9 Amazing Animal Encounters in San Diego

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From sharks to wolves, there are loads of fun places to get up close and personal with animals in San Diego

Ready to roar with the lions, roam with the wolves, or let a tarantula perch on your head? Do your kids want to learn how to be a vet, feed a zebra or sea turtle, or ride a camel? If your kid is curious about animals and love some animals facts, then we’ve got animal encounters nearby they’ll go wild for.

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1. The Living Coast Discovery Center

No need to dive into the ocean to experience sea life up close. The Living Coast Discovery Center is home to more than 20 exhibits that feature local marine life including octopuses, sea horses, jellies, sharks, and eels. Shark lovers will be in awe at the 21,000-gallon exhibit that houses four local shark species: leopard sharks, grey smoothhound sharks, horn sharks, and swell sharks. More than just a place to view animals, kids can interact with many creatures: touch a ray or feed a sea turtle! They also offer VIP Animal Encounters for an extra fee and an array of educational events and programs to teach kids about the care and conservation of wildlife.

1000 Gunpowder Point Dr.
Chula Vista
Online: thelivingcoast.org

2. Children’s Nature Retreat

Feel a world away just outside the city in Alpine at the Children’s Nature Retreat. This locale is a literal escape to the animal kingdom where kids can come face to face with magnificent creatures ranging from camels, a bull, horses, and zebras to goats, bunnies, and pigs. They’ll get to feed the animals at will and have a picnic under the trees. It’s a dreamy way to spend a day.

5178 Japatul Spur
Online: childrensnatureretreat.com

3. Oasis Camel Dairy

Heading to Julian? Be sure to include a visit to Oasis Camel Dairy (in nearby Ramona) in your plans. The 32-acre working ranch and camel milk dairy is home to a large camel herd and donkeys, horses, sheep, turkeys, and exotic birds. Their mission is to share the incredible nature of camels and camel milk with visitors. Go on one of their Open Farm Tours to learn about, ride and feed, and pet camels. You’ll also get to visit the Camel Milk Product Shop to find unique gems including camel milk chocolate!

26757 Old Julian Hwy.
Online: cameldairy.com

4. Wild Wonders

Wild Wonders in Bonsall offers a Family Zoo Camp that’s a three-hour interactive experience for families who adore animals. It’s a splurge for a family of four, but it’s exclusively geared for one family at a time. In this unique adventure, parents and kids will together perform various animal husbandry duties, learn about conservation efforts with endangered species and get a full, private tour of the facility. Plus, there will be plenty of opportunities for photos that will be lifetime keepsakes. You can also opt for an array of other interactive animal experiences they offer including a less expensive guided tour of the facility and meeting animals including binturongs, foxes, kinkajous, and pythons.

5712 Via Montellano
Online: wildwonders.org

5. California Wolf Center

The California Wolf Center seeks to recover wolves so they may have a safe and peaceful existence. They offer “Wolf Recovery Today” and a “Wolf Pack Tour” wherein visitors will be given an educational presentation on wolves before a guided observation tour of two packs of wolves.

K Q Ranch Rd. & Tall Pine Rd.
Online: californiawolfcenter.org

6. San Diego Zoo & San Diego Safari Park

Kids will go wild for an annual pass to the San Diego Zoo & San Diego Safari Park—truly a gift that keeps on giving. The world-famous destinations here in our backyard as lucky San Diegans, are home to an impressive, amazing, and rare array of animals big and small––and these locales are constantly improving by adding new habitats, creatures, and programs to their ongoing animal conservation, and global education efforts.

San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Dr.
San Diego

San Diego Safari Park
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
San Diego
Online: sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org

7. EcoVivarium 

Got a kiddo who’s crazy for reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods? The hands-on experiences at EcoVivarium will surely delight. Kids will be treated to an interactive and immersive experience featuring more than 200 rescued and donated animals including a Croc Monitor, Black and White Tegu, Giant Pixie Frog, and 17-foot Amethystine Python.

136 S. Juniper St.
Online: ecovivarium.org

8. Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo

If you’ve got an aspiring vet in your home, then be sure not to miss the wonderful opportunity to take him/her to a veterinary skills children’s workshop at Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo. Kids can learn suturing and surgical skills, animal physiology, and pet husbandry among other topics during the hospital’s Wednesday afternoon PAWS (Pet Awareness Workshop Series).

1691 Melrose Dr. #110
San Marcos
Online: sanelijovet.com

9. Helen Woodward Animal Center

You’ll find an abundance of various opportunities to interact with and learn about animals at Helen Woodward Animal Center. From their seasonal Critter Camps to their “You Can Be a Veterinarian” Camp and their Mommy & Me “First FURiends” classes for 2-4 year-olds to their animal-centric birthday parties and therapeutic horseback riding–there’s a program geared for every age and stage at this haven that houses an array of furred, feathered, and scaled creatures as well as rescue animals for adoption. You’re sure to find an animal encounter experience that’s just right for your kiddo.

6461 El Apajo Rd.
Rancho Santa Fe
Online: animalcenter.org

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