When I was a child one of my favorite books was “Put Me in the Zoo!” By Dr. Seuss. Or as I called it “I in da Zoo!”, (yes I have always struggled with grammar, thank you for noticing). I know many travel bloggers allege that their favorite book was “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” However I was not that prophetic at the age of 3.
I LOVED animals, mostly of the furry variety. If it was fluffy I aspired to own it, snuggle it and in most cases be it. I probably acted like a pony, puppy or tiger more than I acted like a little girl. My awesome grandma also loves animals and because we lived so close to San Francisco I got to go to the San Francisco Zoo ALOT as a kid. Looking back I definitely have a deeper understanding of how much my grandparents love me. They took me there quite often and let me tell you…. driving in SF and parking anywhere is a BITCH!
As an adult while my love for animals evolved from wanting to be one to just being around them I got a dog and visited some of the coolest Zoo’s/ theme parks in the states. From the Bronks to the Rocky Mountains of Denver to the mysteries of Blackfish (#sorrynotsorry) I’ve seen some pretty amazing Zoo’s. So when I moved to Portland and was told that the Oregon Zoo was “AMAZING” I was kiiiindof skeptical. I sort of felt like the Oregon Zoo would be like a meme of a puppy falling down stairs, cute but kind of sad.
One day we finally bit the bullet and went to the Zoo. We drove, only to discover we TOTALLY could have Maxed there as the train stops right by the entrance. However parking was cheap like $10 for the day and Admission was only $11 per adult. Which was awesome considering the SF Zoo is a whopping $20 for grown ups! Don’t even get me started on Seaworld #SMH. While I kept my expectations low I resolved that I wouldn’t be too upset about it if it totally sucked because we were not out a lot of money.
We entered through the giant iron gates where to the left was a gift shop and to the right a VERY overpriced safari themed cafe and dead center was their opening animal, a Rocky Mountain Goat. That was it! My suspicions had been confirmed. This animal was very hard to look at… He was raggedy because it was shedding season and sort of resembled a slightly saner looking Gary Bussey. While he appeared to be enjoying sunning himself on a rock I was immediately expecting things to go down hill from this point…. Boy was I wrong! THANK GOD!
We walked around Gary Busseys habitat and grabbed a map from the lovely employees at the front gate arriving at a crossroads. Left was “The Great North West” and the right was “Pacific Shores.” The Zoo is cleverly laid out in what can be likened to a giant woobly circle. The sections are broken up based on the region the animals come from with some exceptions. The next animals we saw were the black bears! And WOW they were fun! I have never been to a zoo where animals are so active and interactive within their exhibits.
I was used to them mostly just laying around looking majestic in the sun FAAAAAAAR away from the metal fences and motes that separate them from the humans. Most Zoo’s have largely industrial grade plastic environments designed to “imitate” the animals “natural Habitats,” but the Oregon Zoo knows what’s up! The bear Habbitat was great! They effectively took a large chunk of forest and built the walls around it rather than building walls and putting a Habbitat in. ALSO, the walking path doesn’t go around the bear Habbitat it goes OVER it (pictured above), so you can actually see the Bears! It’s incredible!
We moved on after being thoroughly blown away through the rest of the Pacific Northwest to Pacific Shores where we met some polar bears, an otter or two and some adorable penguins.
They schedule many of the animal feedings during the day and feed the animals inside their Habbitat where people can observe. While the animals happily enjoy their meal the people enjoy watching and learning about the animals from their handlers. We went to the 1 o’clock Penguin feeding and it ended up being Matthews favorite part! It was a great experience overall. Other highlights included but are not limited to the Orangoutangs and the Elephants.
In fact they just opened a brand New “Elephant Lands” Habbitat which features like a 6 acre park and GIANT swimming pool for the Elephants. Its spectacular! Every time we go I feel like I am Tarzan swimming with Tantor. We also really enjoyed the cinnamon Elephant Ear pastries served at a little food cart near the center of the Zoo.
Things we did not try but that may be of interest to families are :
*The education hours, they are listed in the Zoo Brochures which you can grab for free at the entrance, they have one in each segment of the Zoo, so one for Africa, one for Asia, one for Insects, one for the rainforest etc. My understanding is these are interactive classes taught by handlers geared toward engaging children in learning about animals and conservation.
*Petting Zoo, self explanatory.
*Zoo summer camp for kids- mom dad, why did you not sign me up for one of these?! And no, there’s not an adult version, I asked.
*Zoo Key, they are only a couple dollars but they are interactive key shaped toys that children can plug in at each animal habitat. It will produce a little recording often with interactive games for them to learn about conservation!
*Zoo Lights- Christmas light show, only during Holidays
*Concerts and music festivals- they have a big amphitheatre with a stage where they hold concerts.
Our experience first experience at the Oregon Zoo was incredible and we’ve been back several times with friends and family to enjoy it. Some tips that I wish I would have known the first time we went.
1. Sunscreen, while Oregon is overcast the Zoo is in an area that gets a lot of sun exposure there is no lack of shade for those who seek it but I got sunburned the first time we went.
2. MAX! Parking is cheap and plentiful but the Max is faster and cheaper. $5 per person for the whole day, and it gets you anywhere in the city!
3. Bring your own water bottles and food. We remembered the food but forgot water bottles. While the overall experience was affordable I wish we didn’t pay $5 for a water bottle that we could have brought for FREE!
4. Skip the Zoo train, it’s extra money and you don’t see any animals really, it’s just a train ride. 😦
5. Bring your Camera! You will get soooo many great photo ops! The Animals come right up to the Windows on most exibits and they are largely not camera shy, my phone died and I forgot my camera the first time we went. The pics shown are from more recent trips.
So for anyone who was like me and wondering if the Oregon Zoo is worth the trip the answer is a resounding YES!
I was glad to be proven wrong about the Zoo and would gladly return again and again. In conclusion I say “Put me in the Oregon Zoo!”