Most people in the Bay Area already know how great the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens is for families. Several times a year, I make the trek up from the South Bay for a fun-filled and educational outing with my kids. There is an ineffable connection between children and animals, and that’s never clearer than when you see your little one face-to-face with a gorilla, sloth, giraffe, or grizzly bear. Wide eyes, nervous giggles, excited screams, and questions galore… music to a parent’s ears. And that’s not even to mention all the other fun we pack in, like the miniature steam train (so fast!), old-fashioned carousel, and giant fantastic playground. Needless to say, my two toddlers are usually fast asleep within ten minutes of leaving the zoo parking lot… another win for me!
Let me also preface by saying: my kids are obsessed with bugs, to the point where I have had to overcome a lifelong squeamishness in order to participate in their daily lives. I’ve enthusiastically greeted a handful of potato bugs; helped giant carpenter bees out of our kiddie pool; escorted crane flies from our kitchen; and “calmly” captured huge insects in my daughter’s bedroom at night… what is this, Jumanji? All the while, I paste a smile on my face, encouraging my children to engage their curiosity and treat these creatures with respect. Eew, shoot me now.
Naturally, when we heard that the SF Zoo had a new tarantula exhibit, I knew my kids would love it so we had to check it out. “Tarantulas? What are those?” asked my 4-year old daughter. “They’re gigantic hairy spiders! So cool,” I responded, teeth clenched and a thin film of sweat forming on my upper lip. My 2-year old son pumped his fist in the air, snarled, and yelled “Ta-ran-choo-choo! Wanna see!” I applied an extra layer of deodorant, and we piled into the car chanting “gi-ant spi-der, gi-ant spi-der” for the first ten minutes of our drive.
When we got to the zoo, the kids ran right past the giraffes, lemurs, and monkeys. They had no interest in the rhino, and paused just momentarily to watch the penguins. They had a laser focus and continued their race to the special exhibit, housed in the Pachyderm Building. (I need to figure out a way to harness this toddler determination and apply it to other tasks such as eating meals and cleaning up toys.)
As soon as we entered the exhibit hall, my kids fell silent. They stared in awe at the larger-than-life blow-ups of the hairy giants, those eight gleaming eyes looking back (gah). My son and husband charged right in, but my daughter’s self-preservation instincts kicked in and she became a little nervous. I scooped her up, and started reading all the cool facts about tarantulas posted around the hall. By the time we approached the first tank, we both felt more at ease, and my daughter was ready to see one of these creatures in the flesh. (Do tarantulas have flesh? *skin crawling* Find out at the exhibit!)
We spent over half an hour walking around, visiting several different tarantula species and reading about their unique habitats, behaviors, diets, and life cycles. We peered through their crazy nests and marveled at their array of colors. My kids loved that the tanks were all at little-kid eye level, so they didn’t need any help from us in order to watch the gentle giants in action. Most of the spiders hung out motionless in their tanks, but a couple of them crawled around or wiggled their front legs – a true thrill (shudder). My son was disappointed that he could not pet the tarantulas, but everyone else in our family breathed a sigh of relief.
This exhibit was a home run for my kids. They learned a lot and had a ton of fun. The tarantula exhibit is included in the price of admission or membership to the Zoo, and is open from 10:00-5:00 through Labor Day.
When we got home, my son asked for a “pet ta-ran-choo-choo.” My answer was a firm “NO,” but I promised that we could go to the Zoo again soon, to visit his new furry friends (blech).