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, LA (and the surrounding area) offers plenty of exciting, educational animal encounter opportunities—you could even spend the night at these California farm stays. Whether it’s you that loves to love on llamas or your animal-obsessed kid, here are the best places—from sanctuaries and rescue centers to farms—to interact with animals in the Los Angeles area.
Best Place to Hug Alpacas: Canzelle Alpacas
Have you ever hugged or 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.
Rates: $30 for adults; $25 for kids, under 2 are free
4036 Foothill Rd.
Best Place to Milk a Goat & Try Archery: Gilchrist Farm
Your little farmer can milk a goat, ride a pony, tour the farm by wagon or barrel train, or try their 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. & noon Jun.-Dec.
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 (ponies and horses are not available if it's too hot out).
30116 Bougquet Canyon Rd.
Best Place to Cuddle a Critter: 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.
Best Place to Peep a Porcupine: 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. 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.
Want something more personal? Book the "Zoofari Tour" which includes a 45-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.
Good to Know: The Wildlife Learning Center recently re-opened to visitors Tues. & Thurs. Advanced reservations recommended but not required.
Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: Adults $15; Children $13; kids under 3 are free
16027 Yarnell St.
Best Place for a Playdate with Ponies: 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).
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
Best Place to Whisper with Wolves: Shadowland Foundation
Shadowland Foundation, a sanctuary dedicated to preserving and honoring wolves and their contribution to the environment, and what one of our editor's called, "life-changing"—includes 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.
Hours: Advance reservations for private sessions, which take place at 10 a.m. on Tues., Wed. and Thurs.
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.
Best Place to Linger with Lorikeets: Aquarium of the Pacific
At the Aquarium of the Pacific, kids can explore exhibits 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
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Best Place to Lounge with Lions: 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.-4:30 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.
Best Place to Cuddle with Cows: 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.
Best Place to Sit with Sea Lions: 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.
Best Place to Giggle with Gibbons: 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.
Hours: Guided tours are available on Sat. & Sun. at 10 a.m.
Cost: Adults, $18; students & teens, $15; kids 3-12, $7; Children under 3 are not allowed at this time.
19100 Esguerra Rd.
Santa Clarita, CA
Best Place to Embrace a Pig: 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: Fri.-Sun.; 11 a.m-2 p.m.
Cost: Adults, $15; kids $8; kids under 3 are free
5200 Escondido Canyon Rd.
Best Place to Pal around with Pythons: 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: Adults, $12; Kids, $10
10101 Jefferson Blvd.