Soar Above the Oakland Hills in This High Tech Gondola

Imagine soaring soundlessly over the Oakland Hills, with a view of six of the Bay Area’s counties. As you drift above the treetops, you look down and see…a camel!

That’s a pretty accurate description of a ride on the gondola at the Oakland Zoo. The zoo’s gondola opened in 2018. It shuttles visitors between the zoo’s original main level and the new California Trail exhibit at the top of Knowland Park.

Riding the Oakland Zoo gondola

Making that trip required navigating through the air above rugged terrain of hills and trees. Thus, the zoo’s Swiss-made gondola. In a four-minute ride, the gondola whisks visitors up the hill to see bald eagles, grizzly bears, and other California animals.

Unlike the zoo’s ski lift-like sky ride, the Gondola is entirely enclosed. It’s a bit like a flying, glass-sided elevator on a cable. Each car seats a family, and the gondola is both stroller and wheelchair accessible.

The Oakland Zoo gondola soars above Knowland Park

Riding it is a joyful experience. The gondola is totally silent (unless people in passing cars scream at you), and it’s a peaceful trip above the tree line. From the gondola, you can spot some of the zoo’s animals, including camels and the bison that wander near the top of the hill.

You’ll also see an aerial view of Oakland, San Leandro, San Francisco and much of the East Bay. On a clear day, you can see airplanes taking off at Oakland Airport.

The gondola is especially magical at night during the zoo’s annual Glowfari lantern festival. Soaring through the night sky in a gondola bedecked with Christmas lights, with just a bit of chill coming in, anticipating hot chocolate at the top of the hill, is a perfect experience.

Another nice aspect of the gondola? It’s free. Unlike the zoo’s sky ride, the gondola is treated more like a form of transportation than an amusement ride. That said, you can ride it as many times as you want. 

If you’re afraid of heights, that’s probably not welcome news. But if you’re visiting with kids, prepare to make quite a few four minute trips up and down.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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