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Dolphins and friends at home in Vallejo.

Dolphins and friends at home in Vallejo

When it opens in mid-June, the new Marine World/Africa USA in Vallejo will have accomplished a herculean task-- moving 326 animals and 39 marine mammals from Redwood City, 60 miles south, without harming a single animal. Finishing a $50 million facility in six months and completely relandscaping the site proceeded with few hitches. For visitors, the results should be dazzling.

One outcome: crowds are expected to be heavy this first season, so trip planning is important. And if you visit, don't overlook the rest of Vallejo's attractions--a rich maritime past, historic architecture, and a lively waterfront.

How is the new park different?

Just west of Interstate 80 at State 37 (Marine World Parkway) and Fairgrounds Drive, 25 miles north of Oakland, this 160-acre site is more spacious than the old park and offers more opportunities for close-up looks at animals. As before, the park has six major shows each day-- killer whales and dolphins, sea lions, tigers, elephants and chimpanzees, exotic birds, and water-skiing on a 55-acre lake.

During short ecology theater programs held several times each day, naturalists show and talk about endangered species, including such unusual felines as a serval, caracal, and cheetah.

A path around the giraffe, rhino, tiger and hoofed-stock habitats offers a look at how handlers care for and feed the animals (greatest activity occurs early and late in the day). At a glass-walled nursery, a changing parade of the park's new babies is on display; this month's newcomers may include a baboon, chimp, gibbon, squirrel monkeys, and Bengal tigers.

In the killer whale and dolphin tanks, viewing windows give you an underwater perspective. An exhibit pool holds mother and baby Atlantic bottlenose dolphins being studied by a marine biologist to learn how dolphins teach their young to vocalize. Three times a day, they attract crowds while being fed portions of their 20-pound allotment of smelt, mackerel, and squid.

At nearby Seal Cove, you can buy fish to feed the park's 18 California sea lions and harbor seals. Two big males (distinguished by their size and prominent forehead knobs) dominate this rookery. As you toss in fish, you may notice that the smaller females have to scramble aggressively to get a share.

Expanded educational exhibits include a children's game area and discovery rooms where youngsters put on models of animals' ears to experience how various species hear; in another area you can pop up through a plexiglass hole for a ground hog's view of the world.

Trip planning: crowds, food, heat

To check the opening date, call (707) 643-6722. In summer, the park will be open 9:30 to 6 daily; entry costs $13.95, $9.95 for seniors and children 4 through 12. A season pass costs $35, $30 for ages over 60, $25 for children. Parking costs $2.

You'll generally find fewer people Mondays through Wednesdays and right at opening time. Better avoid visiting during the Solano County Fair, July 8 through 21; the fair is held right across from Marine World and will draw big crowds and heavy traffic.

It's wise to carry a park map (free at the entry gate) and agree on a meeting spot in case a group member gets lost, though 40 uniformed staffers circulate to help with directions or lost children. For best seating, arrive at show arenas early, but remember that front-row seats at water shows get splashed.

The park has many food concessions, but picnicking is allowed and that can save you time and money. When you enter, get your hand stamped so you can retrieve lunch from the car; dine at a tree-shaded table or put a blanket on the gross overlooking the lake.

Summer temperatures are not as hot as you might expect, ranging from an average high of 70| in June and 74| in July to 80| in August and September; afternoons often bring cooling breezes.

Getting there by car--or ferry

From Interstate 80, the most direct route is to go west on State 37, then turn south on Fairgrounds Drive, which has just been widened. If traffic is heavy, however, there's a back way. From I-80 south of State 37, take Redwood Street west, then turn right on Fairgrounds Drive.

Or avoid traffic altogether by taking the Red and White Fleet's new high-speed ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco to Vallejo's Mare Island ferry terminal at Mare Island Way near Maine Street. Daily in summer, it departs at 9:10, 11:45, and 2:05; last return from Vallejo is at 3:40. To visit the park, buy a combination ticket, which includes ferry, shuttle to park, and park admission: $28.95, $21.95 for children 4 through 12. To confirm times and prices, call (415) 546-2896.

