If you're a lover of animals, California is the place to be. The Golden State is home not only to a variety of natural wildlife, but to a number of world-class zoos as well.
You can find zoos and animal preserves scattered all throughout the state, spanning the distance from San Diego to Eureka. In essence, if you're looking to see some animals, California has you covered.
Considering a trip to some California zoos? Not sure of which ones to visit? Read on!
This is an animal lover's guide to visiting the best zoos in California!
Zoos in Northern California
As you're probably well aware of, California is a huge state. It takes 14 hours to drive from the state's southernmost point to the state's northernmost point. So, if you're visiting California, you're probably not going to be visiting California in its entirety.
Instead, you're probably going to be visiting one of its two primary regions: Northern California or Southern California. Regardless of the region you're in, you'll have plenty of zoos to choose from.
First, we'll cover the top zoos in Northern California. Let's get into it!
Existing upon approximately 100 acres of land, the Oakland Zoo is one of the premier zoos in Northern California. This zoo contains nearly 700 animals, including lions, elephants, camels, snakes, and much, much more.
One of the premier attractions at this location is the California Trail. This trail is traversed by cable car, allowing visitors to catch glimpses of native wildlife.
The Oakland Zoo is a little expensive, but not nearly as expensive as the San Diego Zoo. Considering all that it has to offer, it's well worth the price of admission.
San Francisco Zoo
Another popular zoo in the bay area is the San Francisco Zoo. This zoo sits upon approximately 100 acres of land, and is home to well over 1,000 animals. These animals come from upwards of 250 species.
The San Francisco Zoo has been open since 1929, and has a great deal of history on its side. Not only was it the birthplace of famed gorilla Koko, it's currently the home of the oldest black rhinoceros on the continent.
There are is an essentially endless amount of animals to be seen at this zoo. In addition to rhinos and gorillas, you can also see tigers, lions, birds, sea lions, and a variety of other animals.
Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Located in Fresno's Roeding Park, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo is a 39-acre zoo with tons of animals to see. One of the most visited zoos in the United States, it sees a yearly visitation of almost 1 million people.
Though it's not the biggest of zoos, this location has plenty for its visitors to see. Some of its most popular attractions include the Sea Lion Cove, the Stingray Bay, and African Adventure, an exhibit which houses a bevy of African-native wildlife.
Regardless of the types of animals you're hoping to see, you should be able to see them at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. This zoo includes everything from Komodo Dragons, to cheetahs, to elephants, to penguins, and everything in between.
If you're in or around the state's capital, you might consider stopping by the Sacramento Zoo. While it only consists of around 14 acres of land, it houses approximately 500 animals, providing visitors with just about everything that they could possibly want to see at a zoo.
Some of the more popular animals at this zoo include grizzly bears, orangutans, penguins, lions, and tigers. However, this is only a small sample of what's to be seen. You will also have the opportunity to see foxes, bats, giraffes, and a variety of other animals.
Ticket prices for the Sacramento Zoo are fairly average. Regardless of whether you're going by yourself, or taking your entire family, you shouldn't have to break the bank in order to get in. In essence, going to this zoo is a fun, cheap way to spend an afternoon.
Sequoia Park Zoo
Perhaps you're looking for a zoo that's closer to the California-Oregon border? If so, Sequoia Park Zoo is the place for you. While fairly small, containing just 5 acres of land, it still has plenty for visitors to see.
In total, this zoo contains around 50 different species of animal. Total animal numbers range over the thousands, and include everything from gibbons, to tigers, to polar bears, to rabbits, to birds, and much, much more.
This zoo is just a small portion of a much larger complex in Eureka, California. This complex contains playgrounds, gardens, ponds, and more redwoods than you can shake a stick at. If you're in the area, it's a terrific place to visit.
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo
Located in San Jose, California, Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a relatively small location, existing on just 16 acres of land. Nonetheless, it contains quite a few animals, around 150 to be exact.
The animals in this zoo run the gamut from jaguars, to monkeys, to pandas, to meerkats, to much, much more. Regardless of what you're trying to see, you should be able to find it at Happy Hollow.
There's also a petting zoo on the premises, allowing visitors to get up-close-and-personal with barnyard animals.
Safari West is more of a preserve than it is a zoo. Nonetheless, it offers visitors the chance to see a wide variety of wild animals. This zoo specializes in African animals, specifically, including such animals as antelopes, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, and rhinos.
Located in Sonoma County, this preserve is contained on 400 acres of sprawling land. If you want to be able to see it all in a single day, you'll have to take a safari tour.
While Safari West doesn't contain all of the animals that you'll see in normal zoos, it's still a remarkable experience. It's recommended for anyone that has a love for animals.
Zoos in Southern California
Though it's a little more concentrated than Northern California, Southern California is still home to plenty of zoos. In fact, some of the best zoos in the world exist in Southern California.
