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Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert, California 92260 | (760) 346–5694
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15 Reviews
Type: Animals, Nature & Gardens, and Hiking & Walking
Ages: Ages 2 — adult
Cost: $$
Hours of operation: Check details

Open every day September 1st through June 15th from 9am-5pm. In the summer from June 16th through August 31st, Open from 8am-1:30pm.  

15 Reviews for Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

January 01 2014
0 families found this helpful
"Excellent zoo - Shuttle Tram was worth it"

I suppose I never thought that the Living Desert was an actual zoo. I just had assumed for many years that it was a big stretch in the desert with plants to look at and gardens to walk through. Now that we've been to the Living Desert, I realize it is an actual, awesome zoo!

We visited in December when the temperatures were a cool 70 degrees and the day was fabulous. There were not many crowds, despite being 3 days before Christmas. We paid an extra $6 per adult (including our 13 year old) and $3 per child for the shuttle tram. It was totally worth it! We hopped on the shuttle right away in the park and was whisked up the long path (past the people huffing in the dust) up to the giraffe feeding at 10 am. All throughout the park there were shuttle stops where we could wait for the next shuttle and hop off wherever we wished. It was a large zoo and we were glad for shuttle wristbands!

The kids loved watching the model trains chug along the tracks and follow their path. We watched 2 trains collide, which we were sure was an accident, and we told the conductor guy walking through the train area and he set them to rights.

We saw many animals up close and were impressed with the selection and the visitor friendly feel of the zoo. We fed the giraffes (which is thankfully free... unlike other zoos we have visited), watched a bobcat stride by at about 5 feet away, and observed a large owl at very close distance. The owl was on display by her trainer at the Wildlife Hospital at the "animal presentation". Even the vet brought out his 2 sons who were eager to see the owl up close. She talked about the owl in detail and kept all the kids and adults mesmerized.

The Wildlife Wonders Show was an excellent blend of comic humor, animal display, and information. It was very professionally presented and we had great seats and the kids were completely engaged. I think they learned a lot!

The one underscoring section of our visit was lunch. There were just 2 cafes open (it seemed) and we visited the one near the entrance. Lots of people were in line and there were only 2 servers. One taking orders, one filling orders. The food was fresh (fresh sandwiches) but also not so great (quick to order pizzas and chili in a bread bowl). The prices were on the "amusement park" side of things... meaning it was not cheap. The ordering was confusing and the layout of the line was bad. I had to keep cutting into the line to get a refill of my soda at the machine which the line of people was smack dab in front of.

We definitely enjoyed our day at the Living Desert and look forward to coming again... this time with some lunch packed!

May 24 2013
0 families found this helpful
"An amazing introduction to the desert"

I'm from Seattle, so to me "nature" means mountains and lush greenery.  Until my visit to the Living Desert, I was a bit of a snob about the desert, viewing it as a giant wasteland. But boy, was I wrong!

I love that The Living Desert introduces its visitors to all the amazing range of flora and fauna that live in the desert. Cacti, flowering plants, Joshua trees, wolves, camels, snakes... there is such an amazing diversity of things to admire and learn about. And it's all things you would see in the desert!

When I visited the Living Desert, we received a VIP tour in a tram, which I was grateful of, since it was very hot on the day we visited.  Visitors can book this option, can tour on foot, or can pay a small fee for riding the shuttle between attractions.  If I return with my little kids and the weather is hot, I'll definitely be buying shuttle tickets to get between sections of the zoo.

Highlights of the visit included stopping by the state-of-the art animal care facility, where you can actually watch animal check-ups take place.  I also loved the gigantic model railroad. It was surrounded by kids staring at it with wide eyes- and quite a few adults doing the same! The Living Desert is worth the visit just for the model railway alone (but there's so many other wonderful things to see as well).

I thought this zoo was nicely laid out, had enough shade to get out of the desert sun, has a great variety of animals and is super educational. If you're in the area, this is a do-not-miss attraction.

