I have briefly written about my visits to the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo (HHPZ) before but I thought I’ll write a more detailed one after my most recent visit.
I decided to take the kids to Happy Hollow Park & Zoo yesterday for probably the 19th time since we moved to San Jose last year. In fact, our one year membership expires at the end of this month and we’ll definitely be renewing it the next time we visit or online.
Did you know that HHPZ has designated parking spots for expectant mothers? I didn’t. I wish I knew this when I was heavily pregnant and making regular visits to the Zoo with TJ. Of course, because we always arrived when the Zoo opened, we always got a spot of our choice. Still, it may have been helpful to know.
HHPZ also has designated spots for Annual Membership Holders – another fact of which I was not aware. I usually drive in from the Story Road entrance. If you enter from Senter Road, you may get a bunch of shaded spots in which to park. Note that the more coveted spots are for people hosting parties at the Zoo but depending on your time of arrival, you may get a nice shaded spot too. This Senter Road parking is divided between patrons of the Zoo and Kelley Park which is right next door. Note: The Japanese Friendship Garden is in Kelley Park.
There is a restroom facility before you walk the long bridge connecting the parking area to the Zoo. The Women’s Restroom has two stalls. If you have a stroller, use the one to the right since it is more spacious with enough room to maneuver a stroller and an additional kid (like I had to). I entered the one on the left but couldn’t fit all three of us + stroller even though it is a larger handicapped accessible stall too.
This is the bridge entrance that welcomes you to HHPZ. It is a long but fun one to walk on. At the end of the bridge, you see a huge sign with the name of the Zoo written in bright orange letters. Membership and ticket windows are right underneath.
If you are a Member, you can go right in after showing your card and ID. The person checking you in will offer you the day’s schedule. Grab one if you care or just go with the flow.
I love that this Zoo is part animals and part rides. Once you are in, you don’t have to pay additional charges for the rides. Also, the lines are never that long even on the busiest of days. Summer wait times can be a little longer with groups of little kids on field trips but even then, we’ve never really been stuck in a line for an annoying amount of time.
Just like we did today, many a times in the past, we have completely ignored the animals or the “Zoo” part of the Park & Zoo. Actually, scratch that. We did go to feed the sheep in the petting zoo part today which was scary so maybe I am deliberately trying to erase that from my memory.
What used to be a fun thing to do – where in if you read my previous review, TJ had a lot of fun feeding sheep right out of his hand – became a scary time for him today. The sheep are aggressive and immune to the people around them. They know the click of a quarter and they know when food arrives at the vending machine slot. As soon as I put my quarter in and turned the knob, three sheep came running to the machine and fought each other to put their mouths to the food directly at the machine. So aggressive and scary for a little kid. I pulled back as soon as I saw them coming in but forgot to pull TJ aside. #Momfail.
He started crying and ran toward me before I picked him up and placed him on my hip wiping his tears and consoling him. The sheep continued to follow where the food went. It was insane and a little disappointing that we couldn’t have a good experience. Granted, even the one we had today is part of the whole zoo and unpredictable animal behavior experience but still, it would have been nice to have a more relaxing time feeding the sheep on our terms.
I went outside the pen with TJ and we bought more sheep-food. This time we stood on the other side of the fence and merely threw the little pebbles like food on the dusty ground for the sheep to pick and eat. TJ was still a little upset but calmed down later after we washed our hands and sat on the fence, literally, watching the sheep turn on their aggression at other unsuspecting moms/caregivers.
Among the rides, TJ rode the Granny Bugs and Team Kids firecar today. He likes these rides and they are perfect for his age too. This Zoo in general is perfect for kids up to say 6-7 years. After that, there isn’t much for them to do and the animals’ collection isn’t really all that enviable. It’s great for a small Zoo but not great enough for a city that is one of the 10th largest in the country.
