Family-Friendly Animal Encounters in SoCal!
Hang with a monkey, feed a giraffe, have brunch with the beasts… does your family love animals? Keep this list handy, we found over 25 spots to let your wild side out!
Big zoos, small zoos, exotic animal sanctuaries, and specialty animal destinations.
America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College, Moorpark
Home of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College. Visit the zoo for special animal shows and demonstrations twice a day. Plus, behind-the-scenes tours and other up-close opportunities. Annual family-friendly special events throughout the year. Open weekends, 11 a.m. -5 p.m. Admission: $6-8.
Amy’s Farm, Ontario
Kids will learn where their food comes from at this polycultural farm. Guided farm tour activities include garden walk, milking cows, petting farm animals, feeding pigs, grooming horses and more. Seasonal activities can include holding newborn chicks, petting baby goats, harvesting seasonal vegetables and more. Educational workshops and special events also available. Tours, $8-10. Closed Sundays.
Animal Tracks, Agua Dulce
Take a tour to get a hands-on experience with reptiles, ferrets, an armadillo, wolf hybrids, and more. The monkey experience allows visitors to interact with capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and baboon. Open publicly on weekends with tickets or by reservation. Private tours available on weekdays. Tours: $45-300 per person (two person minimum).
Centennial Farm, Costa Mesa
A three-acre working farm at the OC Fair and Event Center. Visitors can view pigs, chickens, oxen, goats and more. Visit the farm on Discovery Days where children pet a chick, plant and take home a radish, see a cow milking demonstration and more. Reservations required for groups of 6 or more children. Farm and garden classes available for 16 years and older. School group tours available. Open daily. Free admission. Visit website for closures and hour changes.
Children’s Nature Retreat, Alpine
A 20-acre farm, animal sanctuary and nature reserve with over 120 domesticated livestock and exotic animals from around the world. Guided tours, up-close encounters, and special Keeper for the Day and Behind the Scenes tours available. The retreat also hosts birthday parties. Closed Monday – Wednesday to the public. Admission: $15-25.
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Los Angeles
Home to more than 1,400 mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles representing more than 270 different species, many of which are endangered.
Popular exhibits include Rainforest of the Americas, Elephants of Asia, Campo Gorilla Reserve, Dragons of Komodo, Winnick Family Children’s Zoo and more.
Special activities and tours (additional fees apply) include Flamingo Mingle, Giraffe Feedings, Behind-the-Scenes Tour, and Keys to the Zoo Tour. Safari Days (day camp), school-break camps, and Family Nature Club are also offered. Open daily. Admission: $16-21.
Oasis Camel Dairy, Ramona
Camel rides, animal shows, and private tours. Open one weekend a month, check website for dates. Packages, $8-24. Special family-friendly events throughout the year. Hands-on camel camps also available where participants learn to care for camels, knot-tying, leading, and riding.
Orange County Zoo, Orange
See a variety of animals and plants native to the southwestern United States. The zoo also features a barnyard. School group tours, toddler program, scout group program, guided tours and audio tours available. Visit their website for story times and special events. Look out for the discovery cart where guests can see and touch educational artifacts. Open daily. Admission: $2, free for ages 2 and under. Parking, $3-10. Located inside Irvine Regional Park.
OstrichLand USA, Solvang
A zoo of 50 ostriches and emus. Guests are invited to feed and interact with these large birds. Admission: $2-5. Ostrich feed, $1 per bowl.
Pony Time, Lakewood
Petting zoo includes goats, rabbits, chickens, sheep, an alpaca, llamas, and a cow. Feed the goats for an additional fee. Hand-led ponies around a trot track are also available, plus classes and trail rides. Pony Time also hosts birthday parties. Located at Lakewood Equestrian Center. Admission: $2. Pony Rides: $6-9.
San Diego Zoo, San Diego
Discover animals and upgrade your visit with special experiences like walking the grounds before the zoo opens, get your own personal tour guide, spend the morning with pandas, be keeper for a day and more. Plus, enjoy kids programs including Kinderzoo, summer camps, Kids’ Wild Night Out, Aussie Outback Birthday Bash, and Zoo Internquest for teens. School and youth programs include field trips, assemblies, and overnight camping adventures. Open every day, including holidays. Admission: $46-56.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Escondido
Go on an open-air expedition around their African field exhibits where visitors can hop on a tram to see rhinos, giraffes, antelopes and gazelles. Enhance your experience with different safari add-ons that will get you up-close with animals and behind the scenes. Zipline across the safari park with the Flightline Safari, navigate a treetop trail using a harness, cables and ropes with the Jungle Ropes Safari, or go on a special overnight camping adventure with their Roar and Snore Safari. Admission: $46-56.
Santa Ana Zoo, Santa Ana
The zoo features over 80 species of animals, including the smallest monkeys in the world, the Pygmy Marmosets. Visit the family farm to feed goats and sheep, hop on the Zoofari Express train, walk through the Amazon Aviary, ride the carousel and more. The zoo also hosts birthday parties. Admission: $9-12. Free admission every third Sunday for Santa Ana residents. Located in Prentice Park.
STAR Eco Station, Culver City
This environmental science museum and exotic wildlife rescue facility offers hands-on ecology lessons and encounters with exotic birds, reptiles, mammals and ocean life in a tropical jungle setting.
Annual events, seasonal camps, and party packages are available. Mobile museums, assemblies, workshops, and classes are offered too.
The facility is only open to public on weekends from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., tours begin every hour (last tour at 3 p.m.). Visitors may only see the animals on a guided tour. Admission: $6-8.