* I received admission to the Living Desert as part of a press trip. All opinions posted here are mine and mine alone.

December 05 2012
1 family found this helpful
"Gold Standard of Zoos"

The Living Desert more than exceeded my expectations.  Their mission “Desert conservation through preservation, education, and appreciation,” can be felt throughout the park.  My daughter and I spent over four hours at the Living Desert.  That’s pretty incredible considering that this is not one of those large concrete jungle zoos.   We learned, we explored, and I walked away with a whole different outlook on how we as humans, can treat our animal friends with more dignity and respect.


With over 40 animal exhibits there was plenty to see, however we noticed that not all animals where in few view.   For example instead of the giraffes being confined to a small circular concrete enclosure with nowhere to roam, we found a vast living area that made viewing them sometimes more difficult.  What I took away from seeing the animals able to live more dignified was much more impressive than seeing the inside of their noses!   It was quite breath- taking.  If an up close and personal visit to the giraffes is what you are looking for, The Living Desert has that covered.  They do feedings daily and allow you be a part of it.  The only animal that stayed completely elusive was the cheetah.  In talking with a couple that frequents The Living Desert I was told that the cheetah will sometimes be in full view for hours.  Now that is something that would keep me coming back.  With over forty animal exhibits there is plenty to see.


An added bonus was the botanical gardens.  Exploring the gardens was a great way to teach my daughter about desert plants.  Our favorite part was the butterfly garden.  Set up to attract butterflies, we had fun hunting for them.

Kids Discovery Center:

The Kids Discovery Center is a hands-on learning center.  We were told to open any drawer and to touch everything, and that’s what we did.  My daughter had a blast opening drawers and finding feathers and bones, climbing the sand dune, and touching the snake skin.  I don’t think there is anything better in my daughter’s eyes then being told nothing is off limits!

Model Train Display:

The Living Desert has one of the most impressive model train display.  Kids and adults have fun pointing out all the different scenes and details of one of the largest train displays, outside of a train museum, I have ever seen.  What is clever is you can adopt a scene or sign, making donating and advertising fun.

Petting Corral:

I’m glad we didn’t miss the petting corral.  The goats and sheep are very friendly and love to be brushed.  The corral was also home to a few very cute dwarf donkeys and the most impressive animal I saw at the zoo, the large horn cattle.  I know it sounds weird that this was my favorite animal, but these are truly magnificent gentle giants.  I instantly fell in love.  


There are two things you can ride at The Living Desert: the Carousel, and a camel.  That’s right a camel.  For $6 you can get on a full size, 14 year old camel, named Cleopatra.  So that’s what we did.  It was an incredible activity to round out an all things desert day.  Not to mention an incredible memory.


The staff here is unbelievable.  I took every opportunity I could to interact with the generous people that take care of The Living Desert.  From the man at the animal hospital that took 10 minutes to explain what direction I should take my daughter to get the best experience out of our visit, to the woman at the petting corral that basically gave us a guided informational tour.  I soon found myself seeking out the next person to interact with.  When I complemented one of the staff on just how wonderful and sweet everyone was, she replied “We volunteer here because we love it here,” that’s when I found out that everyone in red or blue shirts are volunteers.  That’s basically everyone!


While visiting The Living Desert you won’t find the hustle and bustle you find at the larger zoos.  In fact I didn’t share a view of any of the animals with anyone other than my daughter.   It was so relaxed and peaceful, it was like being one with nature.  Designed to be more like their natural home rather than an enclosure, it feels like you are experiencing the animals instead of just gawking at them.  

Bottom Line:

I feel that this is the Gold Standard of “zoos.”  I think that other zoos could learn from The Living Zoo and its dedication to the animal instead of their bank accounts.  I left feeling proud that I showed my daughter a different perspective.  


I received a complimentary visit to The Living Desert.  All opinions are my own.  I received no other compensation and was not told to express a particular point of view.