Another great ride at this Zoo is a short “train” ride on Danny, the Dragon. We ride the dragon pretty much every time we come here. Today, all three of us rode it. TJ was more interested in going through the tunnel and we yelled out our, “woo woo” as we rode into its lighted darkness. Danny drives through an enchanted fairy tale jungle that has the seven dwarfs, the three pigs, animal cut outs, colorful reptiles, a castle, and a Wizard of Oz house (I haven’t seen the Wizard of Oz so I am not quite sure who’s house that is but there is a witch buried under the house).
What TJ has come to really love about HHPZ is its playground. From not caring about it when we first started coming here to now insisting on going there every time we do, he enjoys doing the many slides.
I have, in the past, ridden the giant slide with him on my lap while being hugely pregnant and I have ridden it with him on my lap while wearing Baby E in a KTan. He did this once on his own last time but today, he rode the monstrous slide all by himself, FOUR times.
Today he also climbed a ladder by himself, climbed up a netted bridge, and did many a things independently.
I really, really love how much he is growing up and so quickly. When we first started coming here last year, almost exactly to a year, he was more tentative and needed more encouragement and help. Today, he is a more confident little guy, confident in his abilities and cautiously ambitious in his adventures.
At one moment when he was climbing a small netted wall, he said, “Mommy, help.” I wanted to help but I also wanted him to be able to do it on his own so I kept encouraging him by saying, “You can do this, honey. You’re almost there. I’m right here if you need me”. He didn’t buy it but realizing that he just had to give it a shot, he did it anyway and you know what, he did just great! He climbed the thing by himself and was so proud of what he had accomplished! I could see it in his smile. I could see it in his sudden boost of confidence which was already on a high after doing the giant slide four times all alone. I could see it in the extra bounce in his steps.
At the same time, long after that event had already passed, I kept thinking of whether I should have just helped him. He is not going to ask for my help much longer. Why not hold his hand and help him? He is going to be able to climb little ladders and netted bridges in his sleep in a few months but now when he is actually asking for my help, shouldn’t I just give it to him? Still, I want to teach him to be self-reliant and independent whilst hoping he continues to remain my little cherub.
After all our rides and before we got to the sheep, I decided to take a quick break at the Cafeteria. All I wanted were some fries!! So I got a medium size which came to $2.70 with my member discount. A medium is a decent size for two adults but we finished it all between TJ and me. Guess who ate most of the fries? – okay this is a trick question. Well..I did 🙂 and loved every one of them and then I wonder why I am not losing my pregnancy weight. Sigh…tale for another day.
The Picnic Basket, HHPZ’s cafeteria, is a decent one and offers a variety of options as can be seen from the menu above. I did find the prices really high but they know they’ve got you so why not make the prices reflect that capture! There is a lot of space inside and outside the Cafeteria to sit and eat lunch or snacks brought from home too.
The Cafe does ask that strollers remain outside but I have once taken it inside because I couldn’t leave a tired and already-strapped TJ out by himself as I bought lunch inside, and I was too pregnant to carry him. On another occasion, I encouraged a mother struggling with three kids to just take the stroller inside if it was going to make her life easier and also because she needed to breastfeed her infant.
Overall, except for the sheep episode, we had a great time at HHZP. We even did a carousel ride on our way out even though TJ is no longer as big a fan as he used to be. Baby E got to experience her first wakeful ride too. We all just sat on a bench and had a good time.
Note: Don’t forget to get the annual parking permit when you sign up for membership. The parking permit pays for itself many times over if you visit any of the county’s many parks.
Like with most things in California (including the driver’s license), your actual membership card gets mailed to you but you are given a temporary access sheet – your application document – to use until you get the real cards.
They have half off days on the third Tuesdays of the month if you want to experience it before making the annual commitment.
Final say: Get an annual membership if you live in San Jose or close by. I am not sure of reciprocal benefits with other zoos and parks but from my limited knowledge, I know these aren’t as good as they used to be but do check it out. Great place to visit with young kids and lots to do.