We have nothing against sheeps and goats (they’re maaa-velous). But if your kids are ready to venture beyond the traditional petting zoo, here are 13 inspiring animal encounters they’re sure to love. From a “flamingo mingle” to a little monkeying around, these Los Angeles farms, sanctuaries and more will provide some wild memories for kids.
Hold a hedgehog! Feed a ferret! Touch a tortoise! At Animal Tracks, an animal rescue organization just a stone's throw away from the (must-see!) Vasquez Rocks geological park, visitors can get an up-close-and-personal tour of a veritable Noah's Ark of critters. The ranch houses a menagerie of animals—from monkeys, foxes and ferrets to tarantulas, parrots and pythons. All of the animals are rescues, either having been injured and unable to return to the wild, or saved from the illegal pet trade.
What really makes this place different, says Animal Tracks owner Stacy Gunderson, is that visitors are allowed to "touch every animal that's touchable." There are a variety of tours available, including the Children's Tour for ages 2-10. Tickets are $20 for kids 2-12 years old, and $25 for adults.
Gibbon Conservation Center
The Gibbon Conservation Center is for the study and conservation of gibbons, small apes from the forests of Asia. More than 40 gibbons live here in family groups, which allows kids to see up close how these animals live and take care of their young.
The GCC is open weekends only and you can take a self-guided tour anytime from 9:30a.m.-noon, or take a guided tour at 10a.m. Kids ages 6-12 are $5, teens are $12, adults are $15, and kids 5 and under are free.
19100 Esguerra Rd.
Santa Clarita, Calif.
Marine Mammal Care Center
The Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro is a hospital with a very different kind of patient: Inhabitants here are mostly baby seals who have lost their moms and cannot feed themselves, along with other sick or injured sea mammals. Your little animal lovers can see (from behind the fence line) a plethora of adorable harbor seals and California sea lions, learn how they are cared for and how helpers here prepare to return them to the wild.
Admission is free but donations are encouraged. Staff is around to answer questions daily between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Have a larger group? Make sure you request an appointment.
3601 S. Gaffey St.
STAR Eco Station
Meet parrots and pythons and piranhas—oh my! Kids, from babies to teens, can tour Eco Station to see a host of exotic rescued wildlife. Each tour is led by an expert Eco Station staff member who explains the habits and history of hundreds of rescued exotic animals. The tour also features exhibits on the current challenges facing the environment and offers tips on how to help save the planet through small changes at home and at school.
Tours are $6-$8 (kids under 2 are free) and start every hour on Sat. & Sun. from 10 a.m. with the last tour starting at 3 p.m.
10101 Jefferson Blvd.
These two-hour tours are honestly life changing. The morning starts with an orientation talk about the importance of wolves. Then you get to move to actually meeting the wonderful wolves that call this sanctuary home. Pet them, feed them and even have them give you kisses; this up close and personal encounter with wild animals is a moving and amazing experience, and a wonderful way to learn about the importance of the protection and preservation of all Earth’s creatures.
Public tours are available every other Sat. at 10 a.m. by appointment for $35 for kids and $50 for adults; or, schedule a private visit for Tue., Thurs. or Fri. at 10 a.m. for $300 (up to five people), $60 for each additional person. All tours are recommended for kids 8 & up.
18832 Pine Canyon Rd.
Wildlife Learning Center
More than 50 different species of zoo-born and rescued animals thrive at the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar. Visitors may stroll through the gorgeous, landscaped setting to view the animals, or sign up for a more intimate, customized tour that features engaging animal interaction. Touch a fox, feed a porcupine, hold an owl, and meet lovely Lola the sloth—as well as many smaller mammals and reptiles in the center’s 1-on-1 animal experiences.
Open daily from 10 a.m–5 p.m., tickets are $10 for kids, $12 for adults (2 and under are free). Want to meet an animal one-on-one? Starting at $25 & up (depending on the animal) for up to four people, you can meet a sloth, giraffe, porcupine, a python, an owl or more!
16027 Yarnell St.
Peter Weber Equestrian Center
If you're in the South Bay and you've got a little one who loves horses (or goats, pigs, alpacas, tortoises, bunnies, and sheep!), a visit to Peter Weber Equestrian Center makes the perfect playdate.
