Scientific Art Studio Completes Unique Playground at Oakland Zoo

Interactive Play Environment Set in the Heart of Oakland Zoo’s new California Trail Lets Kids Play and Learn

On July 12, the Oakland Zoo will open the California Wilds! playground along with its California Trail expansion. The interactive, completely custom playground designed and built by Bay Area company Scientific Art Studio, is nestled in the heart of the zoo’s new exhibits on top of the Oakland hills. Working closely with Oakland Zoo the studio created a one-of-a-kind play environment where children maximize their zoo learning experience with imaginative multi-sensory play, all within view of young Black, Brown and Grizzly bears. 

Workers finish the surfacing near the climbable Mt. Shasta (and Shastina!)

Workers finish the surfacing near the climbable Mt. Shasta (and Shastina!)

In this expansive outdoor space, children can mountain-climb, zip-line, and splash in five play zones inspired by the different ecological zones of California. Using natural materials whenever possible and designed so that everything has more than one function, the studio has created a space that blends ecological education with art and discovery-based play. The space includes a replica of the iconic Mt. Shasta with climbing ropes, lava tube tunnels, and a glacier slide. A stylized redwood ring and a babbling stream share the forest zone with a giant bird nest made of durable stainless steel, local manzanita branches and artfully stitched leaves. The desert landscape features a sand basin and accessible sand tray surrounded by natural rock and boulders. The rubber safety surfacing serves as a painter’s canvas creating natural paths and scenes. Throughout the play area there 20 true-to-life size bronze animal sculptures for children to discover providing a tactile experience of some the many animals found in California.

“When we created the Oakland Zoo California Wilds! playground it was a priority to create a safe environment where kids encounter Californian landscape zones with it’s flora and fauna.” says Scientific Art Studio founder Ron Holthuysen. “Spending decades designing play spaces and observing the way children play and learn, we know how important it is to provide open-ended play opportunities and to steer away from standard solutions. Whenever we design a play area for children like this one our goal is to create wonderful memories for children and their adults.”

Only accessible by a thrilling gondola ride, the play area is surrounded by the grizzly bear, black bear and big cats exhibits, all part of the ambitious new California Trail expansion of the Oakland Zoo, a 56 acre addition featuring live native California animal and plant exhibits. The grand opening to the public is scheduled for July 12 at 11AM. Press are welcome to attend. For more information visit or contact Scientific Art Studio at (510) 232-9629,


Scientific Art Studio