The Absolute Best Animal Encounters in LA

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When it comes to meeting furry and feathered friends, there’s nothing like getting up close and personal with primates, pups, pigs and more. Luckily, L.A. and the surrounding area offers plenty of exciting, educational animal encounter opportunities. Give your kids an off-screen opportunity to meet amazing animals…safely, of course. Whether it’s you that loves to love on llamas or your animal-obsessed kid, here are the best places to interact with animals in the Los Angeles area.

where to see real animals near LA
Mark P. via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Gilchrist Farm

Your little farmer can milk a goat, ride a pony, tour the farm by wagon or barrel train, or try her hand at archery and axe-throwing at Gilchrist family farm tucked into the hills of Santa Clarita. The menagerie of friendly critters includes goats, ducks, chickens, peacocks, geese, pigs, sheep, cows, bunnies and an African tortoise—and all of them are available for visits. 

Hours: Sat. & Sun. from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; Goat milking takes place at 10 a.m. & 12 p.m. from mid-Apr. to mid-Nov.
Cost: $5 and includes meet-and-greets with the farm's menagerie of animals (including the petting zoo). All other activities must be booked separately, and prices vary. Archery and axe throwing are $15 each;  Wagon & train rides are $5 each; Pony and horse rides are $7-25.

30116 Bougquet Canyon Rd.
Santa Clarita 
Online: gilchristfarm.com

best places to see animals in Los Angeles
Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Calling all Fido and feline fans! Wallis Annenberg PetSpace is filled with animal fun. There's an education center, kids can observe training demonstrations, visit the Health Center, meet adoptable pets Wed.-Sun. as well as read to furry friends Sat. & Sun. at noon. 

Don't miss Critter Corner—a special spot that highlights animal friends like rabbits, hamsters and birds that also need forever homes.

Hours: Wed.-Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: Free admission although some programs may have a fee and require advance reservations.

12005 Bluff Creek Dr.
Playa Vista
Online: annenbergpetspace.org

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Canzelle Alpacas

Have you ever kissed an alpaca? This might be your best chance! Southeast of Santa Barbara, this easy day trip (1.5 hours from DTLA) is worth the drive once you see all the alpacas (plus llamas, horses, sheep, buffalo and now chickens!) on this farm. Advance reservations required for the 1-hour tour.  

PS: Carpinteria is known for the annual avocado festival that takes place annually in Oct.

Hours: Fri.-Sun. 
Rates: $30 for adults; $25 for children

4036 Foothill Rd.
Carpinteria
Online: canzelle.com

RELATED: Plan an Epic Roadtrip to Santa Barbara with Kids

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Wildlife Learning Center

If feeding a giraffe or getting up-close with a porcupine is on your bucket list, now's the time to check off those boxes. While the Wildlife Learning Center's grounds are currently closed for walk-in visitors, it is still offering private tours to give visitors a close-up look at its resident critters. And there are a lot of them! The sanctuary houses more than 50 different species of zoo-born and rescued animals, from a Bermese python and an American alligator to a bald eagle and two-toed sloth.

As for tours, the basic "Zoofari Tour" includes a 30-minute guided walk around the grounds plus the chance to have at least one special encounter with an animal (You get to choose between touching an armadillo or feeding a giraffe or porcupine). The pricier 90-minute "Adventure Tour" offers a guided walk plus the chance to do all of the above experiences and more (sloths are involved!). Both tours are led by one of the center's biologists. 

Advance reservations are required for all guests, along with social distancing between groups and staff, and guests must wear masks. No penalties are given if visitors must reschedule for health reasons. The Reptile Room is temporarily closed. 

Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: The Zoofari Tour costs $165 for up to 5 people (additional people are $16 each); The Adventure Tour costs $330 for 5 people ($53 for each additional guest, up to 2 extra people)

16027 Yarnell St.
Sylmar
Online: wildlifelearningcenter.org

best places to see animals near LA
Lindsey M. via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Peter Weber Equestrian Center

If you're in the South Bay and you've got a little one who loves horses (or goats, pigs, alpacas, tortoises, bunnies, and sheep!), a visit to Peter Weber Equestrian Center makes the perfect playdate.

You can hang with a menagerie for $50 for up to three kids. For that, you'll have the entire petting zoo area all to yourselves for 30 minutes, which means your little animal-lovers can pet the goats and sheep, feed the bunnies, touch the tortoise—then play in the enclosed play area that includes a small slide perched on bales of hay, two giant rocking-horses, and a make-believe Wild West jail facade that's perfect for Instagram (#Jailbirds). You can also book a pony ride for up to five children for $50 more. 

