Find an Amazing Petting Zoo near Los Angeles Where Kids Can Meet the Animals
Dr. Doolittle may have been able to walk with the animals and talk with the animals, but at these petting zoos near Los Angeles kids can feed, hug, and sometimes even ride the animals. Actually, petting zoo is too narrow a term for these rescue centers and urban farms, where kids can meet critters in closer quarters and even get their hands on them (gently, of course). These incredible animal encounters and petting zoos near Los Angeles have rescue animals, pony rides, animal feeding experiences, and more. Some offer birthday parties on-site or even parties that come to you.
To discover more places where kids can get up close and personal with animals in LA, check out our roundup of all the best zoos near Los Angeles, including insider tips for visiting our very own LA Zoo.
Meet the animals and learn all about them at this urban rescue. Photo courtesy of Kfar Saba Urban Farm
Winnetka's Kfar Saba Urban Farm is a petting zoo featuring rescued animals like goats, parrots, tortoises, and much more. Unlike other petting zoos, the farm only takes advance reservations, which is great because your family or group can privately enjoy the farm and its diverse animal residents.
The farm is run by its owner Limor, who is extremely knowledgeable about the animals and has great chemistry with the residents of the farm. To set up an appointment, give the farm a call (see the phone number below) or connect on Facebook. Private group tours are $60 for 2 kids and 3 adults, with $15 per child and $10 per adult for additional guests.
Montebello Barnyard Zoo has all the petting zoo hits: goats, ponies, pigs, tortoises, a llama—there's even a bull. The zoo also has those classic pellets to feed the animals, but there are signs warning to throw them in the pens rather than feed the animals directly. The goats are particularly pushy about getting the pellets. The zoo is located in a lovely park that has a couple of cool playgrounds and even a splash pad, so it’s worth the trip. It’s definitely a mom 'n' pop operation; we did it in less than an hour, but it also has pony rides for kids who are up for that (just remember to bring a helmet for your pony ride). However, most of the animals are behind small fences, and there are signs asking not to pet many of them... so there's not a ton of actual petting going on. But kids will get up close and personal to loads of animals. Admission is $6, and there is an additional fee for rides and other activities.
Porcupine dining time! Photo courtesy of Wildlife Learning Center via Facebook
Though not technically a petting zoo, the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar is a small rescue center where the animal enclosures are very close and give visitors an intimate experience with the animals. It's very exciting to only be a few feet from a lynx, foxes, and sloths. Even better, the center has animal encounters frequently with a staff member (I was told it’s usually one of the many reptiles). On our trip I mentioned to the friendly staff how much my daughter liked the tortoises, so they kindly made the next animal encounter with a baby tortoise. There are also lots of extra animal encounter packages, like meeting one of the many adorable porcupines, armadillos, or more. Also of note: the Wildlife Learning Center does parties, so I might get a sloth encounter for my birthday... The animals are obviously being well taken care of, and it's a great institution. Admission is $11 for kids under 15 (and seniors) and $13 for those over 15. Tots under 2 are admitted free.
4. Danny's Farm
Danny’s Farm was founded by former Los Angeles Dodger (and pitching coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—no matter which LA team you root for, he's got you covered!) Jim Gott with his wife Cathy in 2007, in honor of their son Danny, who was diagnosed with autism. The farm is geared toward providing experiences to children with special needs. Schedule an appointment online to meet with the over 21 animals who live on the farm. The farm is currently open on weekdays only, and visits are limited to one hour, so neither kids nor animals are overwhelmed. One adult is allowed in free with each paid child admission, and you can also make reservations for family groups of up to 4, or of 5-8 people.
No experience is necessary to climb into the saddle at Griffith Park. Photo courtesy of Griffith Park Pony Rides
Not quite a petting zoo, but this is right around the corner from the LA Zoo and a super fun way to get your kid introduced to horses. There's a merry-go-round of ponies for very small (and nervous) riders, and slow or fast pony rides for older kids. Park once and take a trip on the Griffith Park Train Rides right next door. Pony rides cost $5.
Cow hug therapy, now booking sessions. Photo courtesy of The Gentle Barn
A working animal rescue farm with locations in Tennessee, Missouri, and Santa Clarita, California, the SoCal Gentle Barn has tons of classic barnyard animals: horses, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, and even an emu. The barn is only open to give guided tours to the public on Sundays, and it is highly recommended to make sure to plan your trip and buy tickets in advance. The grounds look absolutely stunning and the people here clearly love their animals. Note: They ask that guests not bring dairy, egg, meat, poultry, or seafood onto the property out of respect for the animals, so bring vegan snacks only. It's a working farm, so guests are strongly advised to wear long pants, closed-toe shoes, hats, and plenty of sunscreen. Admission is $22 for adults, $12 for kids. You can also schedule private tours of the barnyard, and birthday parties. (Cow Hug therapy sessions are also available for people 14 and up.)
Gilchrist Farms in Santa Clarita offers a wide range of activities, including pony rides, wagon rides, a farm train, goat milking, and even archery! But one of the biggest draws is its farm visit, where you can get up close and personal with a wide range of animals like ducks, chickens, sheep, pigs, bunnies, and lots and lots of goats. Farm visits are available Saturdays and Sundays year-round, and while reservations are available they're not required.
Well worth the drive, the Oasis Camel Dairy in San Diego offers private tours for up to 10 guests. Is your "pod" bigger than 10? No problem, because you can add more guests for $10 a person. While camel riding is the big draw, you can also feed the camels and mini-sheep with the treats provided by the dairy. The farm is also home to cockatoos, parrots, turkeys, and even giant goldfish!
Meet, feed, and even hug these fuzzy giants. Photo courtesy of Canzelle Alpacas via Facebook
Just a short trip up the coast is Canzelle Alpacas in Carpinteria. The alpaca paradise is open for tours of the pastures with a reservation (no walk-ins are allowed). During the tour you'll meet and feed over 40 of these fuzzy giants as well as other animals that share the pastures like sheep, horses, dogs, and chickens. Did we mention there's also a buffalo? The farm is also home to over 250 avocado trees and a breathtaking view of the ocean and Channel Islands.
This horse-driven experience down in the South Bay offers all sorts of riding opportunities, and the Equestrian Center also has a petting zoo available for birthday parties by appointment. Trail ride parties can be booked, as well.
11. Giddy Up Ranch
The ranch is only available for private events, but the Giddy Up folks set up a petting zoo weekly at several local farmers markets, and they will also bring the petting zoo to you for a party or a personal animal encounter (this includes camel rides at your house or location or maybe just a Zoom meet up with a favorite animal).
At Reptacular you can visit the ranch or have animals come to you. Photo courtesy of Reptacular Animals via Facebook
The Reptactular Animals have been on Oprah, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and a host of other TV shows. The Reptacular Ranch is located in Sylmar and is available for weddings and other events. Despite the name, this ranch has way more than just reptiles. It's home to over 550 different animals. Admission is $175 per hour for up to 5 guests for private animal tours. Each additional guest is $15 per hour. Raptacular also offers birthday parties and even the chance to camp on the ranch!
In addition to these businesses, some farmers markets can be relied on for petting zoos. The California Science Center even has an aquatic petting zoo-meets-raw bar exhibit where kids can touch mollusks and other weird sea creatures. Most of the listed animal sanctuaries and zoos above are not-for-profits, so volunteering is a fantastic way for older kids to get to hang with the animals, learn, and do a bit of good in the world. It can take a little bit of research ahead of time to figure out the hours and locations, but watching a child's face light up as she pets an alpaca is absolutely worth it.
This article was originally published on September 21, 2018