15 Places in the Bay Area Where Kids Can See Animals - 510 Families
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15 Places in the Bay Area Where Kids Can See Animals

If you have an animal-loving kid at home you’ll appreciate this list we’ve put together of places you can visit animals and creatures large and small in the East Bay and beyond. Little kids like little animals. We love having a membership to the zoo, but what about all the places where a toddler can get really up close and personal to animals for FREE?

kid and reptiles snakes
Checking out the lizards, snakes and creepy crawlies at the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley | Photo: Julie Herson

6 Free & Free-ish Local Outings For Kids Who Love Animals

We have a number of favorite destinations for visiting animals that are not quite open yet, thanks to Covid-19. We’ll update this spot when we hear some good news!

East Bay Vivarium (Berkeley)

Creepy crawling things abound at this reptile lovers’ nirvana. It’s best to come and browse on a weekday morning (open at 11 am). They have oodles of snakes and turtles, frogs and lizards, and so much more. Don’t miss Lemondrop, the 15-foot snake in the back right corner of the store! Pro tip: Make sure your little one knows what will or will not be coming home with you before you enter. Why we love the Vivarium for kids >>
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Tilden Park Little Farm (Berkeley) FREE

Berkeley’s Little Farm is a well-known admission-free place to feed goats, watch piggies, and chase your sibling. Bring celery. Clean bathrooms and a small playground reward guests. These days, it requires reservations, but we hope that ends soon! All about Tilden Little Farm open for booking >>

Knowland Park (Behind The Oakland Zoo) FREE

bear in tree
We spotted a bear in a tree on our hike behind the zoo | photo: Dana Brooks

A secret little hike behind the Oakland Zoo where you might see a bear, wolf, or vulture. You will almost definitely see doggies (on and off-leash). This little hike also offers spectacular Bay views and a tree swing. Read more details about how to spot the animals behind the Oakland Zoo >>

East Bay SPCA (Oakland and Dublin)

SPCA campers training a dog
SPCA campers try out their behavior and training skills on the obstacle course | Photo: East Bay SPCA

Children, ages 10-15, can volunteer with a supervising adult to care for animals. East Bay SPCA also offers animal camps for younger children (not free!). If you really want to be a hero, animal fostering opportunities are available. Opportunities may be limited because of the pandemic. Become a volunteer with animals >

Ardenwood Farm (Fremont) Almost FREE

Ardenwood is a working farm with many classes and seasonal activities for a small fee (like $2). Something new is always happening. Reservations required. Learn about booking a spot at Ardenwood Historic Farm >>

Hidden Villa Farm (Los Altos) Super Cheap

big sheep and masked child hidden villa
Loving this giant sheep | Photo @rhogarcia

For only $10 per vehicle, kids can visit with chickens, giant sheep, and other farm animals. Reservations required. See why we loved our visit to Hidden Villa >>
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9 More Bay Area Outings For Kids Who Love Animals ($-$$$)

The good news is that if you have an Oakland Zoo membership, it will give you discounted admission to many of these places and it works the other way, too. Always check for membership discounts!

Cat Town and RAWR Cafe ($)

cat and girl
Don’t touch the sleeping kitty | Photo: Whitney Moss

Your $12 admission charge goes right to supporting Oakland’s most vulnerable cats. Children ages 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult (no more than two children per adult). Coffee and vegan treats are available.
Make reservations >

Oakland Zoo (Oakland) $$

Visit the California bears at the California Trail
Visit the bears at the Oakland Zoo’s California Trail | Photo by CW Cristen

A local gem that’ll thrill your little animal lover with lions and tigers and bears (and a lot more!). The large gondola and California Trail section at the top are fabulous and come with a playground. It’s not cheap, but if you become a member you’ll likely make it worth your while within a few visits. Read about the Oakland Zoo here >>
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Lindsay Wildlife Experience (Walnut Creek) $

girl petting turtle
Lindsay Wildlife Petting Circle happens sometimes | Photo: Lindsay Wildlife Experience

What’s great about this East Bay animal experience is the programming geared towards young children. Cool animals include porcupine, owls, and rats. Rumor has it that the vulture and owl parties are always a hoot.
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San Francisco Zoo (San Francisco) $$

San Francisco Zoo Komodo Dragon
The Komodo Dragon, the ultimate apex predator, was a rare delight | Photo Credit: Julie Herson

While we love the Oakland Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo offers a few other animals worth the drive (and with traffic, boy is it a drive!). The penguins are so adorable, and the Komodo dragon, snakes, giant rhinoceros, and anteater offer some wow moments. If you have bug-loving kids, the Insect Zoo is a must-see. San Francisco Zoo is open >>
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Horses & 9 Bay Area horseback riding parties >>

Cal Academy of Sciences (San Francisco) $$

penguins cal academy
Watching the African penguins waddle and dive | Photo: Julia Gidwani

More a science museum than a zoo, Cal Academy in Golden Gate Park has thousands of animals including amusing penguins, an albino alligator, and butterflies. Cal Academy of Sciences requires reservations >>
Website >

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo (San Jose) $

petting zoo goat
Happy Hollow petting zoo (pre-Covid pic) | Photo: Whitney Moss

Part amusement park and part Zoo, San Jose’s Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a fun-filled destination for a family with young children, just under an hour’s drive from Oakland. Reservations required. Animals include capybara, peccary, monkeys, and interesting birds. Everybody loves a meerkat.
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Safari West (Santa Rosa) $$$

Safari west giraffe and tour
Safari West giraffes get close to the safari tour | Photo: Ray Mabry

Like an African safari you can drive to, some kids will really enjoy riding on top of a jeep and scouting for zebra, wildebeest, and giraffes. You might get chased by an ostrich or guinea fowl for good measure. We had lots of fun at Safari West but it is a splurge.
Website >

Bay Area Farms to Visit with Kids >>

Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey) $$

Monterey Bay Aquarium Hammerheads
Hammerhead hunting…we watched for an entire hour! | Photo Credit: Julie Herson

The famed Monterey Bay Aquarium is wonderful whether you do it as a day trip or weekend getaway. Children will be entertained by sea otters, penguins, sharks.
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CuriOdyssey (San Mateo) $$

Half zoo, half science playground, you’ll find plenty of cute little critters to entertain your little ones, as well as some fun play areas. The otters are certainly a favorite. Read about our Half-day Trip to CuriOdyssey.
Website >

Where do you take your kiddos to get up close and personal with animals in the East Bay?


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