10 Amazing Places to See Wild Animals in California that Are Not at a Zoo

The biodiversity throughout California far exceeds the enclosures of the zoo.

Because California is such a remarkably rich state composed of many different ecological environments, it makes sense that there are so many sanctuaries set up to protect the wildlife in those regions. Zoos are great because visitors can see many different types of animals in one place, but witnessing wild animals in more open and natural habitats is a truly spectacular thing.

The following list is a collection of alternative spaces to traditional zoos that are accessible to the public and afford a different experience of the natural world altogether.

  1. Wildlife Learning Center in Los Angeles. This little gem is a best-kept secret about an hour north of L.A. The beauty of this privately owned organization is that the inhabitants are rescued from neglectful owners or substandard zoo conditions. Visitors will get to see a motley crew of animals like pythons, owls, and sloths. This environment also offers more contact with the creatures like a petting zoo.
  1. Elephant Seals in San Simeon. Every year, the elephant seals collect by the thousands at this public beach for breeding season. It’s fantastic to see them lounging in the sun– they are bigger and noisier than you think!
  1. Ostrichland in Solvang. Solvang is one of those quirky little anomalies along the coast, originally settled by the Danish and clinging with all its might to protect the Danish details. The ostrich and emu preserve is also a farm that sells eggs and jerky, but don’t worry, the residents here roam free, and are not meant for food.
  1. Shambala Animal Preserve, Acton. Tippi Hedren, star of the famous Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Birds, founded this refuge and it is a true marvel worth visiting. The animals here are rescued from circuses, caught by Wildlife Fish and Game, or overflow from Humane Societies. For a hefty fee, visitors can reserve a spot on an overnight safari to see a pride of lions.
  1. Danny’s Farm, Pomona. The Gott Family started this special place so that children with special needs and autism could experience animals safely. Kids can pet bunnies and lambs, and learn a little about animal husbandry.
  1. Gibbon Conservation Center, Santa Clarita. Yes, there is a place in California entirely dedicated to fostering and studying gibbons. Kids can get a great view of these fascinating creatures up close.
  1. Bryan Preserve, Point Arenas. Driving along the 101, you will think you were dreaming when suddenly the long, graceful necks of the giraffes appear over the fence. The beauty of this sanctuary for savannah animals is that unlike the zoo, there is wide-open space for them to frolic, and you can see how healthy and happy the zebras, antelopes, and giraffes are.
  1. Randall Museum, San Francisco. This lovely little spot is very kid-friendly, powered by green energy with great science exhibits. It also acts as a haven for injured or displaced creatures from the surrounding habitat. The Randall sits on top of Corona Heights and has a magnificent view of the bay as a bonus.
  1. Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, San Francisco. For an extraordinary lesson in the vast diversity of the California wetlands, this place is a must-see. If bird watching piques your kids’ interests, you can do no better than Don Edwards.
  1. Serenity Park, Los Angeles. These folks found a way to double up on the love; they help protect exotic birds that are victims of the exotic pet industry, or that are threatened by development and partner them with U.S. Veterans who are in recovery from combat. It’s an intimate place where beautiful macaws, parrots, and other magnificent birds get lots of attention.


It is a really fun adventure to visit some of these places, but it is also so crucial that we’re supportive of their missions to protect both domestic and wild species. We can educate and entertain our families by backing efforts that put quality of life first for these precious creatures.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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