August 09 2012
1 family found this helpful
"Perfect for little kids!"

We went with our 15mnth old. I suggest getting there when it opens because all of the animals are out! We went in march, the weather was perfect ((not to hot!)) The best part was feeding the giraffes! you got to get up close and the employees answered all questions and let you take some awesome pics!my only neg was food is expensive and not to appeasing so eat before you go. I would recommend this place highly ((way better than LA zoo))  

July 19 2012
1 family found this helpful
"The Desert at its Best."

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a fantastic day trip right outside of Palm Springs in Palm Desert.  

The zoo is inexpensive by from the standpoint of attractions at $15.95 per adult, and $8.95 per child with discounts for AAA and seniors.   Once you get inside the gates, however, the visit becomes a STEAL!

Tucked into the edge of the desert, there are no crowds like the city zoos of Los Angeles and San Diego.  There are no lines.  There is no waiting. (At least on the day we went.)  What there was included:  amazingly friendly, happy docents; animals up close; and unexpected exhibits around each corner.

A few highlights include:

1.  Giraffe and Kudu feeding times.  My son and I got a kick out of getting to have the animals take acacia branches right out of our hands.  During the feeding time, the staff gave us lots of fun, new information about the animals.  In addition, I appreciated that the staff praised the group for its cooperativeness and good listening.   As a parent, it was a pleasure to watch as the guests' (both school groups and regular visiters) behavior improved once he began talking about how well the group was listening and thanking us.  There's not much better than going to see some animals, and ending up with a lesson on treating animals and other humans compassionately. :)  

2.  Petting Zoo.  There is a nice large area where kids of any age can pet and brush the goats.  Many petting zoos are chaotic and loud, overwhelming both for the animals and the kiddos.  This was not the case at Living Desert.  The animals were calm, obviously well-taken care of, and more than happy to have even the youngest visitors pet and brush them.  

3.  The Animal Hospital.  Guests are allowed to go inside the hospital, and see the animals needing treatment.  On the day we went, there were no examinations happening, but that did not detract from the experience.  There were still animals to see who were recuperating, and we got to see the exam rooms.

4.  The Discovery Center/Gecko Exploration areas were great places for tacile exploration.  The Discovery Center is indoors with an ant colony, and lots of space to learn about fossils, desert animals, and desert weather.  The Gecko zone is the opposite.  It is an outside natural play area with tunnals, a spider web, and water/sand play.  The whole Gecko area is shaded and has outdoor misting systems.  

We went on a 100 degree day.  Yes, it was warm, and we drank our share of water.  But, it was not unbearable.  We had a great time, and there were enough shade/mist filled options to keep us going.   Bathrooms are plentiful, as are places to get food and drink.  

It's definitely a place to check out if you are anywhere in the area.  

June 15 2011
2 families found this helpful
"Who knew such an incredible Zoological Park was waiting for us in the desert?"

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting out of the Living Desert before I arrived. Maybe a few desert animals hiding from the desert heat in small enclosures surrounded by cacti. I certainly wasn’t expecting a zoo of the size and incredible caliber that the Living Desert actually was!

My kids and I headed to the Living Desert on an April day in the mid 80s. Most of the animals didn’t seem to mind the heat, though I can imagine during the heat of the summer most of the animals will be hanging out in the shade.   To be honest, my family didn’t mind the heat either. Many of the trails were shaded, cold drinks were plentiful, and an air conditioned Discovery Center offered a cool break midday.  

One of the special spots in the Living Desert is the Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center. The state-of-the-art building was designed to help keep the animals of the Living Desert healthy all while giving visitors an opportunity to get a close up view of what goes on inside an animal hospital with docent led tours.   The day that we were there, a docent was giving a talk about a kestrel (a small bird of prey) and kids were delighting in being able to stand close to the wild bird. Additional volunteers were on hand with feathers, snake skins, and other objects that were fun for little ones to touch.

