Top 15 Petting Zoos in California, Ranked
Petting zoos are a quintessential childhood experience, but the kind that pops up at pumpkin patches next to the mall leave something to be desired.
We ranked these California petting zoos based on Yelp ratings, but they each have something unique to offer that you and your little ones will love.
Who's ready to feed a zebra?
15. Montebello Barnyard Zoo
Location: Montebello, California
Standout feature: A classic petting zoo that even has a splash pad
Why it's worth visiting: Montebello Barnyard Zoo has every petting zoo animal you'd expect, including goats, ponies, pigs, llamas, a bull and even a zebra.The animals are so used to being fed that they can be on the pushy side, but there remains a lot to love.
There are pony rides for the kids, and the zoo park has a number of playgrounds and a splash pad to cool off in.
Learn more about the Montebello Barnyard Zoo.
14. The Reptile Zoo
Location: Fountain Valley, California
Standout feature: All kinds of exotic reptiles
Why it's worth visiting: If you're in the mood to handle animals that are scaly instead of fluffy, The Reptile Zoo is your place. Visitors can handle a number of snakes and lizards, including ones that are intimidatingly large.
The staff also educates visitors on the care of reptiles and can give young herpetologists a taste of what it's like to own one as a pet.
Learn more about The Reptile Zoo.
13. Lemos Farm
Location: Half Moon Bay, California
Standout feature: Seasonal attractions and a snack bar
Why it's worth visiting: What once was a working dairy farm in the San Francisco area has transformed into a sweet petting zoo. Lemos Farm is a fun spot for birthday parties and autumn trips to the pumpkin patch.
Hop on a tiny train for a ride, visit the ponies and come back at the holidays to cut your own Christmas tree.
Learn more about Lemos Farm.
12. Moorpark Teaching Zoo
Location: Moorpark, California
Standout feature: Education about exotic animal husbandry
Why it's worth visiting: Moorpark Teaching Zoo has named itself "America's Teaching Zoo," and it's a worthy title. Part of Moorpark College, the zoo's goal is to educate visitors about how to care for and train animals.
There are over 200 unusual creatures to see, including geckos, monkeys, snakes, large cats and alligators. It's less of a petting zoo than an educational experience, but it's still 100 percent worth visiting.
Learn more about the Moorpark Teaching Zoo.
11. Shadowland Foundation
Location: Lake Hughes, California
Standout feature: Wolves, wolves and more wolves
Why it's worth visiting: There are very few places in the world where kids are invited to get up close and personal with wolves. Shadowland Foundation is one of them.
It's a sanctuary focused on the preservation of Alaskan timberwolves, and visitors have a chance to meet and pet all nine of them.
Learn more about Shadowland Foundation.
10. Gilchrist Farms
Location: Santa Clarita, California
Standout feature: Tons of fun activities
Why it's worth visiting: Back to traditional petting zoo experiences, Gilchrist Farms offers a hands-on experience with farm fowl, sheep, pigs, bunny rabbits and plenty of pygmy goats.
Every weekend, visitors are invited to see the animals, hop on a wagon ride, milk some goats and even try their hand at archery.
Learn more about Gilchrist Farms.
9. Surfside Ranch
Location: San Diego, California
Standout feature: Horseback riding
Why it's worth visiting: Surfside ranch is mainly a horseback riding spot. The quaint ranch offers birthday parties, summer programs and regular visits to ride the ponies. There's a small additional fee to pet the inhabitants of the petting zoo area, but it's worth it.
All ages of kiddos are welcome at the ranch, but kids 4 and under need a grownup to enter the petting zoo.
Learn more about Surfside Ranch.
8. Slide Ranch
Location: Muir Beach, California
Standout feature: The real farm experience
Why it's worth visiting: Slide Ranch in Marin County is similar to Surfside Ranch, but arguably more picturesque.
In addition to typical petting zoo activities, Slide Ranch offers family programs, which include milking goats, collecting eggs from their family of hens, and getting up close and personal with their wooly, furry farm animals.
It's so pretty there that some people use it as a wedding venue.
