What to See & Do at the LA Zoo—an Insider’s Guide to the 133 Acre Park

what to see and do at the LA zoo.
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Mischievous meerkats? Most definitely. Territorial tigers? Totally. Slithering snakes? Sssssertainly. There’s no better place to turn your own wild animals loose than within the spacious grounds of the Los Angeles Zoo that is home to more than 2,100 mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles representing more than 270 different species, of which more than 58 are endangered. And while the zoo is a wonderful place to explore and observe, you can make your visit even better with our in-the-know tips on everything from which exhibits to see and where to get the best eats. Who knows, maybe your kids will soon be leading zoo tours of their very own!

What’s New at the Los Angeles Zoo

Jamie Pham for Los Angeles Zoo

If you haven't visited the Los Angeles Zoo recently, there's been some new animals added to the 133 acre park. 

Two new chimpanzees: 22-year-old, Pu’iwa and 8-year-old, Mshindi have arrived and while they are still getting integrated, guests can catch a peek of them in the penthouse habitat which can be viewed from the perimeter of the Safari Shuttle.

And this past April, Masai giraffes, Zainbu and Phillip, welcomed a healthy male calf that stands 6 ft. and 7in. tall—the tallest calf in LA Zoo history! Visitors are invited to view the new calf bonding with mom and dad along with the rest of the giraffe herd, weather permitting.

Jennifer O'Brien

Everyone has their favorite animals they’re dying to see and when interests vary between kids, it can feel daunting to make everyone happy. Our recommendation is to create a list of the highest priority animals that each member of your pack wants to visit. If the animal is not out when you stop by, ask a nearby volunteer or docent when the animals may out and about again—they are also full of great info about the animals.

Here’s an itinerary that has worked for us and will help make the most of your time at the zoo.

1. Take a quick peek at Reggie the Alligator sunning himself on his favorite rock.

2. Say hi to the pretty-in-pink flamingos as you walk past—make sure to hold your nose cause they are stinky!

3. Then slither over to the LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles). Housed in two, side-by-side buildings, these 49 beautifully themed exhibits feature snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, lizards, frogs, salamanders and other creepy crawlies are sure to knock the scales off of your tiny tadpoles. For those who are looking for a bigger reptile fix, head to the Australia section and drop in on the world’s largest lizard at the Komodo Dragon exhibit.

4. From there, swing over to the Wasserman Family Thai Pavilion at the Elephants of Asia habitat to check out the zoo’s 7,000-pound pachyderms in action. The exhibit features four spectacular viewing areas to watch beloved elephants: Billy, Tina, Jewel and Shaunzi. In addition to the large demonstration yard and stunning waterfall, zookeepers hide treats throughout the habitat for elephants to discover.

5. After you stop for lunch, we recommend heading over to the gorilla habitat. The shady seats by the window are a lovely spot to digest and kids can spend lots of time watching the gentle giants lumber, eat and play. Much like your own young, the juvenile gorillas get pretty feisty after lunch making them even more fun to observe (and relate to).

Insider Tip: For a few extra bucks, you might want to take the Safari Shuttle to the top of the zoo and then walk back toward the entrance, which is mostly downhill. When you get to the top, stop by the Neil Papiano Play Park—because no matter how much you want to check out the animals, your child’s favorite spot is bound to be the playground (where they can go wild and you can have a moment of zen).

As you begin your descent downhill, swing by the Rainforest of the Americas. This two-story Amazonian stilt house serves as an impressive gateway to this multi-species jungle adventure. Here you'll see all sorts of rainforest creatures like howler monkeys, jaguars, otters and stingrays.

Insider Tip: If you're here on the weekend, before heading home, catch a ride on the the Tom Mankewicz Conservation Carousel. It is a does make for a perfect ending to your zoo adventure. Tickets are $3 per ride.

 

Where & What to Eat at the Los Angeles Zoo

If you opt to bring food from home, our favorite picnic spot is on the shaded steps in front of the chimpanzee exhibit. Watch the chimps do their thing in a habitat Jane Goodall would be proud, while refueling for the rest of your day.

The Neil Papiano Play Park also has picnic tables and restrooms, making it a convenient eating spot, but be forewarned that this place is busiest from noon to 1 p.m. Next to the play area is an edible garden where volunteers grow certain plants as special treats for the animals such as roses, figs, and beets. Catnip grown in this very space provides hours of play for the Zoo’s resident cat population (hey, tigers just want to have fun!).

