From mountain lions and coyotes to alligators and zebras, there are plenty of thrilling opportunities to see animals in Orange County. Here are five places that offer a unique experience for the entire family:
1 Irvine Park Road, Orange; 714-973-6847, ocparks.com/zoo
Peacocks will be the first to greet you at the zoo, located in Irvine Regional Park. They roam freely and let out loud shrills so they’re impossible to miss.
Animals on exhibit include mountain lions, coyotes, black bears, island foxes, porcupines, a pot-bellied pig, great-horned owls, raccoons and more.
Keep your eyes peeled for the volunteers throughout the zoo holding an animal that they might let you touch. There’s also a barnyard where little ones can pet and feed goats and sheep.
Learn about local venomous reptiles and meet some of the zoo’s scaly friends up close during Rattlesnake Awareness Days, March 30-31.
Cost: $2 per person (3 years and older); children 2 years and under are free
Hours: 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on weekends
Rancho Wildlife Foundation
19191 Lawrence Canyon, Silverado; 949-589-7900, ranchowildlife.org
It is the only place in Orange County where you can see a white Bengal tiger.
Nestled in the foothills of Silverado Canyon, the foundation is a zoological garden that offers families a rare opportunity to get close to zebras, Servals (small African cats), macaws, parrots, peafowl, raccoons, a badger and more.
Learn the names of each animal, why they were rescued and unique tales of survival on a guided tour through the site’s 32 acres. The nonprofit operates on the grounds of Rancho Las Lomas and reservations are required to visit the facility.
Sip on a local brew at the beer garden and munch on snacks. There are plenty of places to sit. The organization has kid friendly and date night events.
For information on pricing and to schedule, e-mail email@example.com.
Santa Ana Zoo
1801 East Chestnut Ave., Santa Ana; 714-836-4000, santaanazoo.org
It’s the monkeys that draw the biggest crowd at the Santa Ana Zoo. Morning is the best time to catch all 50 of them in action, hollering and performing for visitors.
Don’t miss the pygmy marmosets, which are smallest monkeys in the world. Camels, giant anteaters, rheas, a sloth, a bald eagle and a hedgehog are must-see attractions.
There is also a Ferris wheel, train ride, carousel, playground, snack shop, a gift shop, and plenty of shaded eating areas to take a break.
Celebrate the zoo’s 67th birthday on March 2-3. There will be animal presentations, crafts, live entertainment and more.
Cost: $12 for adults (13 and older); $9 for children (3-12)
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Reptile Zoo
18818 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley; 714-500-0591, thereptilezoo.com
Minds will be blown at the Reptile Zoo in Fountain Valley.
Much larger than it looks from the outside, the indoor educational facility is home to more than 100 exotic species of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids from around the world, including a 150-pound American alligator named Darthgator.
For the brave guests, there are opportunities to hold and interact with some of the most popular pets including a 300-pound ball python, a bearded dragon and a leopard gecko.
Little ones will get a kick out of feeding fruits and veggies to the massive tortoises.
Cost: $10; $8 for children (4-12); free for children 3 years and younger
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays
Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary
29322 Modjeska Canyon, Silverado; 714-649-2760, tuckerwildlife.org
Step back in time at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.
Deeply rooted in Modjeska Canyon, the tranquil preserve is home to 90 species of birds and is considered one of the best birding sites in Orange County.
Explore the family-friendly walking trails surrounded by native plants and butterflies. There also are ponds with koi, turtles, frogs and toads.
There is a science center with live animals and children’s activities, a native plant nursery and a gift shop.
Consider packing lunch because of the plentiful peaceful picnic spots. Visit the sanctuary’s website for upcoming family events, internships and volunteer opportunities.
Cost: Free; donations appreciated
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Mondays and Wednesdays.