Discovering other Vallejo attractions

A small waterfront park on Mare Island Way near Maine Street features a children's play area. Near it, at Marina Vista Memorial Park, on Mare Island Way between Florida and Maine streets, you can fish (license needed), bike, or jog.

The same boat that ferries workers between Vallejo and Mare Island shipyard gives hour-long tours of the harbor, Carquinez Strait, and San Pablo Bay. Cruises run Saturdays at 2, May through September; tickets cost $5, $4.50 for children 14 and under. Reservations are required; call (707) 643-7542. The boat leaves from the Mare Island ferry terminal.

A few miles away on Carquinez Strait, the California Maritime Academy, one of five state-operated colleges for merchant marine officers, offers weekday tours, which include the training ship Golden Bear when it's in port. To schedule a campus tour, call (707) 648-4213.

Fishermen can try their luck at two piers (no license required): the busier is at Wilson Avenue at the Napa River Bridge, a second is near the boat launch area at Mare Island Way and Curtola Parkway. Catches include sturgeon and striped bass (though your chances for these are better from a boat), rockfish, and perch.

Brackish and rich with bird life, 55-acre River Park has a 1 1/2-mile loop trial from which you may spot herons and egrets stalking food in the shallows, avocets poking in the mud. Entry to the recently developed marsh is from parking areas at Wilson Avenue and Hichborn Street or Wilson and Daniels avenues.

A larger marsh, the 467-acre Benicia State Recreation Area, is about 3 miles southeast of Vallejo. Picnic tables overlook the strait. A paved jogging and bike path skirts the marsh, and hiking trails go into it. A turnstile at the parking lot collects the $2 day-use fee--it accepts quarters or dollar bills only. From downtown, take Interstate 780 southeast to State Park Road, then follow signs.

Restaurants. Two on the waterfront offer fine seafood daily for lunch (except Sundays) and dinner: The Wharf near the Mare Island ferry terminal and Remark Harbor House at the end of Harbor Way. City Lights Cafe, at 415 Virginia Street, offers California cuisine; it's open 11 to 4 weekdays.

History and architecture. From the town's earliest days, shipping and shipbuilding were vital industries in Vallejo. In the 1870s, '80s, and '90s, prominent merchants, shipbuilders, and retired sea captains built elegant homes on the hills overlooking the waterfront. Many of these stately houses still stand.

Concentrated in the Vallejo Architectural Heritage District, many are visible as you drive on Georgia and Virginia streets between Sonoma Boulevard and Monterey Street. The heritage district is distinguished by brown street signs.

Perhaps the best place to review the area's maritime history is at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, at 734 Marin Street. In the imposing former city hall, the museum's five galleries cover the area's history, beginning with Vallejo's brief stint as state capital (1851 to 1853).

A mural depicts the history of Mare Island and its shipbuilding. The yards here launched nearly 400 ships during World War II and still do submarine repair and refitting. There's a model of the Saginaw, the first ship built in Vallejo (in 1859), and a World War II periscope gives visitors a submarine-style view of the town. The museum is open 10 to 4:30 Tuesdays through Fridays, 1 to 4:30 Saturdays; admission is $1.

Photo: Trunk to tail, Indian elephants are walked through the park daily as part of exercise routine

Photo: Diapered chimpanzee babies play in the nursery with their handler while visitors peer through nursery windows

Photo: Leaping 12 feet high, 2- to 4-ton Atlantic bottlenose dolphins frolic daily in exhibit pool adjacent to show area; you're welcome to watch

Photo: Ark on the Bay. Barge carried the last animals from old Redwood City park site: camels, zebras, chimpanzees, and more

Photo: Silhouetted against Mare Island Strai and Napa bridge, cyclist rides through new park

Photo: Stately sandstone naval museum was once Vallejo's city hall. Inside, you can look through a working periscope from a WW II submarine

Photo: Stylish City Lights Cafe in downtown Vallejo was once an electric company office; now it serves elegant lunches on weekdays
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Marine World-Africa USA
Date:Jun 1, 1986
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