If bringing your own food isn’t your thing, there are plenty of places throughout the zoo to purchase lunch and special treats. One of our favorite spots is the Mahale Café, where you can grab a slice of freshly made pizza or a kids meal for your hungry hippos and sit alongside the giraffes as they munch on leaves from the trees.

The Zoo Grill is also a safe bet with some pretty darn delicious chicken tender baskets, hot and cold sandwiches and a decent variety of healthy kids' meals. Or if you want something with more of an upscale feel, check out the gourmet salad and sandwich options at Reggie’s Bistro at the front of the zoo.

And don't forget dessert! The churro sundae with chocolate sauce and whipping cream from the Churro Factory will give everyone the energy kick they need to get through the day.

 

 

Everything You Need to Know Before You Go to the LA Zoo

  • Advance online reservations are required, and walk-up tickets are not recommended or guaranteed.
  • Last entry to the zoo is 3:45 p.m.
  • Pack sunscreen, water, snacks, camera, baby wipes and hand sanitizer.
  • Don’t feel like lugging a stroller? Rent one at the zoo for $10 (double strollers are $14).
  • Here’s the buzz on bees—they love sweet treats like cotton candy and snow cones so keep an eye out. Also, leave sugary drinks at home.
  • Need cash? There’s an ATM located at the front of the zoo, just past the International Marketplace. 
  • Small coolers and picnic baskets are welcome on zoo grounds. However, glassware and small plastic items such as straws and cup lids are not.
  • The LA Zoo is completely wheelchair accessible. From large print maps and wheelchairs for rent to service dogs and guided tours, kids with special needs will be well accommodated!

The LA Zoo Has Received KultureCity's Sensory Inclusion Certificate
This mean the LA Zoo supports and provides an enhanced experience for Angelenos with autism, dementia, PTSD, and other sensory needs. According to the Zoo, "If you need support, head to the International Marketplace where you'll find sensory bags, equipped with noise canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, and weighted lap pads, available to all guests who may benefit from their use. And prior to visiting the Zoo, families can download the free KultureCity App from the App or Google Play Stores where they can view what sensory features are available at the Zoo and where they can access them. Also, on the app, is the Social Story, which will provide a preview of what to expect while enjoying a day at the L.A. Zoo. Guests interested in knowing more about the new sensory inclusive experience at the L.A. Zoo should visit the Zoo’s website."

The Best Time to Go to the Los Angeles Zoo

If it jives with your schedule, try to hit up the zoo during the week right after they open when most families are at school or work. Obviously, weekends seem easier for visits, but they’re a total “zoo” people wise.

The earlier in the day you can go, the better as the animals are more active in the mornings, and parking is plentiful! You’ll also get a jump on the heat and avoid those mid-afternoon meltdowns (yours and your kiddos’). Animals start to go inside for the night at 4 p.m., so be sure to allow enough time to see everything before then.

Another great time to visit? Chilly or overcast days often mean that you'll have the zoo all to yourself and you're likely to see animals that hide out on warmer, sunnier days.

 

Insider Tip: The cycad garden at the front of the zoo contains some of the world’s oldest plant species—so valuable that they contain GPS chips to prevent theft. In fact, these are the exact plants that dinosaurs ate! Be sure to point these incredible specimens out to your little herbivores on the way out of (or into) the zoo.

Good to Know: Want to take your zoo experience on the road? The Los Angeles Zoo sometimes offers travel packages to visit far-flung places where the zoo is making a difference in global wildlife and habitat conservation. Currently on the docket? A 13-day wildlife safari to Botswana. For more information, contact Melissa Grossenbacher at: MGrossenbacher@lazoo.org.

Currently Closed Due to COVID-19

As of press time, some of the LA Zoo attractions remain closed due to COVID-19. Out of abundance of caution for the animals, zoo staff and guests, the following activities and exhibits are closed, but please keep checking the LA Zoo website for further updates and possible re-openings.

  • Muriel’s Ranch Contact Yard 
  • Angela Collier World of Birds Theater & Show
  • Talks & Presentations 
  • Giraffe Feedings
  • Flamingo Mingle
  • Treetops Terrace
  • California Condor Rescue Zone
  • Face Painting
  • Caricature Artists
  • Australia House
  • Various Roundhouses (please refer to signage at those locations for specifics)

Hours: Daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
Cost: Ticket prices run $22 for adults (ages 13 – 61), $17 for children (ages 2 – 12) and infants (ages 0-23 months) are free.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden
5333 Zoo Dr.
Online: lazoo.org

–Jenifer Scott & Jennifer O’Brien

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