the Giants. In honor of this serendipitous connection, the zoo named the orange-headed monkey Romo, after the relief pitcher who clinched the World Series championship. Today, guests to the San Francisco Zoo can visit Romo and several of her monkey buddies at the Doelger Primate Discovery Center, which is just one of dozens of meticulously crafted animal exhibits.
Amid verdant city parks and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the zoo has been a part of the San Francisco community since it opened in 1929. Nearly 700 species of animals crawl, swim, and fly over its nearly 100 acres. Visitors traversing the space can explore elaborate exhibits and attempt to telepathically communicate with anything from birds and reptiles to invertebrates and mammals, including hippos, polar bears, and big cats.
One of the zoo’s most impressive habitats is the 3-acre African Savanna, which recreates a sprawling natural environment for free-roaming giraffes, zebras, kudu, and ostriches. Nearby, lemurs swing and leap through the treetops inside one of the country’s largest outdoor lemur habitats. In the Hearst Grizzly Gulch, panes of transparent plexiglas separate visitors from enormous Montana-born grizzly bear sisters Kachina and Kiona.
Enhanced by 360-degree CGI projections surrounding a circular stage, J.M. Barrie's production of Peter Pan promises kid-thrilling action and an adult-pleasing retelling of the classic story. Stage-watchers view the more than two-hour production from tiered seats in the show's special Threesixty Theatre, allowing multifaceted actors to use extra faces to full effect. A talented cast enacts the parts of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Tinker Bell with panache, and puppeteers manipulate a lifelike model of the original clock-hungry crocodile. This show is not recommended for children 5 or younger.
A group of teachers and parents founded Habitot Children's Museum in 1998 with one specific mission in mind: to foster children up to 6 years old by encouraging their creativity and natural curiosity. Today, the 4,000-square-foot museum backs up this mission with research—gleaned from studies by scientists, psychologists, and educators—positing that healthy play spurs social skills, creative thinking, and problem solving, laying the foundation for kids to succeed later in life and imprison boogeymen in their booby-trapped closet tomorrow.
At Habitot, kids find such opportunities at small-scale exhibits and themed play areas throughout the museum. Aspiring firefighters steer a small-scale truck, race through a pretend burning building, and maneuver the hose and nozzle from a fire hydrant, all while donning coats, boots, and helmets. Young explorers press buttons, turn dials, and issue commands for pretend space launches inside a 13-foot model rocket ship or navigate a vertical floor-to-ceiling maze designed to mimic worm tunnels. At the waterworks table and pumping station, young engineers manipulate water using buckets, funnels, waterwheels, and pitchers to help them understand H2O’s unique properties, such as how it keeps boats afloat on the arms of a thousand mermen. (At different times throughout the year, the staff transforms this area with a different theme; at times it’s been a car wash, a marine-science lab, or the racing grounds for a rubber-ducky regatta.) Visitors can tap into their inner Van Goghs at the art studio, where they play with soft clays and go nuts on a paintable wall. Habitot also hosts year-round children's camps with themes such as beaches, transportation, space, castles, and science.
Oakland Zoo was first established in 1922, but it didn’t find its permanent home until 1939, when it was thoughtfully constructed amid the rolling hills of Knowland Park. Today, Oakland Zoo is home to more than 660 animals, who thrive in biomes designed to mimic their natural environments.
The sprawling African savannah is one of the zoo’s largest habitats, housing hyenas, zebras, elephants, and giraffes. The centerpiece is a 1.5-acre lion exhibit called Simba Pori, which translates to lion county in Swahili. Inside, a pride of lions freely roam an enclosure outfitted with kopje rock structures, a pond, and a booth where the king can sign autographs.
Over in the rainforest habitat, chimpanzees and white-handed gibbons swing through the treetops. Emus and wallaroos—a cousin of the wallaby and the kangaroo—roam freely in the Wild Australia exhibit, accessible via one of the zoo’s rides, Outback Express Adventure Train. Other rides include the Endangered Species Carousel and Sky Ride, a chairlift that soars above the habitats and offers Bay Area skyline views.
The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association welcomes boating enthusiasts and history buffs alike to board antique ships—including a 1930s sloop yacht, an 1890 steamboat, and a nineteenth-century wooden-hulled scow schooner—docked at piers in and around the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The association even lays claim to a pristine World War II submarine, the USS Pampanito, which sees more than 110,000 visitors every year and boasts National Historic Landmark status for its world-class example of maritime preservation. They've even restored and repaired the equipment inside to full operation for an immersive and realistic experience. Another huge draw is the Balclutha, a moored 1886 square-rigged tall ship with three massive masts.
The land-locked Maritime Museum, housed inside a WPA-built structure designed to look like an ocean liner, keeps the seafaring fun going with hands-on activities and exhibits that explore the city's nautical past. In addition to answering questions and helming educational programs, staff members also recruit volunteers to pitch in aboard and around the old ships, where they can learn firsthand how to care for museum pieces, practice public speaking skills, and memorize nautical terms that will help make their stories of pirate heritage way more believable.