T’was the month before Christmas and all through the zoo, not a creature was stirring…until the arrival of Peppermint and crew! If anyone has ever told you that Santa’s magical reindeer-led sleigh is a farce, march them straight to the San Francisco Zoo‘s ninth annual Reindeer Romp before January 1st and cry humbug. There, you’ll find Peppermint, Holly, Velvet, and Belle–four of a herd of reindeer raised and flown in through Oregon’s Operation Santa Claus for all to gaze upon in giddy disbelief. Adults included.
Viewing of the seasonal corral on SF Zoo’s historic Playfield Lawn is free with regular admission, and although visitors are not free to pet the animals, they will be able to get up, close and personal with their majestic new friends. Peppermint and gang don’t mind, either. The deer are fully domesticated, companionable, and far from shy when it comes to human interaction. At 3-5 feet tall and 150-200 pounds, they are also much smaller and less intimidating than one might have imagined in childhood.
The signature velvety antlers that branch out ever so impressively, however, are not. Formidable and grandiose, they’re shed every year and serve as the reindeer equivalent of fingerprints–no two reindeer have the same pattern and they grow back the same way every year, making them an excellent way to distinguish one magnificent creature from another. Don’t worry about weather. As animals are used to wet winter conditions, visitors will be able to behold the quartet’s remarkable racks every day, rain or shine, during normal zoo hours.
And the winter wonder keeps on coming. For twice the holiday merriment, visit December 20th-30th for the additional San Francisco Zoo Lights event and meander through moonlit exhibits adorned with thousands of spectacular holiday lights. Between 4:30 and 8 p.m., visitors can enjoy a holiday marketplace, seasonal tunes, hot apple cider, a (man-made) blanket of snow, and an event tent manned by good old Saint Nick himself (what, did you think the reindeer flew here by themselves?). Polar bears Piké and Ulu and their gaggle of penguin friends agree–nothing spreads holiday cheer quite like Santa and sleighs and real-life reindeer.
Zoo Admission: $7.50-$17, 3 and under free
San Francisco Zoo Lights Admission: $7.50 for everyone over the age of 3 after 4 p.m.
Zoo lot parking: $8 Fri, $10 Sat, free parking available on Sloat Blvd.
Winter hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
San Francisco Zoo, 1 Zoo Road, SF
*Photograph by clipart.com