Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens

"Oh, how can we get to the zoo?" I still recall the rhyme that we read to our kids after our first visit to Riverbanks Zoo in 1989. The girls are grown and gone now, and though my husband and I still enjoy visiting zoos on occasions, for some reason, we put off traveling to this attraction after our return to S.C. in 2003. We rectified that mistake on Saturday.

Centrally located in West Columbia, Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden is less than two hours from just about any point in the state, and with 170 acres to explore, 2000 animals to see, and a variety of events to participate in, it's worth the drive.

We arrived around 1:00 P.M., and though the zoo currently closes at 6:00 P.M., we had plenty of time to look around. We parked at the Botanical Garden entrance and enjoyed a walk through a walled garden with shaded paths, fountains dancing along the pathway to the visitors center, and species after species of flowers, trees, and shrubs. It must look gorgeous in the spring.

Since we didn't know which direction the zoo was in, we took the tram to that side of the park and spent the next few hours visiting almost every exhibit the zoo has to offer. Though still hot and humid (this is October?) the animals were out, and most were active. Unfortunately, so was the crowd. We had to make our way through throngs that sometimes included more strollers than I've ever seen at one time. We could barely get through the Rainforest exhibit because of them.

Despite that, we enjoyed ourselves. After visiting the aquarium, the reptile house (eww), the bird house, meerkats, elephants, giraffes and more, we had a nice lunch at Ndoki Pizza, located at the far end of the zoo near the Ndoki Lodge and the meerkats. A slice of pizza, calzoni, order of breadsticks, and two badly needed Power Ades cost around $16.00. A higher price than we would have paid on the economy, but worth it since the food was good, the drinks cold, and by this time, we really needed to sit down and rest.

Riverbanks Zoo is open every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas (for which I congratulate them) from 9:00 A.M. To 5:00 P.M. (6:00 PM on the weekends during summer.) Current admission prices are $9.75 for adults ($8.25 for senior citizens), $7.25 for kids 3-12, and $8.50 for military. Children 3 and under are free.

Upcoming events include Boo at the Zoo and Lights Before Christmas. Check the zoo's website at for more information, including dates and admission prices.

Photos from our trip to Riverbanks are at

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