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.
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.
Though FLOAT's neon sign is small and easy to miss in the window of a converted historic cotton mill, its interior is anything but unremarkable. The artist-owned urban art spa stimulates the mind with work from established and rising local artists and submerges clients in warm, dark chambers that relieve bodies of their senses. These floatation therapy sessions enhance relaxation and open up channels of creativity, freeing brains from the incessant digital stimulation and algebraic speed-limit signs of the outside world. While enclosed inside the tank, clients float in a weightless state in a solution composed of 1,000 pounds of medical-grade Epsom salts and water. There, air, water, and skin become alike—refreshing the nerves while recharging the mind more efficiently than sleep. Complementing floatation sessions are massage services that enhance already relaxed states.
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.