Learn more about Slide Ranch.
7. Star Eco Station
Location: Culver City, California
Standout feature: Exposure to a number of fascinating creatures
Why it's worth visiting: Star Eco Station is a different kind of petting zoo experience altogether. To visit, attendees must sign up for a guided tour of the station. Once they arrive, an Eco Station expert leads them on an adventure through the facility, which homes a host of rescued exotic wildlife.
It's just as interesting for adults as for kids, as the guide explains the ins and outs of wildlife conservation and the care of everything from parrots to pythons.
Learn more about the Star Eco Station.
6. Danny's Farm
Location: Shadow Hills, California
Standout feature: Welcoming to visitors of all abilities
Why it's worth visiting: Founded by Jim Gott, a former Los Angeles Dodger and the pitching coach for the Anaheim Angels, Danny's Farm is something special. It was built in honor of Gott's son, Danny, who has autism.
The petting zoo offers an inclusive experience for children with special needs to visit more than 21 different animals in a calm, non-stressful environment. Reservations are required since visits are limited to an hour, but it's a special experience that's a perfect fit for anyone overwhelmed by the hullaballoo of most petting zoos.
Learn more about Danny's Farm.
5. Oasis Camel Dairy
Location: San Diego, California
Standout feature: Where else can you visit a herd of camels?
Why it's worth visiting: You can only pet so many goats before it gets old. When you hit your grain-feeding limit, head to the Oasis Camel Dairy. It's only available to visit by private tour, but the experience is unforgettable.
Visitors can pet and ride live camels, feed a mini-sheep, and see a number of exotic birds. There's a giant goldfish to take a peep at, too.
Learn more about Oasis Camel Dairy.
4. The Gentle Barn
Location: Santa Clarita, California
Standout feature: Dozens of rescued and rehabilitated animals
Why it's worth visiting: The Gentle Barn is one of the coolest animal-centered experiences in the Los Angeles area. It's a working animal rescue farm with locations in three states, but its first location is in Santa Clarita. There, visitors are treated to a uniquely calm, almost transcendent day at the farm.
It's only open to the public for guided tours on Sundays with tickets purchased in advance, but we wouldn't have it any other way. The limited admission experience keeps the focus on building a sense of connection and respect between visitors and the rescued animals who live there.
For anyone 14 and up, you also have the option of trying a cow hug therapy session. All in all, it's a beautiful farm filled with animals that are treated with love and care.
Learn more about The Gentle Barn.
3. Canzelle Alpacas
Location: Carpinteria, California
Standout feature: Dozens of fluffy faces to snuggle
Why it's worth visiting: Again, goats get old after a while, and alpacas are way cuter anyway. Canzelle Alpacas is an alpaca lover's paradise.
It's home to over 40 fluffy creatures that are basically tiny, friendlier llamas, plus sheep, horses, chickens and a couple of exceedingly happy dogs.
There's also a massive avocado tree orchard, plus expansive views of the Channel Islands.
Learn more about Canzelle Alpacas.
2. Kfar Saba Urban Farm
Location: Winnetka, California
Standout feature: Super cool rescued animals in a quieter setting
Why it's worth visiting: Winnetka's Kfar Saba Urban Farm is the most popular petting zoo in Los Angeles, partly because of what they stand for. All the animals in their care are rescues, and they only allow visits by reservation.
That way, your family gets a private, more one-on-one experience with the farm's four-legged and feathery residents.
Learn more about the Kfar Saba Urban Farm.
1. Children’s Nature Retreat
Location: Alpine, California
Standout feature: They have zebras. Enough said.
Why it's worth visiting: Day trip, anyone? The Children's Nature Retreat is about 40 minutes outside of downtown San Diego. It's the ultimate Southern California petting zoo experience, with a wide array of animals to pet. Think tortoises, cows, camels and even zebras.
Admission includes a giant bucket of hay to feed them, so you won't have to shell out extra to tempt a stripy zebra over for a photo-op.
Learn more about the Children's Nature Retreat.
More Stories About Zoos
Looking for more animal-centered fun? Explore more options below: