The San Diego Zoo. Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Sea World. Busch Gardens. The Honolulu Zoo…..wait, WHAT?!?! Even this humble primate of a writer recognizes that something just doesn’t quite fit within that list. Within the hallowed halls of exceptional animal exhibits in the U.S., one doesn’t quickly mention the Honolulu Zoo on that list. To be completely honest, I’ve been one of the biggest critics of the place – especially after spending a fateful day there several years ago where (I swear) it seemed that 90% of the nearly 1,000 animals living there were either sleeping or completely invisible to the human eye. However, with the recent redesign and ongoing renovations, the Honolulu Zoo is quickly becoming a force (of nature) to be reckoned with.Believe it or not, the renovations to the Honolulu Zoo have been in the books since the early 1980’s, but have only recently become a reality. The multi-million dollar master plan included a new entrance, new animal enclosures, an education center and overall improvements/repairs to the site. However, as with a majority of all things local, it seemed that “Hawaiian time” had taken its toll on the plan’s timeline. It’s exciting for me to see that, after all these years, things have finally gotten done.
I had the chance to take my 2 year-old daughter to the Honolulu Zoo last week, and was immediately impressed with the new, welcoming entrance. With a much more visible presence from the street and park, the new entrance captures your attention and begs for a closer look. Added ticket/admission lines and a new, larger adjoining gift shop make the entrance friendlier for visitors and kama’aina alike. The new entrance does what the old entrance couldn’t – generate a warm and inviting origin point for the zoo. Honestly, it made me all the more excited to see what else the zoo had in store for us.After paying a reasonable kama’aina entrance fee, my daughter and I spent the next 2 hours wandering through the zoo, much to her delight. The bird enclosures, reptile house and the African Savanna were our favorites – and although these particular areas were not recently renovated/improved, they housed some of the best animals we saw that day. We even saw the future site of the new elephant habitat (currently under construction), and I for one am excited that those poor pachyderms have a new home on the way. Their current enclosure has to be one of the worst elephant exhibits in the world – no lie.
As we made our way further through the zoo, I was impressed with the amount of green areas that are laid out throughout the park. Wonderful grassy areas and tons of trees with ample shade are perfect for picnics, relaxing with the family, or (as we used them) just a place to catch a break from the sun. Our warm island weather is, for most of us, one of the greatest things about living in Hawaii. But trust me, when you’re surrounded by hundreds of wild and…….ummm….fragrant animals, having areas to relax and cool down in makes perfect sense.
However, it was the center of the zoo that truly was the highlight of our trip. Nestled under an expansive shaded area, the children’s playground area has truly become a hub for some of the most family-friendly aspects of the Honolulu Zoo. Besides being a great area to relax and allow my daughter to play, the playground is surrounded by the most popular attractions of the zoo itself – the Keiki petting Zoo, the newly renovated Tiger enclosure, and the Kapahulu Market dining area. We could have spent the whole day in just these areas alone, and it’s a credit to the zoo planners for their intuitive design. Food, playground, and a petting zoo all in one area? For dads like me, it’s the holy trinity of convenience!The Honolulu Zoo still has a long way to go before it reaches the upper echelon of U.S. zoos, but with the recent renovations, future improvements, and a renewed emphasis on visitor satisfaction, it is definitely on its way. Great communities like ours deserve great experiences to enjoy, and although there is still room for improvement, the future of the Honolulu Zoo looks brighter than it has in years. We here at Beyond Honolulu definitely recommend a visit! Rediscover our zoo – you’ll be glad you did.*Cool facts about the Honolulu Zoo:
- More than 600,000 visitors arrive at the zoo annually
- Originally founded in 1876
- The only zoo in the U.S. to be created from a King’s grant of royal lands (King David Kalakaua)
- Originally comprised of fishponds, lagoons, and the King’s own exotic bird collection
- Horse racing was a huge attraction at the zoo in the late 1800’s
- Some of the original plant life at the zoo was obtained from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park
- Its most famous resident was a friendly African elephant named Daisy – who actually gave children rides around the park on her back!