When it comes to the native breed of city animals, you probably spend more time making sure your kids avoid creatures rather than cuddle them. Honey, that’s not a mouse….pigeons are NOT pets….don’t even think of touching that, err, water bug. However, it is possible to introduce your little animal lovers to friendlier (and much cuter) fauna at area zoos and farms.

The Art Farm in the City
Kids can cuddle bunnies and guinea pigs or pet chinchillas and turtles (and the occasional pig or sheep) at this Upper East Side indoor, eco-friendly petting zoo and activity space. There’s even a Part-Time Pet program where kids can “own” a pet—like a bearded dragon, dove or bunny––that lives safely at the farm. Through classes summer camp, open playtime and birthday parties, the Art Farm aspires to teach kids of all ages about “responsibility through caring, loving and being in the company of animals.” Sign us up!

Prospect Park Zoo
This zoo, tucked into Prospect Park appears to have been designed to kid scale. There is just enough for a morning or afternoon outing, but not too much to overwhelm curious animal lovers. Walk the Discovery Trail where tufted deer, prairie dogs and river otters dwell in marshes and scrubland. In the barnyard, milk a model cow (mid-May thru mid-October) and offer snacks to friendly sheep, goats and alpaca.

Queens Zoo
Wooded trails and an impressive aviary are just some of the draws to the Queens Zoo nestled in Flushing Meadows Park. The farm area—where Flemish giant rabbits hop in a pasture and llamas, goat and sheep wait to be fed by tiny hands ––is where all the hands-on action happens. And, like the other three city zoos, kids are drawn to the sea lion pool for daily feedings and training demos.

Queens County Farm Museum
This tranquil swath of land, which totals a whopping 47 acres (your kiddos may be just as impressed with the expansive outdoor space as with the animals themselves), offers a whole lotta country smack dab in the city. Wander orchards, a greenhouse, herb garden, vineyards and farm buildings on the city’s only working historical farm. While petting zoos are only set-up during special events, kids can purchase feed in the gift shop for resident cows, sheep and goats to nuzzle right out of their hands. The farm is open daily from 10:00am-5:00pm, but check the website for tour times and special seasonal events, like the Amazing Maize Maze in fall.

New York Aquarium
Coney Island isn’t just all freak shows and rickety roller coasters; it’s also a sanctuary for more than 300 marine species. Just off the boardwalk is a whole underwater world where jellyfish, penguins and sharks live. Kids can hold sea stars floating in the Touch Pool and watch live sea lion antics at the Aquatheater.

Bronx Zoo
Lions and tigers and grizzly bears and elephants and…oh my! The largest of the city’s four zoos has all the animals you’d expect from a top rated animal habitat. While most animals are off-limits for little (or any size) hands, kids can flutter with butterflies in the Butterfly Garden meadow and greenhouse and play farmer by feeding llamas, sheep and goats in the Children’s Zoo barn area.

Central Park Zoo
Just steps away from ritzy 5th Avenue is a mini-zoo that includes the very sweet Tisch Children’s Zoo, a little gem in the heart of Manhattan. Kids can hang around the duck pond, get their grain filled paws licked by potbellied pigs and alpacas, and stand nose-to-beak with peacocks and guinea fowl at the bird feeding station.

What are your favorite spots for animal encounters?

— Laura House