Susie Q Ranch, Murrieta
Pony rides, petting zoo and trail rides. Adults and kids (ages 8+) can ride on the scenic trail that goes up in the hills or an easier trail. Kids (ages 4-7) will be on their own horse led by a guide. Bring carrots to feed the horses. Birthday party packages and horse camps available. Pony rides and petting zoo, $30.
The Reptile Zoo, Fountain Valley
Houses over 100 exotic species of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. Interactive hands-on opportunities and animal feedings. Visit Gator Island, home to American alligators. Plus, Jr. Zookeeper science camps and parties available. Admission: $8-12.
Wild Wonders, Bonsall
Wild Wonders is a wildlife education organization with more than 120 animal ambassadors. Interactive animal experiences include Behind the Scenes, Meet and Feed a Bearcat, Wallaby Walkout, Cat Training 101, Fennec Foxes and Friends, Meet and Greet a Cheetah and more. Dine on breakfast while watching cheetahs relaxing with their Brunch with the Beasts program.
Wild Wonders brings interactive wildlife programs to classrooms. They also offer Zoo Camp, Family Zoo Camp and a Zookeeper Mentoring Program. Wild Wonders hosts birthday parties, wildlife photography sessions, and provide animals for events.
Zoomars Petting Zoo, San Juan Capistrano
Kids can pet various animals, ride a horse, hop on the Kiddy Train, and jump in the corn box! Plus, visit the Miner’s Gulch, where kids can mine for gold, gemstones, fossils and ancient relics. Party packages and special events area also available. Open daily, closed on rainy days and major holidays. Admission: $12-15.
Marine Animal Encounters
Aquariums and marine mammal care centers.
Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach
More than 11,000 ocean animals are featured in three main galleries with 19 major habitats and 32 focus exhibits, including over 500 different species. Educational programs are also available as well as birthday parties, and summer and winter camps. Pacific Visions, the Aquarium’s first major expansion, will open in late May and feature a state-of-the-art theater, new exhibition space, art gallery and animals. Admission: adults, $29.95; kids (3-11), $17.95; seniors (62+), $26.95.
Birch Aquarium, La Jolla
Observe more than 5,000 fish in 60+ habitats plus a museum featuring cutting-edge research from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Get hands-on with sea stars, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers and more in their living tide pool exhibit. Watch a shark feeding or catch a show and witness divers descent into two-story Giant Kelp Forests while answering guest questions and feeding the animals. Visit their site for daily show and feeding times. Adults, $19; kids (3-17), $15; seniors (60+), $16.50. UC San Diego.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, San Pedro
Thirty-five saltwater tanks and touch tanks, plus discovery labs and an Aquatic Nursery with baby sea animals. Ongoing science programs include tours, workshops and classes, camps, youth docents, family programs, annual events, tide pool walks and grunion runs. Suggested admission donation: $1-5.
Legoland’s Sea Life Aquarium, Carlsbad
Sea Life Aquarium is the home to over 350 different species and more than 6,000 creatures. The aquarium offers 16 interactive zones to explore and learn about marine life, touch pools, and the exhibit Sea at Night. In this exhibit, you’ll experience bioluminescent tides as you walk a simulated coastline under the stars, and splash in waves projected on the ground, giving the effect of a crashing tide. $25. Dive shows and feedings daily, visit their site for more information.
Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles, San Pedro
The Marine Mammal Care Center rehabilitates seals and sea lions rescued from the LA County coastline. The MMCC is open to the public every day of the year during daylight hours. Visitors can see seal and sea lion patients from a safe distance. Docent-led tours are available for groups of 10 or more.
High school students can earn community service hours and college/veterinary students can participate in their 10-week Husbandry Internship. MMCC has a variety of other volunteer opportunities, submit an application online.
MMCC also hosts educational events and activities throughout the year. Animal viewing and parking is free. Open daily.
Ocean Institute, Dana Point
Interactive exhibits, marine life, touch tanks and ecology cruises, plus presentations and Sunday tours aboard the historic tallship, Pilgrim. Guided 30-minute tours offer a behind-the-scenes view of one of their learning centers and are available Monday – Friday, visit the website for pricing and schedule information. Summer camps are also offered.
Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach
Rescues, rehabilitates and releases marine mammals. Summer camps, after-school and Girl Scouts programs available. Participants can learn how to rehabilitate seal and sea lion patients through a series of mock activities including weighing fish, preparing fish smoothies, cleaning pens and learning the art of marine mammal rescue. Visit their Butterfly Garden to see bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Open daily, 10 a.m. -4 p.m. Free, donations encouraged.
Roundhouse Aquarium, Manhattan Beach
Located at the end of the Manhattan Beach Pier, the Roundhouse Aquarium serves as an educational facility. Inside are viewing and touch tanks each displaying selection of marine fish and invertebrates. There’s also a kid’s area with books and puzzles.
Summer Science Beach Camp also offered, plus birthday party packages.
Open daily. Suggested donations: $2 per person; $5 per family. Visit the website for hours and information.
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium Heal the Bay, Santa Monica
More than 100 species, featuring touch tanks with tide-pool animals, plus year-round field-trip programs, kids’ classes, party packages and special-themed event days. Visit the website for hours. Adults and kids 13+, $5; kids 12 and under, free.
The SEA Lab, Redondo Beach
A hands-on coastal science education center that offers free and low-cost programs, touch-tank tours, public fish feeding, field trips and parties. Summer camps are also offered. Admission: $5; free for children 14 and under.
* Information current as of February 21, 2019.
This post was written by Liz Davis