There’s nothing that opens a kid’s eyes like an up-close visit with an animal. Kids can learn how to be gentle, what to do to protect animals in the wild and tons more. We have 22 spots that offer animal experiences from reptiles to sea lions to birds of prey to bugs. Plan your animal adventure today!
photo: Randall Museum
A blending of natural history museum, science museum and arts center, the Randall Museum offers hands-on learning that all ages can appreciate, via exhibits and classes in science, nature and art. Events of all kinds, from bird walks to bug days, add to the lively slate of experiences at this very worthwhile attraction.
199 Museum Way
San Francisco, CA
Crissy Field Center
Crissy Field Center, a dynamic hub of youth engagement for the Golden Gate National Parks and a model program of the National Park Service, offers camps for tots, as well as environmental programming for the whole family. And Crissy Field itself offers a wonderful bayside promenade trail popular for walking and jogging, a shoreline beach where people keep their eyes on bird and marine life, a meadow for kite flying and even barbecue areas for families and groups.
1199 E Beach
San Francisco, CA
photo: Kathryn Whitney/California Academy of Sciences
California Academy of Sciences
This part aquarium, part planetarium and part natural history museum offers loads of opportunities to meet some animals. Walk through the rain forest and see the butterflies landing on branches, watch scuba divers in the aquarium, touch a sea star and learn all about the bonded pairs of penguins. Bonus: you can even sleep over for an after-hours night at this amazing museum.
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA
photo: Lindsay Wildlife Museum
Lindsay Wildlife Museum
With more than 50 animals at Lindsay, programs nearly every 30 minutes and an animal hospital that treats more than 5,500 animals each year there is always something new and fascinating for families to explore at Lindsay Wildlife Experience.
1931 First Ave
Walnut Creek, CA
Crab Cove Visitor Center
Bayfront education center with an 800-gallon aquarium and interactive marine exhibits, this venue has been a family favorite since its 1980 opening. Tide pools just outside the visitor center are another cool diversion for kids to explore, and are especially accessible at low tide.
1252 McKay Ave (at Central Ave)
Tilden Park Environmental Education Center
East Bay families have long been enjoying the free offerings of Tilden Park’s Environmental Education Center and Little Farm, including the cozy but cool playground by the parking lot. While the center boasts plenty of info and exhibits, the real fun is at The Little Farm itself, open every single day and home to all manner of farm animals, including cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and pigs. Feeding the animals by hand is a real treat for kids–and the animals–so remember to bring celery or lettuce if you want to play the part of a friendly farmer.
Central Park Drive
Ardenwood Historic Farm
This farm in Fremont offers a history lesson right along with some farm animal encounters. Meet pigs, sheep, goats, birds and more as you stroll the massive property. Hop aboard the train at the entrance for a fun ride to the opposite side. When you walk back, you might even get to see a peacock showing off his stuff!
34600 Ardenwood Blvd.
Rotary Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge
Nestled alongside Oakland’s vibrant Lake Merritt, the Rotary Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge is actually the first official wildlife refuge in the U.S. The venue is home to occasional educational events that all ages can enjoy, including the Audubon Society hosting a bird walk on the fourth Wednesday of each month at 9:30 a.m. Summer camp offerings are another plus, and the nature center is an excellent source of information on the abundant local bird life.
600 Bellevue Avenue
Sulphur Creek Nature Center
“Sulphur Creek Nature Center is a wildlife education and rehabilitation facility dedicated to bringing people and animals closer together,” says Deb Varner, director of education for the center. “View the outdoor animal displays, explore the discovery center, and enjoy a picnic at this serene park nestled under the oaks.” Free admission and parking are another bonus at the venue, which is part of the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District.
1801 D Street
CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point
Formerly known as the Coyote Point Museum, this San Mateo center includes science exhibits and shelters more than 100 Bay Area critters of all kinds being rehabilitated from the wild. Kids will love seeing them firsthand in CuriOdyssey’s authentically replicated wildlife habitats, and a real strength of the venue is the variety of animal residents–including all kinds of reptiles, birds, mammals, amphibians and even invertebrates.
1651 Coyote Point Drive
San Mateo, CA
Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center
After wandering the wildlife observation platforms for some unbeatable birdwatching, visitors can step into the center to discover fascinating facts about the animals living in the nearby tidal and freshwater habitats. at close to 2,000 acres this is the largest tract of remaining undisturbed marshland in the entire Bay Area.
