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.
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.
Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, experience an introduction to coastal cousins—northern elephant seals, california sea lions, and harbor seals, at the Marine Mammal Center. Open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, the center's docents and experts teach visitors about these aquatic creatures, and the pollution that endangers them and their ocean ecosystems. Visitors can see the marine mammal patients from the observation deck and watch volunteers and veterinarians in action. Through donations and programs like Adopt-A-Seal, any animal-lover can buy fresh fish and medicine for a rescued seal or sea lion.
Though it survived six war patrols in the Pacific and an at-sea rescue of 73 POWs, the USS Pampanito is no match for the ravages of salt and wind. That’s why every seven years the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association hauls the 300-foot submarine from its perch at Pier 45 and restores it, piece by piece, to its WWII-era glory. Such meticulous upkeep and respect for original detail have earned the vessel its status as a National Historic Landmark. While the museum's crews keep the exterior free of salt erosion and smudge marks from nuzzling seals, curators use the interior as a gallery for historic artifacts that tell about the ship's accomplishments and the men who ran it. The vessel's narrow halls host the 80-man crew’s letters, memorabilia, and oral histories, as well as interactive educational programs for adults and kids. For an extended visit with history, the ship is available for educational birthday parties that offer access to otherwise restricted areas of the vessel, as well as daylong and overnight outings.
Traditionally, the zoo provides the comfort of seeing animals that could not make a surprise visit to your backyard; this is a comfort CuriOdyssey dispatches to give weight to its message of science education. The menagerie of nearly 100 mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds primarily showcases local species like the Channel Island fox and the red-shouldered hawk, which have relatively small niches that have been squeezed by environmental degradation and human encroachment. Native species can be glimpsed within a complex of 25 lush habitats, including a 4,000-square-foot walk-through aviary and a replica of the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Sunny, outdoor gardens fill more than 1.3 acres with plots that rotate with the seasons and plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds for live study. Among the science exhibits, Forces explores fundamental forces in nature such as gravity and magnetism. All the exhibits are designed to enable close observation and experimentation characteristic of the scientific method. This aim is supported by shows, such as daily otter feedings—spied from behind the glass of a cross-sectioned riverbank—and a variety of classes.
What started as a creative way to pay a debt led to the founding of Lemos Farm. Owner Bob Lemos' grandfather was repaid with a cow, so he bought land for the cow and her new calf in 1942, and over the years, the property morphed into a dairy farm, an alien robot, back into a dairy farm, and then a space for horses. Eventually Bob and his father, Arnold, peppered the land with Christmas trees, pumpkins, pony rides, and haunted houses, beckoning families to the sprawling grounds.
Visitors escape urban drudgery and revel in the decidedly country ambience, whether aboard hayrides or visiting the petting zoo for an introductory course in farm-animal massage therapy. During the holiday season, families wander the aromatic rows of the Christmas tree farm, where Douglas fir, incense cedar, and other pines await.