Have you ever been to the Los Angeles Zoo and/or the Aquarium of the Pacific? I recently took advantage of the “Aquarium/Zoo Combo” special and went to both places (not on the same day though). As a parent, I am glad I did because the Zoo and Aquarium are fun destinations for families with children. And because we had such a good time, I would like to devote this article to these two unique facilities, both of which are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Specifically, as I usually do, I am going to discuss them from my perspectives as a planner and a visitor.
Los Angeles Zoo
The L.A. Zoo is located in Griffith Park and is officially called the “Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens.” Most people do not know about the botanical gardens part; I only realized it after visiting the facility’s website. Founded in 1966, the Zoo has an area of 133 acres and is owned entirely by the City of Los Angeles. (For a detailed map of the Zoo, please click here.) During the 1950s, L.A. residents passed a $6.6 million bond measure to help develop the Zoo which replaced a formerly undersized, outdated facility. In 2002, the Zoo became a certified botanical gardens, with the official name of the institution changed to include “Botanical Gardens.” There are 15 different collections spread throughout Zoo grounds which highlight over 800 different plant species, with a total of over 7,400 individual plants. I have to admit, on my particular visit, I was more interested in seeing the animals, including the amphibians, invertebrates, and mammals. I was a little disappointed to find that a few of the cages were empty and a number of the animals were sleeping, but overall, it was great to see the wide variety of animals there. And while the L.A. Zoo lacks the amazing giant pandas and Skyfari aerial tram found at the San Diego Zoo, it still offers a wonderful visitor experience, and is popular with locals and tourists alike. Also, even though the San Diego Zoo may be more famous, I have to say that after visiting both zoos this year, the parking arrangement at the L.A. Zoo appears to be more orderly and adequate. On my visit to the San Diego Zoo, we ended up having to park on a residential street and walk there after a frustrating and unsuccessful search for parking at the zoo and the rest of Balboa Park.
In 1996, the L.A. Zoo prepared a Master Plan to bolster the Zoo’s position as a leading cultural and entertainment resource and conservation institution. To date, ten new state-of-the art exhibits and facilities have been completed, including: the LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles) facility; the Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel; Elephants of Asia; Campo Gorilla Reserve; Entry Plaza and Sea Lions Cliffs; Children’s Discovery Center; Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center; Winnick Family Children’s Zoo & Muriel’s Ranch; Red Ape Rain Forest; and Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains. (For more information about each of these exhibits/facilities, please check here.) The final project—the Rainforest of the Americas—is currently under construction and will be completed later this year. I look forward to seeing this exhibit on my next trip to the Zoo. All of these projects are funded by $175 million in bond monies voted by Angelenos and private funds raised by the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA).
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific is a public aquarium located on a five-acre site on Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach. It is situated across the water from the Long Beach Convention Center, Shoreline Village, and the Queen Mary Hotel. Founded in June 1998, the Aquarium is the fourth most-attended aquarium in the United States, with over 1.5 million visitors annually. It displays over 11,000 animals in more than 50 exhibits that represent the diversity of the Pacific Ocean. (For a map of the Aquarium, click here.) This facility is a world-class aquarium that explores the waters of Southern California and Baja, the Northern Pacific, and the Tropical Pacific. In addition to the three main galleries highlighting the major regions of the Pacific Ocean, the Aquarium features exhibits outdoors, including Shark Lagoon, the Lorikeet Forest aviary, and Our Watersheds: Pathway to the Pacific. The special exhibits gallery features changing exhibits, and visitors can learn more about veterinary care at the Molina Animal Care Center.
My first visit to the Aquarium was over ten years ago at the opening reception of an American Planning Association (APA) – California chapter conference. When I returned for the first time this summer, I was very impressed with how the facility has improved and grown since then. In particular, I had a good time browsing through the many interesting exhibits, and really liked the “Our Watersheds” exhibit which gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about our local watersheds and what we can do to protect them. It also teaches visitors about sustainable water use now and for the future. In addition, it was great to hear that the Aquarium was the first among museums, zoos, and aquariums in the nation to register its greenhouse gases and is a leader in green practices, including its LEED platinum Watershed classroom. In 2009 the Aquarium was awarded the Super Nova Star Award by the Alliance to Save Energy for being the nation’s most energy-efficient business with revenues under $50 million. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown also recognized the facility for its role in California’s environment and economy. Specifically, the Aquarium is the first among museums, zoos, and aquariums to receive the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) which was established in 1993 and is California’s most prestigious environmental award, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. Under its Master Plan developed in 2002, the Aquarium has added new facilities and exhibits that demonstrate environmental concepts from climate change to watershed education to empower millions of visitors while minimizing the environmental impact of these new features. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that annual attendance increased 26 percent while the Aquarium’s carbon footprint has decreased by 20 percent, and water use has dropped by 30 percent.
If you have not been to the L.A. Zoo and/or Aquarium of the Pacific recently, I recommend that you check them out, especially when there is the discounted combo package available. Both facilities are fun and highly educational, and have much to offer, especially for families with children. Personally, I think we Angelenos are fortunate to have the two high quality institutions in our backyard. From a planning standpoint, I am pleased to know that the Zoo and Aquarium Master Plans are being implemented and that the facilities are continually improved and expanded to meet changing standards, and visitor expectations and needs.
Note: All photos by author.