From day one when parents beg their babies to make myriad animal noises, trips to the zoo are a given. Kids get to feed, touch and interact with animals they’d never see at home. Orange County’s best zoos and aquariums offer a little more: They’re educational, entertaining and accommodating of even the most rambunctious little ones.
Zoomars Petting Zoo
31791 Los Rios St.
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Designed to be the ultimate fun zone for toddlers, Zoomars Petting Zoo just amazes little ones. Not only do visitors have the opportunity to interact with llamas and other fun farm animals, they also get to ride trains and gold mine. Book a party here and never worry about rainy days, the exciting staff here keeps crafts on hand for just those situations. Check in on Zoomars’ calendar for updates on events like its Bunny Brunch.
24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr.
Dana Point, CA 92629
Located in beautiful Dana Point, the Ocean Institute is nationally recognized for its excellent, hands-on environmental education and maritime history programs. Designed to be an educational source, the institute welcomes more than 100,000 ocean-life loving visitors every year. The aquarium offers activities that will intrigue guests of all ages, including girls’ teen science conferences. Ocean Institute is great for parents who want to keep kids interested in the sciences throughout their formative years.
The Reptile Zoo
18822 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Characterized for its uniqueness, The Reptile Zoo is the place to see scaly crawlies of all shapes and sizes. The zoo is indoors, making it the ideal getaway on rainy days, and offers a variety of animals for kids to interact with and observe. Hands-on time feeding turtles and checking out Twinkie, the world’s largest snake, make this an exciting adventure for kids of any age. Other exciting animals include a two-headed snake, a 150-pound snake with no eyes, giant tropical fish, a six-foot monitor and free-roaming tortoises.
Santa Ana Zoo
1801 E. Chestnut Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92701
It’s a fact, every kid gets a kick out of monkeys, and the Santa Ana Zoo boasts at least 50 at any given time, including the tiny pygmy marmoset. From hands-on exhibits to carousel rides, there’s plenty to do here after everyone’s seen all of the animals. Amazon’s Edge, the zoo’s premier exhibit, boasts a little taste of Brazil right in southern California. Don’t forget to stop by the science maze for one last adventure and Treetop Toys gift shop to take home a memento of the kids’ favorite animals.
Orange County Zoo
1 Irvine Park Rd.
Orange, CA 92869
Recognized for its many attractions and array of animals, the Orange County Zoo is the one-stop activity center for families. See black bears, mountain lions, hawks and even coyotes up close and personal in a zoo that focuses its collection on animals from the southwestern United States. Located in the Irvine Regional Park, children can also enjoy nearby pony rides and hiking in the park in addition to dozens of animal exhibits in the zoo. Paddle boat and bike ride rentals are also available for families looking to explore the surrounding area of the regional park.
Sarie Robertson is a California native who has resided in Los Angeles County for several years. She received a Bachelors degree in 2010 from Loyola Marymount University and has contributed to various media outlets since deciding to become a freelance writer in 2011. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.