2775 Embarcadero Road
Palo Alto, CA
Located in a completely “green” structure in the Baylands Nature Preserve, the EcoCenter is a public nature center and headquarters for the group Environmental Volunteers. The venue is located across from the Duck Pond in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve and offers hands-on activities, touchscreen exhibits, a green building tour, an art gallery and guided nature hikes.
2560 Embarcadero Road
Palo Alto, CA
photo: Mike via Flickr
Don Edwards Environmental Education Center
This 30,000-acre oasis for migratory birds and endangered species is the nation’s first urban national wildlife refuge. The Education Center offers family bird walks, hands-on animal exploration programs for kids and tons of other educational opportunities – all for free.
1751 Grand Boulevard
Martial Cottle Park Visitors’ Center
While agricultural offerings make up the bulk of the fun here, other offerings for kids include big lawns for running around and flying kites, three miles of smooth trails appropriate for bikes, scooters or skates, a visitor center with kid-friendly exhibits and activities, and picnic areas ideal for birthday parties and family gatherings.
5283 Snell Avenue
San Jose, CA
This organic farm and education center tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains lures visitors with its free admission, organic garden and animal pens bustling with chickens, pigs, goats and sheep. Kids will enjoy splashing in the creek or strolling the countless trails that branch out from the farm.
Los Altos Hills, CA
Seymour Marine Discovery Center
“The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is the place to awaken your inner marine biologist!,” says Operations Manager Teri Sigler. “Come touch a friendly shark, see how marine scientists work, and take a deeper dive into ocean adventure. Learn about giant whales, tiny lumpsuckers–cutest fish EVER–and more in this intimate setting.”
An awesome aquarium and touch pools will amaze kids with the wonders of marine life, while also illuminating them on ocean conservation.
100 Shaffer Road
Santa Cruz, CA
McClellan Ranch Environmental Education Center
Children can see, touch and learn about animals at this welcoming ranch that runs year-round. Its Environmental Education Center offers nature-themed classes for kids, and another lure is the Nature Museum that is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and offers up-close encounters with turtles, snakes and other wildlife. Families dropping by McClellan Ranch on the second Saturday of the month (March-November) can head over to the 4-H farm for a tour of the animals given by 4-H members from 10 a.m. to noon.
22221 McClellan Road
Youth Science Institute
A trio of science and nature centers comprise the Youth Science Institute, all of them committed to enriching children and families with useful information on the natural sciences. A highlight of their offerings are YSI’s weekend nature programs showcasing artifacts and animals from their facilities as well as indigenous animals residing in the neighboring parks. The Alum Rock location even hosts a free Wildlife Celebration every October.
Alum Rock Park
16260 Penitencia Creek Road
San Jose, CA
Vasona Lake County Park
333 Blossom Hill Road
Los Gatos, CA
Sandborn County Park
16055 Sanborn Road
photo: Marine Mammal Center
Marine Mammal Center
Perched upon a hillside in the Marin Headlands, The Marine Mammal Center is a private, non-profit hospital that rescues and rehabilitates harbor seals, elephant seals, California sea lions and other marine mammals with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. With a classroom, educational programs and space for over 200 animals (not to mention a spectacular view of Rodeo Beach), it makes for a fun and educational marine excursion. Admission is free.
2000 Bunker Rd
Home to a Wildlife Hospital and nature education programs, San Rafael’s WildCare treats about 4,000 sick and injured critters of all kinds every year. Families visiting WildCare can enjoy camps and classes, stop by the rehabilitation facility and even meet with wildlife ambassadors for their unique perspectives.
76 Albert Park Lane
San Rafael, CA
Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary
While this 900-acre, open-water sanctuary is closed from October 1st to March 31st each year, while accessible it’s a refreshing respite for human visitors and a welcoming hub for waterbirds and Pacific herring. The 10-acre site adjacent to the bay is also home to summer camps, youth conservation leadership programs and plenty of volunteer ops.
376 Greenwood Beach Road
Petaluma Wildlife and Natural Science Museum
Being operated by area high school students give the tours at this venue an added family-friendly touch. Nature lovers of all ages can learn via hands-on experiences that range from petting a critter from the live animal collection to touring animal exhibits showcasing creatures from around the globe. The museum is open to the public on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
201 Fair Street
—Zach Chouteau, Kate Loweth, Renee M. Rutledge and Erin Feher