Hours: Open by appointment only, seven days a week
Cost:
$50 for three kids to mingle with the farm animals in the petting zoo for 30 minutes; $50 for a pony ride for up to three children

6401 Crenshaw Blvd.
Rolling Hills Estates
Online: pwecent.com

best places to see animals near LA
Shadowland Foundation

Shadowland Foundation

Shadowland Foundation, a sanctuary dedicated to preserving and honoring wolves and their contribution to the environment, may not be offering its signature group visits on weekends; however, those who want to experience a personal visit can still arrange for private sessions, which take place at 10 a.m. on Tues., Wed. and Thurs. 

Private wolf sessions—an experience which one of our RT editors called "life-changing"—include a personalized tour and an opportunity to meet, pet and take pictures of (and with!) one or more of Shadowland's nine Alaskan Timber wolves.

Cost: $300 for five people (additional guests, $60 each). Recommended for children 8 and up due to the length of the tour/talk.  

18832 Pine Canyon Rd.
Lake Hughes
Online: shadowlandfoundation.org

best places to see animals near LA
Shannan Rouss

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Aquarium of the Pacific

Kids can explore exhibits (reservations required) like the Shark & Ray Lagoon, Seals & Sea Lion habitat, the Lorikeet Forest and the June Keyes Penguin Habitat. Kids will love the close encounters and you'll love watching the joy on your child's face when, for example, a colorful (and hungry!) Lorikeet lands on their arm, making it all worth it. 

Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri.-Sun. 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Cost: $37 (adults), kids (3-11) $27; parking is $8

100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach
Online: aquariumofpacific.org

RELATED: 48 Hours in Long Beach with Kids

best places to see animals near LA
Cheri N. via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Moorpark Teaching Zoo

Calling itself "the living, breathing classroom for the Exotic Animal Training and Management program," the zoo (a part of Moorpark College) exists to educate its students on animal husbandry, training and care. Purchase advance reservations to be able to see more than 200 animals live at the 5-acre zoo, including alligators, geckos, monkeys, tigers, camels, snakes,  lions and more. 

Hours: Sat. & Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. with special live presentations at noon, 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Cost: $9 for adults, $7 for kids, under 2 are free

7075 Campus Rd.
Moorpark
Online: zoo.moorparkcollege.edu

best places to see animals near LA
Lorraine P. via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: The Gentle Barn

The Gentle Barn offers private tours along with cow hug therapy in addition to their virtual tours. The two-hour private tours will give you and your household a close-up look at all the animals that live at the Barn (as well as sharing their stories of rescue and recovery). Visitors will also learn about the history of the organization and its goals of teaching kindness and compassion to animals. 

Hours: Open to the public on Sun.; Tickets much be reserved in advance
Cost: Adults $22; Kids $12; children under 2 are free

15825 Sierra Hwy.
Santa Clarita
Online: gentlebarn.org

best places to see animals near LA
Mo. M via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Marine Mammal Care Center

The Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro is a hospital with a very different kind of patient: Inhabitants here are mostly baby seals who have lost their moms and cannot feed themselves, along with other sick or injured sea mammals. Your little animal lovers can see (from behind the fence line) a plethora of adorable harbor seals and California sea lions, learn how they are cared for and how helpers here prepare to return them to the wild. A docent leads a 15-minute tour of the center, tell you about the animals, and answers any questions that come up. Advance reservations, face coverings and social distancing will be required during your entire visit and there is a maximum of 8 people in each party per 15 minute tour.

Hours: Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: Admission is free but $5+ per person donations are encouraged 

3601 S. Gaffey St.
San Pedro
Online: marinemammalcare.org

best places to see animals near LA
Gibbon Conservation Center

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Gibbon Conservation Center

The Gibbon Conservation Center is a nonprofit center dedicated to the study and conservation of gibbons, small apes from the forests of Asia. More than 40 gibbons live here in family groups, which allows kids to see up close how these animals live and take care of their young. Please note there is no physical contact with the animals allowed. 

While the center isn't currently open for walk-in visits, group reservations and private tours are available. All visitors must be in good health and wear an approved mask at all times. The use of picnic areas is not allowed. 

