Your kiddos can’t get enough of the petting zoos and chances are, they’ve made friends with a goat or two this summer. Switch gears from the farm and take things to the wild side. Read on to find where your kids can come nose-to-nose with a wallaby, smooch a sea lion, high five a starfish and more!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto: World Pet Association’s Aquatic Experience

World Pet Association’s Aquatic Experience
Get up-close and personal with sea lions at the Sea Lion Splash. Surfer Joe will lead attendees through a thirty-minute spell binding show with these amazing mammals.  Kids between the ages of 5-16 are invited to participate in the Kid’s Aquarium Contest where entrants are challenged to design an aquarium that reflects their personality.  Added bonus, ten-gallon aquarium kits complete with a filter, lighting, heater, thermometer and net are donated and sponsored for each entrant by aquatic companies.  Along with the up-close aquatic encounters, you’ll find a face painter, caricature artist, have a chance to win a beta fish or two and shake hands with a starfish.

Nov. 3-5
Schaumburg Convention Center
1551 Thoreau Dr. North
Schaumburg
Hours: Fri., noon-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: $12/adult; $6/ages 6-12; free for ages 5 & under
Online: aquaticexperience.org

Brookfield Zoo Wallabyphoto: Brookfield Zoo Wild Encounters via Maria Chambers

Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters
Covering just over 3-acres, Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters features unforgettable hands-on experiences that include opportunities to touch and feed animals. Purchase seed sticks and play feeder to hundreds of colorful parakeets that happily land on your hand, watch the kids giggle as goats nibble on their shoelaces and experience the friendliness of wallabies as they welcome you into their enclosure. There are also up-close encounters with red pandas, llamas, alpacas and reindeer as well as a rotating selection of animal ambassadors.

Brookfield Zoo
3300 Golf Road
Brookfield
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: general admission plus additional $5/adults, $3/ages 3-11
708-688-8000
Online: czs.org

New for 2017, Brookfield Zoo has also started two new animal encounter programs where you can cozy up with penguins and feed the giraffes. Read our story From Africa to Antartica: Wild Encounters at Brookfield Zoo for more information.

photo: Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo Penguin Encounter
Lincoln Park Zoo welcomed penguins to their crew almost a year ago, and now you can schedule a face-to-face encounter! Get a personal introduction to some of the African penguins living at Pritzker Penguin Cove, and find out what their daily lives are like both at the zoo and on the southern African coast.

Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 N. Clark St.
Lincoln Park
Hours: Daily thru Oct. 31, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Cost: $60
Online: lpzoo.org/penguinencounter

Lincoln Park Zoo Meet an Animal Program
Covering everything from noses to tails and scales to fur, Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House’s zoo ambassadors offer a hands-on connection with wildlife. Guests can expect to meet a variety of animal species, including a box turtle, ball python, three-banded armadillo and more (only one animal is introduced per day). Zoo experts engage their youngest audience members by teaching about the different animal adaptations, coloration, senses, how they move and what they eat.

Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 N. Clark St.
Lincoln Park
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.
Cost: Free
Online: lpzoo.org

Shedd Aquarium Shark Feeding Tour
This is a little something for the older kids, as you have to be at least 10 to experience mealtime with Shedd’s sharks. For those that meet the age requirement, spend 90 minutes on a guided exploration into how Shedd’s experts care for one of the aquariums’s most diverse and fascinating animal groups. The tour starts with meeting reef residents – from corals and sea stars to sharks and rays – and learning how each one eats and avoids becoming lunch for a predator. From there, you’ll go behind-the-scenes to experience a feed in the 400,000-gallon tank.

Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
Hours: Sat. & Sun., 9:45 a.m.
Cost: $89.95/adults; $80.95/children; $54/members
312-939-2438
Online: sheddaquarium.org

Penguin Encounterphoto: Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium Penguin Encounter
Get close enough to touch the sleek, slick feathers of an irresistibly cute penguin. During this 30-minute encounter, you’ll be introduced to one of Shedd’s penguins, learn about their natural habitats and dietary requirements and even take part in a mini training session. Warning: your little penguin-enthusiasts can’t take one home, but they’ll most definitely try.

Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
Hours: Encounters offered Fri.-Sun. (offered daily the last week of Jun.-Aug. 28)
Cost: $75.95/adults; $66.95/children; $40/members
312-939-2438
Online: sheddaquarium.org

Oceans of Fun Sea Lionphoto: Oceans of Fun

Oceans of Fun Aquatic Adventure
This one is a little more of a trek, but it’s well worth the drive to Milwaukee to hang with the sea lions in this 1 1/2 hour experience.  Check out the behind-the-scenes happenings at Oceans of Fun, where they educate the public about marine mammals, animal adaptations, training techniques and conservation. Get suited up in life vests and booties and enter 3-4 feet of water where you can touch, feed, interact with and help train the sea lions. After a quick sea lion smooch at the end, you’re invited to grab a seat in the stadium to relax and enjoy the animals as they take center stage.

Oceans of Fun
10001 W. Bluemound Rd.
Milwaukee
Hours: Check the calendar for select dates thru Oct. 30
Cost: $165/ages 6 & up
Online: oceansoffun.org

Oceans of Fun Sea Lion Splash
In addition to the Aquatic Adventure, Oceans of Fun offers a 2 1/2 hour sea lion experience for kids ages 5-10. Junior trainers will have the opportunity to work up close with the animals and learn about marine mammal characteristics, adaptations, habitats, training and conservation, while preparing the diet used to reward the animals for a job well done. Participants will play interactive learning games and after bucketing a diet of fresh fish, they’ll interact with the animals pool-side using their hands and voices to communicate with their new flippered friends. Once the private training session is complete, parents get to enjoy a presentation and kids show off their new skills.

Oceans of Fun
10001 W. Bluemound Rd.
Milwaukee
Hours: Check the calendar for select dates thru Dec. 3
Cost: $100/ages 5-10
Online: oceansoffun.org

If you haven’t hit your quota on petting zoos this season, find out where to get your barn animal fix by reading Barn It! 7 Animal Farms to Visit Now.

Where’s your favorite spot to get in touch with the animal lover inside? Tell us in the Comments below.

—Maria Chambers