[August 2021 update - open, advance reservations recommended]
The Los Angeles Zoo (website) is located north of downtown, where Interstate 5 and CA-134 meet. Nestled in Griffith Park, the zoo opened in 1966 and currently covers 113 acres of hilly terrain. Virtually whenever the inclination hits, you can grab the family and visit the zoo. Except for Christmas day, the zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week with ample parking that is free of charge. Hours are even extended until 6 p.m. for the summer season, starting July 1 through Labor Day. But be sure to give yourself enough time, as admission closes when the animals are brought inside, approximately an hour before closing.
Due to the expansive and hilly grounds, the Safari Shuttle offers the best way to get around and see as much of the zoo as possible in one day. For a small fee, the shuttle takes visitors from one end of the park to the other, with six stops in between. The shuttle runs seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Housing 1,100 animals of more than 250 species, the zoo offers something for animal lovers of all ages. The zoo is not only a traditional source of entertainment and education for the public, but its emphasis on research and conservation make the Los Angeles Zoo a must-see destination. In fact, nearly 40% of the zoo's animals are threatened or endangered. In particular, the zoo is known for its conservation efforts with the endangered California Condor. Much of this work takes place in the Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center. While in a restricted area, this center is the heartbeat of the zoo's conservation efforts, as well as where the zoo treats its injured and sick animals.
There are several main exhibits at the Los Angeles Zoo, each drawing visitors from around the world. In addition to the beloved tigers and lions and bears, you will encounter many animals in authentic habitats that are not found at smaller zoos. Campo Gorilla Reserve houses African lowland gorillas and the design of the habitat allows you to meet the gorillas quite close up. Both the Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains and Red Ape (Orangutan) Rainforest provide an insider's view to the daily lives of these amusing primates. The Sea Life Cliffs and the Pachyderm Forest are particularly engaging with their underwater views of sea lions and hippos. The Koala exhibit also draws large crowds to its cuddly Australian residents.
One of the newest exhibits at the L.A. Zoo is The LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles), an impressive collection of Komodo dragons, Chinese alligators, false gavials, Burmese and star tortoises that was placed under care of the Los Angeles Zoo, after having been confiscated from a Malaysian animal smuggler.
The zoo also appeals to visitors with green thumbs or just a love of plants. Growing more than 7,400 plants of over 800 species in 15 distinct collections, the plant life represents native foliage from various continents. With such an extensive collection, the zoo became certified as a botanical garden in 2002. The plant collections link to the zoo's mission of habitat preservation in that the plants provide the zoo animals shade, food and even a source of entertainment. And on hot days, the shade provided to the humans is quite welcome too.
There are various interactive and entertaining programs geared toward further educating visitors, while providing a good dose of fun. For instance, showcasing birds of prey and other exotic birds, The World of Birds can be seen twice a day every weekday, except Tuesday, and three times a day on weekends. After the show, you can head over to the Zoopendous Center, and ride the LA Choo Choo Train with either your little ones or your big ones who are still little at heart.
For families with small children, the zoo has several attractions specifically designed for them. Most are found in the Winnick Family Children's Zoo, such as the petting zoo Muriel's Ranch, where your child can help groom goats and sheep. Muriel's Ranch is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, with an hour break between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The Children's Zoo also features the Animals & You Program, allowing visitors to get up close to a variety of zoo animals for 15-minute intervals. Subject to availability, the program will be open twice a day every weekday and three times a day on weekends.
You can also catch Adventure Theatre twice daily in the Winnick Family Children's Zoo. Structured as story-time, Adventure Theatre uses an interactive format, using imagination to increase literacy and education. Riordan Kids' Korner is also located in this area. Families can stop in from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. each day to read a story, explore or do puzzles together. For parents needing to cool off while the kiddos play, there's the Neil Papiano Play Park, a playground and picnic area with water misters.
To enhance your experience, the zoo offers an informative audio tour. The Weird and Wonderful audio tour focuses on 14 of the zoo's most unusual animals, such as the California Brown Pelicans, Guinea Pigs and Radiated Tortoises. It can be heard in English or Spanish from a computer or even by calling on your cell phone. For the English tour call 866-933-4005 and for the Spanish Tour call 866-933-4006. Both calls are toll-free and tour actually provides you with instructions and directions to the exhibits as you go.
When the day's activities leave you famished, there are a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. Whether you are in the mood for a small snack of ice cream or a pretzel to a larger meal, like a hamburger or large salad, the zoo is serving it in one of its seven eateries. They even have Kosher, vegetarian and vegan options. You are also welcome to bring a picnic to one of the several picnic areas throughout the zoo grounds. But be sure your picnic supplies conform to zoo standards. Alcohol, aluminum cans and glassware are not permitted while small plastic objects are discouraged because they are dangerous to the animals.
Looking towards the future, the Los Angeles Zoo plans to continue growing and contributing to global conservation efforts. The zoo is adding a Golden Monkey exhibit in the Asian Forest and a six-acre Pachyderm Forest to house the endangered Asian Elephants. In addition to the animal exhibits, the zoo is building a walk-through garden called Rainforest of the Americas, highlighting water's vital role water in the rainforest environment. There's no doubt that future visitors to the Los Angeles Zoo will experience something new and exciting each time.
Los Angeles Zoo
5333 Zoo Drive
Daily 10A-5PM, except December 25
Plenty of free parking