There were more animal exhibits than I can write about without boring you to tears, but I did want to highlight a few of my family’s favorites.  The North American desert is not to be missed- after all, visitors are walking through a North American desert! One thing I loved was that the dens of many of the animals were in the front of the exhibit, usually with only plate glass separating the viewer from the critter. The expansive big horn sheep built into the side of a rocky hillside is definitely not to be missed. I am also partial to the cheetahs and jaguars.  There is just something mesmerizing about those gorgeous desert cats.

The botanical gardens are another standout. Desert scenery reflecting the different deserts of the world are just stunning. I especially enjoyed all the flora of the desert that seem to make their home near those precious pockets of water.  Come during the spring to see this varied desert landscape in bloom.

If your kids need a break from all the animal viewing, Gecko Gulch, the park’s playground is fun and includes a Saguaro cactus slide. An endangered species themed carousel provides inexpensive fun at $2.00 a ride.  A massive G-scale model train exhibit is very impressive aesthetically but we didn’t get a chance to actually see it in action. I am not sure if there are certain operation times or if the train operator was just out to lunch but if you have a train obsessed kid, you might want to call ahead and make sure it’s running.  Finally, no trip to the desert is complete without a camel ride so be sure to cough up a few dollars ($5 to be precise) and let your kids take a bumpy ride that they won’t soon forget.

Bottomline: This zoo is definitely not to be missed as long as the weather isn't too extreme. If you do come in the summer, make sure to come as soon as the park opens. Any other part of the year, get ready to have a wonderful day at a world class zoo and botanical gardens.

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to the Living Desert as guests of the Palm Springs Visitor Center. They did not ask that I express any particular opinions and all my reviews always reflect my honest impression of an activity.

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January 20 2011
0 families found this helpful
"Stay all day!"

The Living Desert is a come early and stay all day kind of a place. It's huge! The park is broken into sections based on the different deserts in the world and will surely not disappoint. There is a tram/shuttle service that I believe you can pay extra for and they have various stops around the park and you can get on and off at your leisure. We didn't think the park was that hard to navigate but this might be a good option with the very young or elderly. There are plenty of places to stop and sit for a little snack break.

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January 10 2011
0 families found this helpful
"Neat but HOT"

Be warned it can get HOT out there walking around!! It is a neat place where you can walk trails and see different desert species. Little ones may get tired from all the walking. Bring water and have fun walking the very clean and neat paths to discover all the animals.

December 23 2010
1 family found this helpful
"An Educational Delight! "

While vacationing in the Palm Desert, we decided to visit The Living Desert Zoo and Museum.  Coming from a smaller community with a small scale zoo, we were excited to see different types of animals in their habitats. Not knowing a lot about the zoo before we went, we were surprised to find out they also have an animal hospital there in which you can view some of the animals getting their checkups (on certain days and times) as well as a children's exploration area which contains different skeletons, pelts, and critters!   Also, the staff in this building are extremely friendly and knowledgeable and love to talk to the kids.

Our favorite exhibits were feeding the giraffe's (it's free), and watching the leopards.  I personally liked the the hyena's- they're huge!  The playground area was also a big hit with the different tunnels and passages.  The big downside to the day was that it was so hot (low hundreds) that most of the animals were hiding out of sight.  

December 23 2010
0 families found this helpful
"The Living Desert"

This is a great destination for families! We went in mid-October, and it was still pretty hot. That is the first thing to consider- try and go in the late fall through early spring. It heats up fast out there.

The paths are dirt, make sure to wear shoes. Not flip flop friendly! There are some minor hills, but nothing major in my opinion. If you were walking in 105 degree heat, the hills would probably seem HUGE!

My daughters favorite exhibit was the giraffes. You are up high enough, where you can feed them out of your hands. We did not get a chance to do that, but I have seen videos, and it looks pretty cool!

