This post is currently getting its 2019 update.
Let the record show that there is more than one way to smash a pumpkin, and handing it to a hippo is definitely one of them. A gorilla does the job pretty well, too, as does a tiger, or—well, just about any other animal at the zoo. This discovery by our nation's zookeepers has led to a peculiar Halloween tradition—that we highly recommend!
Each year Southern California's zoos (and Griffith Park is only one of the options, as you'll see below) plan Halloween events, usually treating resident critters to their favorite delicacies stuffed inside pumpkins. For some, the delicacy may actually be the pumpkin itself (chomp chomp), while the more carnivorously inclined seem to view the pumpkins more as wrapping paper (smash smash). Either way, zoo animals smashing pumpkins ups the ante on traditional pumpkin patches. Check out all the beastly fun at Southland zoos this season.
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Los Angeles Zoo
October 2019 (weekends)
5333 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90027
General admission (ages 13-61) $21; Seniors $18; Kids (ages 2-12) $16; Parking free
Boo at the LA Zoo is an annual event that has grown with every Halloween season; where once it was just a day, it now runs the entire month of October. Daily activities include a gentle hay bale maze, animal shows, and some freaky photo ops. On the weekends extra fun is added with the pumpkin-smashing feeding sessions, pumpkin carving demonstrations, crafts, face painting, and strolling characters. Kids with strong constitutions can also watch some Fearsome Feedings, during which carnivorous animals tear into carcasses. Finally, on October 21 & 22 and 28 & 29 kids can enjoy trick-or-treating around the zoo. Check out our full review to see how the kids we've brought have enjoyed it.
Pointer: We've found that the Creature Treats pumpkin munching schedule on the printed hand-outs is not always accurate, but the schedule on the website is. Avoid disappointment by checking the live schedule!
Moorpark Teaching Zoo
October 27 - 28, 2018
7075 Campus Road
Moorpark, CA 93021
Adults $8; Children (ages 3-12) $6, (under 2) free; Parking free
Those who didn't know this gem of a zoo was in the Valley have our sympathy; luckily there's time to correct the error before Halloween! As the name implies, this zoo is a training ground for student zookeepers and animal trainers - all of whom are not only required but eager to share what they're learning. The animals are mostly rescued exotic critters, and they seem to enjoy performing for their supper (every hour on the hour). What they make of the trick-or-treaters and the costume parade on Halloween weekend is anybody's guess.
Orange County Zoo
October 27, 2018
1 Irvine Park Road
Irvine, CA 92862
Adults & kids $2; ages 2 & under free; Irvine Park entry fee $5 per vehicle
Right smack in the middle of Irvine Park is a modest little zoo where, for less than the price of a trip to Starbucks, a family can visit, pet, and feed a variety of endearing animals. Come Halloween time, the critters get a pumpkin-smashing fiesta while guests indulge in trick-or-treating, spooky crafts, a scavenger hunt, and face painting.
Santa Ana Zoo
October 20-21 & 27-28, 2018
1801 East Chestnut Avenue
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Non-members $19.95; Members $9.95; Children under two free; Parking free
OCers can do a double shot of Halloween zoo fun, following up the daytime pumpkin crunching in Irvine with some nighttime trick-or-treating among the critters in Santa Ana. Even bigger kids will want to tag along, for the Teen Scream haunted house included with admission.
Santa Barbara Zoo
October 19-21, 2018
500 Ninos Drive
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Adults $17; Kids (2-12) $11; Parking $10
Although slightly off the Angeleno beaten path, Santa Barbara's zoo is popular with Southland families. Far smaller than LA's or San Diego's parks, Santa Barbara manages to balance a good selection of interesting animals with a space that is easily manageable with small children. Little ones like the train ride and feeding opportunities; parents appreciate the smaller crowds and ocean breezes. The annual Boo at the Zoo event features evening trick-or-treating, music, spooky storytelling, a costume parade, and a scare zone for older kids. Note that the zoo closes early these three days, so that it can open for the evening event (starting at 5:30 on Friday and 4:30 Saturday and Sunday).
Finally, October is a great month to visit either the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Safari Park; both zoos (and many other fun spots) offer children under the age of 12 free admission for the entire month of October!
Originally published October 14, 2011