While it's not open to the public for walk-ins, private "field trips" can be arranged seven days a week for as low as $50 for up to six kids. For that, you'll have the entire petting zoo area all to yourselves for 30 minutes, which means your little animal-lovers can pet the goats and sheep, feed the bunnies, touch the tortoise—then play in the enclosed play area that includes a small slide perched on bales of hay, two giant rocking-horses, and a make-believe Wild West jail facade that's perfect for Instagram (#Jailbirds).
Want more? Mon.-Fri. you can reserve the 90-minute trio of activities that includes 30 minutes in the petting zoo, a 30-minute hayride around the ranch, and one pony ride for everyone.
6401 Crenshaw Blvd.
Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
Animal Encounters at the Los Angeles Zoo
The zoo is always a beloved destination for tots who want a one-stop spot for animal-viewing—and these LA Zoo experiences let visitors get an even closer look. Want to see just how long a giraffe's tongue is (Pssst: It's 18 inches!) From 11a.m. to 1p.m. and then between 2p.m-4p.m., pay just $5 cash to get a chance to grab a branch and feed a giraffe at the zoo's daily public giraffe feedings (Read Red Tricycle's review of the awesome experience here!).
Flamingo Mingle is the newest animal encounter where you can feed the pink birds and learn all about their care. Cost: $25 in addition to Zoo admission and is available daily (except the second and fourth Wed. of the month) at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. Maximum six guests per encounter and the minimum age is 2 years. Advance online ticket purchase is strongly recommended.
*Zoo admission is $17 for kids 2-12; $22 for ages 13-61; children under 2 are free.
5333 Zoo Dr.
Moorpark Teaching Zoo
This teaching zoo is small enough that the kids don't get too tired exploring here, and they'll get to see everything, like the ocelot, Mowgli, who likes to rest in the shade. Another thing we love is that there are docents everywhere, happy to teach all they’ve learned about the animals. There are also plenty of animal shows, demonstrations, encounters and discovery stations that take place throughout the day. There’s even a “Behind the Scenes Tour” you can take (for an additional $7) at 12:45 p.m. or 2:45 p.m.
Open weekends from 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; kids are $7 and adults are $9, under 2 are free.
Note: Swing by an ATM on your way—they only take cash or checks.
7075 Campus Rd.
Animal-loving kids love to visit Farm Sanctuary’s Southern California shelter which focuses on compassionately rescuing and protecting farm animals—especially from factory farms. Here you can meet rescued cows, pigs, turkeys, and other farm animals, each of whom has their own special story.
Every Fri., Sat. and Sun., tours are offered at 11 a.m., 1 p.m and 3 p.m. where kids can “cuddle cows” and “talk to turkeys.” Tours cost $5 for kids and $10 for adults while kids 3 and under are free. No reservations are necessary but call first to make sure a tour is taking places and plan to arrive 15 minutes early.
5200 Escondido Canyon Rd.
The Gentle Barn
The Gentle Barn is an animal rescue shelter with a mission: to rescue, rehabilitate and give sanctuary to abused animals. A visit to The Gentle Barn is a relaxing way to spend a Sun. afternoon (they’re only open to the public on Sun. from 10a.m.–2p.m.) to teach kids how to love and respect all animals. While here they can groom the horses, brush the cows, give the pigs tummy rubs, hug the goats and sheep, sit under the shade trees, munch on popcorn, and make new friends. A donation of $22 per adult and $12 per child is requested. You must purchase tickets in advance to visit.
Note: When you visit, they ask that no one brings in meat, poultry, fish or dairy foods onto the property out of respect for the animals. Feel free to bring snacks that respect that request, or purchase vegan food from the snack shop.
15825 Sierra Hwy.
The Sanctuary at Soledad
Located about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles in beautiful, remote Mojave, the Sanctuary at Soledad is an animal sanctuary run by devoted animal lovers. This is a kids’ paradise, where your own little beings are free to frolic with the goats, commune with the horses, stand eye-to-eye with a Jersey cow, and scratch the tummy of a pot-bellied pig. There is no cost to visit, although their products (including awesome vegan cheeses and candles) are available for purchase and donations to the Sanctuary are gladly accepted.
Contact the founders, Julian and Carol Pearce, to set up your visit. It’s a day that the kids will remember forever, and you’ll know you helped some of these amazing animals stay on the farm forever. Admission is donation based.
More in the mood for creatures that swim? Check out places you can meet fish and other wet critters.
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—Meghan Rose & Missy Heckscher