The other interesting part was the animal veterinary hospital. Not only was it nice and cool, but they had videos running of animals getting exams. My daughter seemed pretty interested in this.

They really have an amazing assortment of exhibits, a lot of them seemed like animals you would see on a safari or something. Essentially all animals at The Living Desert you will find in one of the worlds deserts.

Admission is cheap. You can get a membership, which I did not decide to do. We got one at The San Diego Zoo because the weather there is much more tolerable year round.

Excellent place. I will definitely take my family again.

Vicki D
Vicki D
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December 23 2010
0 families found this helpful
"So Much Fun, Wear Sunscreen!"

We have been here two times.  The first time we decided to go here I wondered how great a zoo in the middle of the desert could be and it was great!

There are zebras, wolves, several aviaries, tons of cactus gardens, bighorn sheep, and my favorite the giraffes, who are always up close and personal!

New additions include a carousel of desert animals for $2 a ride.

They also have an amazing model train set that will have any train lover occupied for hours.  My son couldn't get enough of it!

It gets hot, go in the morning.  I went in February and it was hot, so I can only imagine what it feels like in the summer months!

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December 23 2010
3 families found this helpful
"A great Zoo!"

When visiting The Living Desert Zoo, make sure you go first thing in the morning before the heat of the day makes it unpleaseant to explore this great place! The animals tend to hide in the shade during the hot points of the day and you are likely to just get to view the wonderful landscaping of the exhibits!

The lay out of the zoo makes it very easy to stroll through with or without the kids in a buggy. Our favorite (but smelly) exhibit was always the mountain lions. The exstensive running train models were always a must during our visits as well.

I recommend walking the night tour during the holiday season as the zoo is decorated with a ton of lights and displays.

December 23 2010
1 family found this helpful
"Fun with the Family"

This 1,200-acre preserve lets parents and kids have a close-up look at everythingfrom a desert cactus to a bobcat. Common desert inhabitants roam freely in addition to the world’s smallest fox, bighorn sheep, gazelles, tortoises, and zebras. Although much of the desert fauna is nocturnal (cooler temperatures bring out the animals), you will surely encounter some of it, especially if you take a hike on one of the several
trails on the premises. The family will enjoy the live animal shows daily in the outdoor Tennity Amphitheater. One favorite: the Critter Close-Up, a daily event that permits kids to see small desert animals. The newest exhibit is Gecko Gulch Play Land. At the Village Watutu, kids can get up close with camels, hyenas, birds, and a petting kraal. Stop for a cool drink at the Thorn Tree Grill and peruse the souvenirs at the Kumba
Kumba Market.

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December 23 2010
3 families found this helpful
"Awesome desert experience"

We spent a week (during springtime) in Palm Desert and decided it was worth it to get a family pass.  Every morning after breakfast, we went to the Living Desert and explored for a couple of hours.  We hiked some of the trails and saw jack rabbits, lizards, many different species of birds and bugs.  It was great to go so many days because we didn't see the long horn sheep until our last day there- they prefer the shade and I don't blame them!  There is a petting zoo.  The model trains are fantastic.  The learning center was a lot of fun- the kids got to touch all sorts of animal skins, bones and teeth.  The plants/gardens are fun to explore and we enjoyed the desert tortoise.  Go early and wear a hat and sunscreen.  We brought lots of water and snacks, especially on the hikes.  Well worth the visit!

December 23 2010
4 families found this helpful
"Felt like we were on a Safari...."

This is a great zoo to take the kids to when visiting the Palm Springs area. My son just loves watching the HUGE train display. You can just spend an hour looking at all different trains and mini-town displays. All of the animals are easy to see in a natural outdoor setting. Great outdoor interactive kids play area. Be prepared for lots of walking and can be rather dusty.  Do not let this discourage you from visiting one of my families favorite zoos!  If you are there during the Christmas season do not miss the fabulous christmas light displays!

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