Kid-friendly places to get up close and personal with animals.
1300 Senter Road
San Jose, California
Not only does Happy Hollow maintain a zoo along with all of its fun rides, it also has group classes and mini assemblies with topics like, Go Wild!, Animals of All Shapes & Sizes, Growing Up Wild, Animals of the Night, Animal Groups: Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Insects!, Beastly Bistro, Life in the Rainforest, Zoo Careers.
1 Zoo Road
Sloat Boulevard at Forty-fifth Avenue San Francisco, California
Fisher-Price sponsors the early childhood education program here. The programs feature and array of activities such as wildlife crafts and games, keeper talks, Zoo tours, close-up animal encounters, and a Junior Keeper Club for youths interested in animal careers.
1651 Coyote Point Drive
San Mateo, California
Get an up close and personal experience by attending a wildlife show here. Crowds in CuriOdyssey's theater are kept small to guarantee an unforgettable experience like the one my kids still talk about --- while teaching the kids about owls, the handler gave the owl on her arm a treat, (i.e.: a dead mouse). The owl did not eat the mouse instead it held it in its mouth and let the lifeless thing flap around while the owl wildly scanning the audience, moving his head back and forth. My kids could not stop laughing! A sweet memory, I know!
9777 Golf Links Road
Located in a nice hilly part of southeastern Oakland, the Oakland Zoo offers nice natural habits for its animals and a beautiful setting for humans to experience them.
403 Stafford Street
For the past 50 years, this zoo has served as a sanctuary for wild animals in need of rescue and care. It's small intimate size makes it a great place to visit and explore with toddlers.
55 Music Concourse Drive
San Francisco, California
The aquarium in the Academy of Sciences is amazing and vast. Because the place can get crowded and overwhelming, I recommend that those who live within a short drive of San Francisco get a membership. This allows you to make multiple visits through out the year where you can see different parts of the academy each time.
reviewed on: August 03 2010
If you're headed here anytime soon, pack A LOT of patience with you and prepare for crowds. This place has a lot to offer and a lot to learn from if you can get near any of it!!! The crowds were so overwhelming, I think it would be a great idea for the SF Fire Chief to hightail it over there and monitor the situation. We weren't able to see a single show ---- apparently they offer a spectacular bug show and some planetarium thing but, by noon there were no show passes to be had. You could view a rain forest housed in a three-story terrarium bubble, if you cared to wait two-hours in a line. Have you ever waited in line with an active 7-year-old and an anxious 4-year-old? Hell, doesn't even begin to describe it.
"Very Educational if You Can Get Near Anything"
There were three eating choices in the place ---- the largest, which was just off the entryway , was so crowded, people were eating on the floor. The second choice had a 40-minute wait in line and the third choice, labeled as fine dining, cost a small fortune.
So people, here is what I suggest you do should you want to see this place:
Get a membership. A family membership is just under $160. You can write it off on your taxes and visit multiple times in a year. You also avoid waiting in the massive (and I mean MASSIVE) ticket line to get in. Arrive during members-only hour (which is the hour before the museum opens to the public), collect any show passes you want at that time and see as much as you possibly can before the throngs crush through the doors.
If you need to eat --- walk out of the park toward Irving (just walk in the direction of the bandstand in between the academy and the De Young and keep going until you hit the edge of the park) and patronize a local restaurant (there are many over in the area of Irving) where you won't be treated like just another number in the sea of humanity. You can return to the museum after your meal satiated and ready to learn as the folks who lined up at the same time are fainting from hunger or fuming with frustration.
886 Cannery Row
My kids are crazy about the otter viewing and the jellyfish exhibits here, both are incredible and only a fraction of what you see here. Plan ahead, buy tickets in advance here because entry lines can be very VERY long!
100 Shaffer Road
Santa Cruz, California
Stop by for Science Sunday! See what life is like for a marine researcher and how their work connects to our world. You can also make a souvenir to take home in the Sea Side Crafts Room, spend time with animals in an intertidal touch pool and shark touch tank --- that’s right a SHARK tank!
Rodeo Lagoon and Beach
See seal and sea lion patients, and be inspired by the volunteer workforce who cares for them.
The Marine Mammal Center is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free and no reservation is required unless you have a group of 10 or more people!
3115 Porter Creek Road
Santa Rosa, California
Nestled on 400 acres in the heart of California's wine country, Safari West is home for over 400 exotic mammals and birds. Not a zoo, not a drive-through park, it's a wildlife preserve where the whole family can experience some of nature's most beautiful animals in a natural habitat. How cool is that?
3414 W Street
The oldest zoo in California and one of the smallest accredited zoos in the country, Sequoia offers exploration opportunities abound both within the Zoo and beyond in its majestic redwood forest.
1045 West 25th Street
Most of the animals in this small zoo are there because they were previously injured or kept as pets and cannot be returned to the wild.
11793 North MickeGrove Road
Micke Grove Zoo is a five-acre Zoo with amphibians, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Micke Grove Park also features a Japanese Garden, San Joaquin County Historical Museum, Fun Town at Micke Grove Amusement Park and picnic shelters in a beautiful oak grove setting. It was a gift from William and Julia Harrison Micke to the people of San Joaquin County.