Southern California zoos include, but are not limited to the following:
San Diego Zoo
Considered by many to be one of the best zoos in the United States, the San Diego Zoo is very arguably the best zoo in California. This is so for a number of reasons, including its size, its number of animals, and the quality of its exhibits.
Located within San Diego's Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo houses nearly 4,000 animals. These animals come from almost 700 different species, meaning that you're bound to see some animals that you've never even heard of before.
Contained within 100 acres of land, this zoo isn't the biggest in California, but is still fairly massive. If you're going to visit, get ready to exercise.
Los Angeles Zoo
While not quite on the level of the San Diego Zoo, the Los Angeles Zoo is still well worth visiting. Measuring in at around 130 acres, it's home to over 1,000 animals and over 250 varying animal species.
Located in Griffith Park, the Los Angeles Zoo is also home to the Botanical Gardens. If you're interested, you can get up-close-and-personal looks at nearly 7,500 plants. These plants come from around 800 different species.
It doesn't matter whether you're looking to see turtles, chimps, elephants, or aquatic creatures, you'll find them at the Los Angeles Zoo. This locale is great for kids and adults alike.
Santa Barbara Zoo
Contained within 30 acres, the Santa Barbara Zoo doesn't possess nearly the size of the Los Angeles or San Diego Zoos. However, despite its small size, it still has plenty to offer.
This charming little zoo includes around 600 animals. These animals come from around 160 different species, and run the gamut from gorillas, to condors, to lions, and much, much more.
The Santa Barbara Zoo has appeared on many "best small zoos in America" lists. If you're looking to avoid the vast sprawl of most other Southern California zoos, it's a terrific place to visit.
Orange County Zoo
Even smaller than the Santa Barbara Zoo is the Orange County Zoo. Existing in Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California, this zoo comprises just 8 acres of land. Costing just $2 for entry, it is one of the most affordable zoos to visit in all of California.
If you're looking to see gorillas, giraffes, and other such exotic animals, the Orange County Zoo is not the place for you. This zoo foregoes those animals in favor of animals that are native to the southwestern portion of the United States.
Animals which are commonly seen at the Orange County Zoo include red foxes, black bears, coyotes, owls, and porcupines. Most of these animals were rescued from dire situations, including abandonment and injury.
Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Located in Big Bear Lake, California, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo specializes specifically in Alpine animals. It is one of just two American zoos to do this. In all, the zoo contains around 160 animals from approximately 80 different species.
Though some of the animals in this zoo are housed permanently, many of this zoo's animals are kept for only a short time. In the event that local animals suffer injury or displacement, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo will take them in and rehab them until they're ready to be released back into the wild.
While not ridiculously expensive, this zoo does still charge for admission. However, the low admission price is well worth the opportunity to see local bears, wolves, cougars, and eagles.
Santa Ana Zoo
If you're in the Santa Ana area, you might consider stopping by the Santa Ana Zoo. This zoo is fairly small, contained on a 20-acre plot of land, but it still has plenty to offer to animal lovers.
This zoo is unique from most other zoos in California in that it specializes in plants and wildlife from South and Central America. With over 250 animals on the premises, it offers you up-close looks at birds, primates, and a collection of other mammals.
While it's not quite as staggering as places like the San Diego Zoo, the Santa Ana Zoo is still worth a visit. With a fairly low admission price, there's no reason to not give it a chance.
The Living Desert
Located in Palm Desert, The Living Desert looks more like a nature preserve than it does a traditional zoo. However, in spite of its appearance, it is very much a zoo. It contains hundreds of caged animals.
This zoo is unique in that it specializes in desert wildlife and plants. It contains not only domestic plants and wildlife, but foreign ones as well, featuring plants and animals from countries such as Madagascar and Mexico.
Some of the animals you can count on seeing at The Living Desert include gazelles, mountain lions, giraffes, and warthogs. You'll typically also see amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.
California Living Museum
If you're looking to see animals that are native to California, and Southern California specifically, the California Living Museum is the place to go. Opened in 1983 in Bakersfield, California, this zoo is designed to educate visitors on all of that wildlife that California has to offer.
This zoo is rather small, existing on a 14-acre plot of land. While it's not hugely expansive, it still contains a decent variety of animals. In fact, this zoo houses over 250 animals at all times.
Animals that you might see at the California Living Museum include black bears, eagles, owls, mountain lions, and reptiles. Accompanied by a relatively low admissions price, this is certainly a zoo worth seeing.
Ready to Visit One of the Best Zoos in California?
The zoos reviewed above are the absolute best zoos in California. Each of these zoos has something great to offer, with each one being well worth a visit. Regardless of the zoo you choose to visit, you're sure to have a great time.
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