The animal kingdom is calling! Sign up for a private tour to have close encounters with animals including lions, tigers and zebras, Friesian horses and camels, reptiles, farm animals, zoo animals and more. We’ve found multiple San Diego spots that offer small group educational tours where your family will be the only ones getting in close proximity with creatures that even include a shark! Most places also offer virtual animal encounters to bring the action safely into your home. Read on to find out where to go wild with your family next.

Sugar Sweet Farm

Experience a day on the farm with a private farm tour for your family. You’ll be surrounded by llamas, goats, rabbits and miniature sheep, horses and donkeys. Farm visits are educational, fun and hands-on by collecting eggs, brushing animals and sipping fresh milk from dairy goats. The tour ends in the organic garden with a playground, turkeys, geese and chickens.

Cost for Private Group: $120 for 1 ½ hours and up to 8 guests

Sugar Sweet Farm
By private appointment only
Encinitas, CA
858-264-6525
Online: sugarsweetfarm.com

Lions, Tigers & Bears

Follow the road to Lions, Tigers & Bears, oh my! You’ll embark on a 2 hour guided educational visit to see more than 60 wild animals and learn about the sanctuary and animal habitats. Other animals you’ll find here are leopards, bobcats, mountain lions and servals, along with dozens of other ranch animals. This ranch is located on an old stage coach stop and you’ll see the historical adobe structure that’s still standing.

Cost: $26 for ages 12 and under, $43 for ages 13+

Lions, Tigers & Bears
24402 Martin Way, Alpine
619-659-8078
Online: https://www.lionstigersandbears.org

Children's Nature Retreat Center

Explore this magical animal retreat where you’ll discover over 130 livestock and exotic animals from around the world. You’ll see Friesian horses, zebras, Watusi cattle, bison, lambs, camels, emus and many more. On a private 1 ½  hour guided tour, you’ll be introduced to the animals, learn about their diets, habitats and stories. Or you can visit by appointment for your own unstructured tour and you’ll most likely be the only ones there. Add-on an interactive experience to be let inside an animal enclosure of your choosing and learn all about them from the keepers. Bring your own lunch to enjoy at your leisure at the picnic tables under the big oak tree.

Cost for Guided Tour: $250 for up to 5 people
Cost of Admission: $20 for kids, $38 for adults
Cost for Add-On Interactive Experience: $35 per person

Children’s Nature Retreat Center
5178 Japatul Spur, Alpine
619-320-4942
Online: childrensnatureretreat.org

Helen Woodward Animal Center

Walk on the wild side when you book an Interactive Animal Encounter for your private group or family. Choose from furred, feathered or scaled animals that interest you for an up-close experience from 1-2 hours. You’ll learn about their diets, habitats, play games or even make some animal related crafts.

Cost: $75 minimum based on rates of $11.25-$17.25 per child
Virtual Visits: $75 for 1 hour

Helen Woodward Animal Center
6461 El Apajo, Rancho Santa Fe
858-756-4117
Online: animalcenter.org

Living Coast Discovery Center

While the Living Coast is still closed to the public, you can book a private tour for an experience you won’t soon forget. A trained educator will take you on a 2 hour tour all around the Living Coast to visit native wildlife like sea turtles, sharks, rays, eagles and owls. At the end, you’ll get to choose an animal for an up-close encounter!

Cost: $250 for non-members, $150 for members for up to 10 immediate family members
Virtual Visits: $50 for a 15 minute virtual encounter

Living Coast Discovery Center
1000 Gunpowder Point Dr., Chula Vista
619-409-5908
Online: thelivingcoast.org

Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary

Make some fine-feathered friends at Free Flight on your hour-long private educational group tour and learn all about these beautiful birds. You’ll get to feed them, watch them preen and maybe even talk back to you. You can also schedule a 20 minute visit and with their new pandemic protocols there might be 1 or 2 families there, but you’ll likely have the place all to yourselves.

Cost for Private Tour: $120 for up to 10 people
Cost for General Admission: $8-$10 per person ages 2+, Free for kids under 2
Virtual Visit: $75 for 30 minutes

Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary
2132 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
858-481-3148
Online: freeflightbirds.org

Wild Wonders

Go on a behind the scenes tour at Wild Wonders to see animals from all over the world. A keeper will lead you on a fun tour to meet and interact with their animals, like cheetahs, bearcats, wallaby, foxes and reptiles. Their goals are to rescue, educate and conserve by teaching about wildlife and the important roles they have on our planet.

Cost: $175-$250 for a group of 1-4 people, extra cost per additional person of $15 for ages 5-11 and $30 for ages 12+
(Note: No children under age 5 are admitted at this time.)
Virtual Visit: $200

Wild Wonders
Bonsall, CA
760-630-9230
Online: wildwonders.org

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Adventure around the San Diego Safari Park in the back of your private Safari Truck! You’ll trek into the expansive savanna for an up-close view of the animals. To make it even more exciting, book the Night Vision Safari to see the animals underneath the stars.

Cost for Private Safari Truck: $419* per group up to 6 household members ages 3+ (does not include park admission)

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
15500 San Pascual Valley Road, Escondido
619-231-1515
Online: sdzsafaripark.org/safaris

San Diego Zoo

If you’re heading to the San Diego Zoo, you have a lot of options for your own private adventures there. Check out their Inside Look Tours for private access inside animal habitats to learn all about giraffes, polar bears and others. Or hop on a Discovery Cart for a 1 hour guided tour all around the Zoo with stops at your favorite animals. If your kids are Crazy About Cats, there’s a special tour just for them. This feline-focused tour will feature all of the wild cat species (jaguar, lion, tiger, mountain lion, fishing cat, leopard, ocelot, or serval) with the chance to meet one up close! If you want to see some Animals In Action, a wildlife specialist will bring an animal out to you for an up-close view and take you behind the scenes to learn more about them.

Cost for Animals In Action Tour: $99* per person
Cost for Discovery Cart Tour: $319* per cart up to 6 household members ages 0+
Cost for Inside Look and Crazy About Cats Tours: $522* per cart up to 6 household members ages 0+
*(cost does not include park admission, price varies by season and days of the week)

San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park
619-231-1515
Online: sandiegozoo.org

-––Bonnie Taylor

RELATED STORIES:

Your Insider’s Guide to The San Diego Zoo

Escape to the Animal Kingdom at Children’s Nature Retreat

9 Secret Spots to See Animals for Free