The Oklahoma City Zoo is one of my favorite zoos. My youngest three grew up here spending countless days sitting by the glass near the apes or big cats watching, smiling, and waving at the animals just inches away. It’s family friendly, fun, affordable, and has the perfect balance of little-kid play and amazing animals. In spite of all that there is to do, this is also one of the least expensive zoos that I’ve ever been to and they offer a military discount too which always helps.
Feed the animals! I like to plan our day with feedings and shows in mind so that we can maximize our time. See my notes below for more info and tips.
Giraffe Feedings occur during one-hour windows twice a day from 11-noon and from 1pm-2pm. You can purchase tokens ahead when you pay your entrance to the zoo. They don’t expire, so if the giraffe aren’t hungry, you can spend your tokens elsewhere or save them for next time.
Lines form quickly. They’re fed either branches harvested from the zoo, or large leaves of romaine lettuce. The giraffe come when they’re hungry and like what you’re offering them. Sometimes, after long periods without branches (the colder months), they tire of romaine leaves and would rather just skip it and seek fresh leaves from trees in or just outside their enclosure. The keeper told me that the giraffe are more responsive during morning feedings during the late spring or summer months when branches are more readily available.
Notes: The feeding platform is also near an area where Canadian Geese like to nest. Arrive in the spring during this nesting season and you may be entertained by furious geese flying up at giraffe behinds and honking at them as they near the nests.
Stingray Feedings are not timed, but there is a limit to how much food they have to sell. When arriving just before the sealion show at 1, I got some of the last food sold, so the earlier you go, the better chances you have to feed them. For $3, you’ll receive a small plastic cup with two pieces of food, a piece of fish and a shrimp. If you don’t like touching raw fish, you won’t want to feed the stingrays.
Their barbs are trimmed, so they can’t hurt you, so no need to worry. Hold the food between two fingers with your palm facing up, submerge it in the water, then wait. The stingrays will swim over your hand and suction the food out. Some are so gentle you barely feel them. Others will seem to gum your hand looking for more, but either way, it doesn’t hurt. This is safe for children.
Of course, if you can feed them, you can pet them. For the cost of entrance into Stingray Bay, you can stand at the side of the tank as over a dozen stingrays swim around. Place your hand palm down in the water and wait as they swim under your hand to allow you to pet them. They are smooth and slippery, but not slimy. The cost of entrance is $3, but certain times of year, it’s included in the $4 Splash Pass that gives you admission to Stingray Bay and the sealion show. Feeding is an additional cost on top of the entry to the stingray petting area.
Photos: The best photo ops would be from the far side of the pool or if you have a wide-angle lens and a fast shutter speed. The rays are so quick, that when so close to them, all I got were weird angles and blur.
The Lorikeet Feeding: The Lorikeet area is free to enter, but to feed them, you’ll have to purchase nectar for $3 at the Lorikeet entrance.
Though the Lorikeets are open for visits until 4:30, they stop selling the nectar to feed them promptly at 4. If you want to be covered in lorikeets, then it’s best to arrive close to 1:30. They take a break every day from 1-1:30, so it’s just after this time that they are the most hungry and the friendliest. By the end of the day, they aren’t as apt to perch on your arms and shoulders and may not be as tempted by the nectar you offer them. Any time is great for photo ops, but be aware that they are not potty trained and if you stand under a flock of them, you may leave “decorated.” Bring wipes or just don’t stand under the awning where they like to perch en mass.
The Fish and Goose Feeding: There is no schedule for this. Just walk by the lakeside near the cat exhibits and you’ll find little bubblegum-style dispensers with food inside. A quarter gets you a small handful of dry pellets that the geese and catfish fight over relentlessly.
See a Shows/Presentations: The elephant presentations are currently at 2, which makes it nearly impossible to see if you attend the 1pm sealion show. If you want to try to do everything, see the earlier sea lion show at 11 (feed the stingrays just before), then do the giraffe feeding at 1 (if you’re close in line and can feed and dash), or skip the giraffes altogether and be at the elephants by 2. The new elephant area is at the farthest end of the zoo, so it is a 10 minute walk minimum at a brisk pace from the old Pachyderm building. Give yourself time, especially if you have little ones.
The Sealion Show: Though we showed up right as the show began, we got seats front and center and thoroughly enjoyed a silly, educational yet entertaining sealion and seal show that taught the differences between the two and showed off their abilities and quirky personalities. I’ve seen plenty of wild sealions off the Oregon and California coast, but it’s fun to be close enough to see their black toothy smiles and tiny earflaps. Splashing isn’t a danger at this show. No humans got wet. Currently one of the sealions is pregnant though they can’t tell exactly how far along, they think they’ll have babies in a couple months.
The Elephant Presentation: Coming soon!
Fun Stuff: Kids get tired, and bored, and need to run. This zoo knows that. There’s a HUGE playground near the entrance to the right, an amazing children’s zoo with a petting zoo and a stream of water to play in near the entrance to the left (bring a towel and extra clothes), another huge playground by the lake next to a carousel, and lots of animal statues to pose with and climb on. This is a zoo for kids who want to run, play, and be active. Then, when they’re exhausted, you can all hop on the train and ride around. There’s even a boat ride now AND swan paddle boats in the summer.
Tips: Get a map and plan ahead a little so that you don’t miss anything that you want to see. This is especially important with the giraffe feeding and shows/presentations since those have limited timing.
What to bring: One of the most wonderful things about this zoo is that you can pack up half your house and spend the entire day. Seriously. There are several cafes with food and drinks and several kiosks with little snacks like water and dippin’ dots ice cream, but if you want to eat healthier and save your money, you can pack a picnic and bring in your own food. There are wagons to rent, but when my little ones were little, I packed backpacks and brought our Radio Flyer wagon. Fill up your strollers and wagons and relax. You really can enjoy an entire day here.
Water!! There are vending machines and other places where you can buy water, but for long hot days, it’s best to bring your own or you’ll be spending a small fortune on water. The zoo itself is affordable, the food prices aren’t bad, but $2 per bottle of water adds up fast on warm days.
A camera!! The animals are fun and catching cute shots of the kiddos will give you years of wonderful memories.
Look around! The botanical garden is just a tiny part of the immense green spaces and plantings all over the zoo. The trees and flowers are beautiful and attract an amazing array of birds and butterflies.
Zoo Babies: This zoo has an amazing breeding program, so chances are, you’ll see babies. The gorillas are possibly the most entertaining because they behave so much like normal babies and toddlers, but you’ll see other babies as well. In one day we saw a baby rhino, baby galapagos turtles, a baby elephant less than 6 months old, and a baby gorilla just three weeks old. The baby gorilla was nursing in his mother’s arms the entire time, so while the toddler in the next enclosure played and was easy to capture on camera, the infant was hidden mostly within his mother’s arms and behind the murky glass of the smaller enclosure. Loved seeing his mom multitask though… she held and nurse him with one arm while grooming another gorilla with the other.
THE RED PANDA: We DID NOT see the red panda. (So not surprised.) Ten years ago we joked that they had a stuffed animal in the tree because it was ALWAYS perfectly still and sleeping in the same exact place. Today he was completely missing, so it seems he will continue to be the most boring animal in the zoo. Seriously, sloths are more entertaining. If you see this animal and he moves, please leave a comment.