Cost: Group tours (up to 20 people) are now available with social distancing between families. $15 per adult, $5 for kids (4-12), $12 for teens. Private mini-tours are $75 for groups of 5 ($15 for each additional person, with a 10-person maximum). Children under 3 are not allowed at this time. 

19100 Esguerra Rd.
Santa Clarita, Calif.
Online: gibboncenter.org

best places to see animals near LA
Jess V. via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Farm Sanctuary

Visit the 26-acre Farm Sanctuary to meet rescued cows, pigs, turkeys, and other farm animals. Tour reservations are currently required, and visitors can expect to learn about the importance of humane treatment for farm animals and the effects of animal farming to the world's ecosystem during the hour-long tour. 

Hours: Tours are currently available on weekends only. 

5200 Escondido Canyon Rd.
Acton
Online: farmsanctuary.org

best places to see animals near LA
Doreen M. via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: STAR Eco Station

Meet parrots and pythons and piranhas—oh my! Kids, from babies to teens, can tour Eco Station to see a host of exotic rescued wildlife. Tours are required for admission, and each is led by an expert Eco Station staff member who explains the habits and history of hundreds of rescued exotic animals. The tour also features exhibits on the current challenges facing the environment and offers tips on how to help save the planet through small changes at home and at school.

Hours: Tours start every hour on Sat. & Sun. from 10 a.m. with the last tour starting at 3 p.m.
Cost: $6-$8 (kids under 2 are free)

10101 Jefferson Blvd.
Culver City
Online: ecostation.org

best places to see animals near LA
Vic H. via Yelp

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Animal Tracks

UPDATE: This animal encounter center is currently moving to a new location but they are open for virtual visits.

Normally, this small animal sanctuary is the place to go if you want to feed a ferret, touch a tortoise, or otherwise get up close with all sorts of adorable creatures. For now though, Animal Tracks is limiting its visits to Zoom calls. But just think about it—Getting Zoom bombed by a monkey, or a fox, or a wallaby, makes for a pretty memorable virtual birthday party...Right? 

Virtual visits are 10-15 minutes in length and can be arranged with any of the center's animals (all of which are rescues, by the way, either having been injured and unable to return to the wild, or saved from the illegal pet trade).

The center asks for a $100 donation for the virtual meeting, as this helps fund the animals' care. To book, call Stacy (805) 341-2515 or Alyson at (818) 421-9760.

 

best places to see animals near LA
Malibu GOATS

Best Animal Encounters near LA: Malibu GOATS

UPDATE: Closed for the winter. Check back in the Spring for picnics and petting, classes and more.

Get in some cuddle time with Nigerian dwarf goats, Pygmy goats or some baby goats that were just born at Malibu GOAT farm. There are 45-minute petting sessions available but if that doesn't seem like enough time to get your goat fix, there are picnic sessions you can book that last at least an hour. Don't forget to say hi to the dogs, chickens and horses located on the farm as well. 

Hours: Open daily (the farm closes in winter so check the website to be sure they're open before you go)
Rate: $35 for 45 minutes

23231 Palm Canyon Ln.
Malibu
Online: malibugoats.com

best places to see animals near LA
Elizabeth Kate

Best Animal Encounters near LA: L.A. Zoo

UPDATE: All animal encounters at the L.A. Zoo are currently on hiatus due to COVID-19. 

The L.A. Zoo is always a beloved destination for tots who want a one-stop spot for animal-viewing—and these LA Zoo experiences let visitors get an even closer look. Want to see just how long a giraffe's tongue is (Pssst: It's 18 inches!) From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then between 2 p.m-4 p.m., pay just $5 cash to get a chance to grab a branch and feed a giraffe at the zoo's daily public giraffe feedings (Read Tinybean's review of the awesome experience here!).

Flamingo Mingle is the newest animal encounter where you can feed the pink birds and learn all about their care. Cost: $25 in addition to Zoo admission and is available daily (except the second and fourth Wed. of the month) at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. Maximum six guests per encounter and the minimum age is 2 years. Advance online ticket purchase is strongly recommended.

Hours: 10 am.-5 p.m.
Cost: $17 for kids 2-12; $22 for ages 13-61; children under 2 are free; Advance reservations are required as is proof of COVID vaccination or negative COVID test.

5333 Zoo Dr.
Los Angeles
Online: www.lazoo.org

—Missy Heckscher & Leigh Crandall

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