1451 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto, California
Home to more than 50 species of animals including bobcats, raccoons, jungle bats, hedgehogs, ferrets, snakes , fresh water fish and invertebrates, birds, turtles and a giant tortoise!
Through hands-on science exhibits and a diverse community of live animals, the Jr. Zoo and Museum works to engage a child's curiosity for science and nature.
3930 West Lane Park Drive
The Sacramento Zoo is home to over 140 native, exotic and endangered species. The zoo also offers educational programs and camps for kids of all ages to provide exposure to animals and foster an appreciation for them.
1001 Fairgrounds Dr.
Six Flags doesn't just offer hair raising rides, they have some great animal interactions to experience including: feeding the giraffes, hanging with Lorakeets, and riding an elephant. Most of the animal experiences in this park are not included in the price of admission.
reviewed on: November 22 2011
This is no place to take really young kids ---- especially if one of your youngsters is a special needs child! My young son has autism. Because an amusement park ride line is one of many situations that are sensory nightmares for him, he is able to use a special needs pass that entitles him and a grown up to the next available seat on a ride. Most people are very respectful of the situation and are quick with a warm smile but when you get one who doesn't understand and speaks up, well it's my nightmare! We had a rather ugly incident at this park because of the way they choose to distribute these passes. Just like in other parks these passes are issued at guest relations. The setup of the guest relations offices in most parks make it possible to discreetly acquire a pass. At this park, the Guest Relations counter is a tiny outdoor counter where patrons can also sign up for dolphin experiences and all sorts of other fun stuff ---- and the folks who sign up for this stuff have lots of questions to ask too! Get in line behind enough of these people and you could be in line for a while --- just the situation the park is attempting to spare families like mine by issuing a pass. On top of that, this counter is worked by ONE person.
"Crowded Venue and Insensitive, Overwhelmed Staff "
Yet just feet from this counter, six employees idled while waiting for what I can only imagine they felt was an imminent wave of customers clamoring for fast passes. Not one of them offered to jump in and help the overwhelmed lone girl drowning in people. With my son on the verge of overload, I asked my daughter to hold my spot in line while I went to them hoping to get the pass and get out of the situation before my son's looming spin out went full throttle but they told me they couldn't help me. Exasperated I asked pointing at the overwhelmed girl at the Guest Relations counter, can't you help her then? No dice! So I asked for a supervisor to be called. I was assured one would come see me in the line so I resumed my wait in my spot.
When one arrived and I explained my situation, the lady behind me caught wind of my story and went off about my son getting on the rides before her children. I got to hear how I was not helping him improve his behaviors by placating them! When she couldn't understand my stunned silence she told me that he probably got his condition from me! It got ugly and the park employee standing nearby did nothing to diffuse the situation. Finally someone came up behind me and handed me a pass and we left as quickly as possible. But we encountered that nasty uneducated woman again later in the day and because Discovery Kingdom employees failed to protect us initially, we got another dose of her ignorance. Autism is a real condition, Google it and educate yourselves people!!
It wasn't the only time I saw indifference from people who work in this place. While I was waiting for my family near the exit of the Sky Scraper swings, I saw a boy struggling with his ride seat belt. A child of no more than 12 years old, he kept trying to get the attendant's attention. He was also clearly nervous as this ride goes very high! "Hey, hey," he said waving, "I can't get my seat belt fastened.' Her response, "I have a name you know!" Like he could even see her name tag! She was about 10 feet away from him!! The ride went up without his belt being checked and he screamed bloody murder the entire time, not because he was having fun, because he was scared!
I think the park staff becomes very desensitized because it is the only way to really cope with the throngs of park goers. Parts of the park were so crowded I thought to myself that if some disaster occurred, surely a stampede of people would kick up the death toll substantially! (I know I may be watching too much TV!) Still, when you are as seriously outnumbered as the staff here is and the management makes strange missteps in staffing (like the six people selling fast passes to customers who never came when more people should have been on the Guest Relations counter), you really have to keep patrons at an arm's length to get through the day.
At the end of the day, we discovered how badly the entrance and exit of this park really needs a reconfiguration ---- it took almost 90 minutes for us to get out of the parking lot! There is only one entrance and one exit to this place!! Hopefully when the economy improves and Vallejo pulls out of bankruptcy, the city can rearrange this situation to make it more free flowing.
In the meanwhile, I don't see myself returning here anytime soon. Luckily, there are plenty of other parks who are sensitive to my son's situation and exhibit much nicer behaviors to its younger visitors
8022 Moss Landing Rd
A great activity with older kids, a guided tour through this beautiful estuarine research reserve.
100 Shaffer Road
Santa Cruz, California
Visit a working marine laboratory. Exhibit halls, aquarium, touch tanks, tours to marine mammal research overlook, Ocean Discovery Shop, and unsurpassed vistas of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Hold a sea star — marvel at the world's largest whale skeleton — touch a shark— think like a scientist!