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13 Wildlife Centers For Pint-Sized Animal Encounters

Have you exhausted every petting zoo and farm within a 30 mile radius with your animal-crazy kids? While they may never get tired of seeing their favorite critters, you probably wouldn’t mind a change of scenery, and perhaps something a little more intellectually stimulating. Luckily, the Bay Area is full of Wildlife Centers that are perfectly suited for your little Dr. Dolittles. They’re small, conducive to learning and exploring, and best of all, full of animals of all stripes and sizes. With a focus on local species, wildlife centers are largely uncrowded, and offer a wealth of valuable programming for the wild things in your own bunch.

East Bay

Lindsay Wildlife Museum
Pet a bunny, get to know local animals like hawks, snakes, and squirrels, and find out how a wild fox gets tamed. The Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek is home to more than 50 species of orphaned animals that come from the fields and trees of the Bay. But the real magic happens in the on-site rehabilitation hospital, which treats 5,000 injured and orphaned animals each year. This summer visitors are invited to go behind the scenes and watch doctors treat their little patients from within a new viewing area and exhibit hall.

1931 First Ave
Walnut Creek, Ca
925-935-1978

Crab Cove Visitor Center
The tanks are full of creatures from the Bay’s watery deep, crabs included. To see what else lives in the mudflats, join the kids on a naturalist-guided exploration. Or just come by to watch the fish get fed.

1252 McKay Ave (at Central Ave)
Alameda, Ca
888-327-2757

kids_binoculars_wildlife_center

Rotary Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge
Located in Oakland’s Lake Merritt, the Rotary Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge takes pride in being the nation’s first wildlife refuge. See herons, pelicans, and egrets close up—find other birds you cannot name and trek to the nature center to find out what they’re called.

600 Bellevue Avenue
Oakland, Ca
510-238-3739

Sulphur Creek Nature Center
Let the naturalists and docents teach you and the tots how the native wildlife here is cared for. Classes include toddler time and nature education for the whole family. Local wildlife are always on display, and there’s even an animal lending library so you can borrow a guinea pig, hamster, or mouse of your own, without having to keep it!

1801 D Street
Hayward, Ca
510-881-6747

Marin

WildCare
The Bay Area bats need a voice, as do the owls, vultures, tortoises, and field mice. That’s what WildCare strives to be, and the more kids know about local animals, the more they can help make a difference in their local environments. At WildCare in San Rafael, kids can take camps and classes, visit the rehabilitation hospital, and meet the wildlife ambassadors in the center’s courtyard.

76 Albert Park Lane
San Rafael, Ca
415-456-7283

Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary
Protecting 900 acres of tidal land in Richardson Bay, consider this Audubon Center the shorebirds’ best friend! Kids are always invited to come to Tiburon to learn about the birds’ habitat and get some mud on their feet. The educational programs at the center help foster a love of nature, as well as the winged creatures that thrive in it.

376 Greenwood Beach Road
Tiburon, Ca
415-388-2524

Marine Mammal Center
Come see the sea creatures, from elephant seals and sea otters to sea lions and even whales. When these blubbery critters get injured, it’s the Marine Mammal Center to the rescue, with every intent to rehabilitate and release the injured back into the wild. Take the kids for a peek into the Sausalito center’s hospital facilities and fish kitchen. And remember, the animals you’ll see here will vary with each visit.

Fort Cronkhite
2000 Bunker Rd
Sausalito, Ca
415-289-7325

Petaluma Wildlife Museum
High school students run this wildlife museum, making the tours both for and by kids. Young nature enthusiasts will learn by seeing and touching, whether it is comparing animal skins, petting a critter from the live animal collection, or touring the exhibits that represent the animal realm from four corners of the world.

201 Fair Street
Petaluma, Ca
707-778-4787

South Bay and Peninsula

Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley
Even animals get sick, and wildlife centers like this one were created to take care of them. Some animals are too fragile to release, like Olive, the Western Screech Owl and Fala, the Albino Crow, and they’ll each have a story to tell when you and the littles come to visit this San Jose center.

3027 Penitencia Creek Road
San Jose, Ca
408-929-9453

Fox_Large

CuriOdyssey
Once known as the Coyote Point Museum, this San Mateo center includes science exhibits and is home to over 100 Bay Area critters being rehabilitated from the wild. See them firsthand in CuriOdyssey’s wildlife habitats, carefully replicated by the keepers.

1651 Coyote Point Drive
San Mateo, Ca
650-342-7755

Animals-AnimalHabitats_Otters

Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center
After testing the wildlife observation platforms for some fantastic birdwatching, step into the center to learn more about the animals living in the surrounding tidal and freshwater habitats.

Embarcadero Rd & Embarcadero Way
Palo Alto, Ca
650-329-2506

San Francisco

Crissy Field Center
Much of the wildlife at this SF center remains outdoors, where the kids will roam being “seaside sleuths,” insect trackers, and more. Crissy Field Center offers camps for tots, as well as environmental programming for the whole family.

1199 E Beach
Presidio
San Francisco, Ca
415-561-7690

kids_chrissyField

Randall Museum
In addition to offering a range of arts and science exhibits, the Randall Museum in SF has a live animal exhibit. As with other wildlife centers, the more than 100 native animals found here can no longer survive in the wild or were born in captivity. Download the animal scavenger hunt worksheet before you visit, and stop by on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. for the weekly “Meet the Animals” event, where the kids can get up close and personal with everything from snakes to goats.

199 Museum Way
San Francisco, Ca
415-554-9600

Know of any other great wildlife centers in the Bay Area? Share your kiddo’s favorite spot in a comment below.

– Renee M. Rutledge and Erin Feher

Photo credit: Greg G. via yelp, The Rotary Nature Center, David C. via yelp, Darren S. via yelp, Ben S. via yelp, M R. via yelp, L Y. via yelp

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