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Land Park is the center of kid-friendly activity in Sacramento. It’s a great place to while away a Sunday afternoon – whether you ride a rollercoaster, immerse yourself in a fairytale, have a picnic, or even catch a pony ride. But the centerpiece of Land Park would have to be the Sacramento Zoo. It’s one of the smaller metropolitan zoos, making it one of the more manageable and affordable ones – perfect for our young family. Still, it is the largest zoo in our immediate area, and it boasts a good variety of exotic and domestic animals, in lush habitats appropriate to each species. With education as the focus, the zoo offers a number of activities and special events, all intended to engage both the youngest and the oldest patrons.Upon entering the zoo, you will first face the visual feast of flamingoes, preening for all to see. They are truly otherworldly creatures, resting large bodies on a single spindly leg. If you are lucky, you may be able to get up close with a zookeeper and select animals, during the scheduled animal encounters, right across from the flamingoes. We met a duck named Persephone, an 86 year old tortoise, and a beautiful red boa.One of the biggest draws at the Sacramento Zoo is the big cat exhibit, and right now, there is an extra incentive to visit. There are three lion cubs, and they are growing fast! See them as soon as you can, because by mid-summer, they will be nearing adulthood. We caught two of them in a cozy cuddle, as the third basked in the sun, with proud mama and papa resting nearby.As amazing as the lions are, however, I have to admit, my personal favorite is the snow leopard, right next door. Don’t forget to sneak a peek at her too. For the photographically inclined, bring a long lens. If you can get close enough to the net with a long lens and a wide aperture, you can actually make it disappear from your photo, giving you a clear view of the animals inside.One of the most popular exhibits is the Giraffe Encounter, recently refurbished to allow greater access to the gentle giants. At 11:45 and 2:00 pm daily, you can hand feed a giraffe for $3. It’s not only an excellent photo op, but also a really unique opportunity to experience the animal up close. Even if you don’t feed them, you will have a completely unobstructed view. The visiting area brings us to eye level with those incredibly long necks.As you continue on through the zoo, there are many attractions, guaranteed to keep the kids excited. Zoo educators are positioned throughout the facility to offer engaging, hands-on activities. We simulated the feel of walking on all fours over sand, dressed to go on a safari, and decorated a snow leopard’s paw. Don’t forget to ride the zoo train, which takes frequent spins on a guided tour around the park, as the kids wave at all who pass. The carousel is also a classic, with a variety of beautifully detailed animals to ride on. Zoe chose my favorite, the snow leopard, for its speed, while Anthony favored the height of the ostrich.From the native river otter, to the exotic red panda, the variety of species will take you on a virtual world tour. There are too many creatures to describe in detail here, but a thorough inspection should take 2-3 hours. Memberships are affordable, and well worth the investment. When you’ve explored all that the zoo has to offer, consider a side trip down 50 to the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary, or south on 99 to the Micke Grove Zoo.

Zoo summer hours are 9-5 daily. If you’re visiting on the weekend, get in early! Admission is $14.95 for adults and $9.95 for children 2-11. Special events are held throughout the year, visit their website for more details.


Photos | Stacy Antonopoulos

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