If your little critters love all things animal,  Atlanta—and its world-class zoo, animal encounters, and aquarium—is a perfect place to walk on the wild side. Just fill up your gas tank, lug your vat of hand sanitizer to the car, and set your GPS to any of the following Georgia spots that are certain to inject some much-needed adrenaline into your kids’ wildlife encounters.

Wild Animal Safari

Air Rick via Yelp

Some experiences are just weird, while other experiences can be weird AND wonderful. A ride on the zebra-painted, windowless school bus through the piney terrain of central Georgia definitely falls into the latter category. Sure, it’s a little over an hour from Atlanta, but here’s how it’s wonderful: giraffes, longhorn, and deer (among other critters) run to greet your zebra bus because you get to hand feed them from your window. And after the 45-minute bus tour, you get to stroll through the petting zoo where llama, goats, and deer are equally pleased to see you. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with friendly animals in a safari-esque environment without the risk (they keep the predators locked up). It’s weird. It’s wonderful. It’s the Wild Animal Safari. Go.

1300 Oak Grove Road
Pine Mountain, GA 31822
Online: animalsafari.com

Open daily except Christmas, Seasonal hours vary so call ahead.

Adults $19.95, Children 3-12 $16.95, Toddlers 2 and under free, Price includes the cost of admission, the bus tour, and the petting zoo walkabout, Vehicle rentals (if you choose to drive your gang yourself) and animal food are additional.

North Georgia Wildlife Park

North Georgia Wildlife Park via Yelp

Part petting zoo, part animal conservation, and rescue facility, the North Georgia Zoo is a far cry from a traditional zoo. Where else can you experience a traditional working farm during the first part of your visit, and then relax with a 150-pound boa constrictor draped across your arms during the second half of your stay? Reptiles not your speed? You can opt for an encounter with a baby kangaroo, baby otter, or adolescent wolves (reared by a basset hound) instead. Still not impressed? Top your day off with a hayride out to the camel enclosure, where you’ll see water buffalo, yaks, and highlander cows along the way. And did we mention they have pony rides for the littles? You heard us. Better start looking for real estate in Cleveland, Georgia. You’re going to be there a lot.

2912 Paradise Valley Road
Cleveland Georgia 30528
Online: northgeorgiazoo.com

June & July hours are Wednesday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Prices vary by the encounter, so check the website to plan your visit. 

Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary

Joan E. via Yelp

The Yellow River Game Ranch is under new management and has undergone extensive renovations to providerescued animals a refuge. Officially a wildlife sanctuary, YRWS is still home to the original Bison herd, peacocks, and pigs.Come meet all of the new additions including albino wallabies, Babydoll sheep, Fallow deer, ring-tailed lemurs, alpacas, and much more. Interact with some in the Petting Zoo and learn exciting facts through interactive exhibits and Keeper Talks.

525 U.S. 78
Lilburn, Ga 30047
Online: yellowriverwildlifesanctuary.com

Wednesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Adults $18, Ages 3-12 $12

Zoo Atlanta

Frederick D. via Yelp

What started as an abandoned traveling show bound for Marietta in 1889 is now Atlanta’s oldest cultural destination—Zoo Atlanta. You'll find something new every time you visit, and most notably an updated African exhibit, complete with behind-the-scenes opportunities, public giraffe feedings, a train ride, and a carousel. Head to the reptile house when the heat gets the better of you and enjoy an air-conditioned exhibit of all things that slither and slime.

800 Cherokee Avenue SE
Atlanta GA 30315
Online: zooatlanta.org

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but pre-purchased, timed tickets are required.

Adult $29.99, Ages 3-11 $21.99, Ages 2 & under free

Georgia Aquarium

Veronica D. via Yelp

The biggest aquarium in the western hemisphere just got a lot bigger. The Georgia Aquarium's expansive new gallery, Sharks! Predators of the Deep, takes you from fear to fascination as you explore the epic views and experience unique encounters with the state's fiercest new residents. Beyond the world-class exhibits of freshwater, Arctic, and tropical marine life, you can dive deeper with animal encounters. You can even swim or dive in the tank (for a price).

225 Baker St NW
Atlanta, GA 30313
Online: georgiaaquarium.org

Open daily.

General admission tickets cost $35.95 regardless of age or arrival time. Children ages 2 and under are free.

Featured image via iStock.

–Shelley Massey



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