We had a lot of fun during our Mom’s Guide to Family Fun group’s private critter encounter at the Helen Woodward Animal Center.
Kids of all ages love to interact with animals, and there are many places in San Diego to get up close to feathered, scaled, furry and fluffy creatures. Of course you know about the zoo, Seaworld and the aquariums, but we’ve come up with a list of lesser-known ways to interact with critters large and small.
Visiting the petting zoo, the 4H animal exhibits, attending the turkey trot and the pig races are just about the most fun kids can have at the San Diego County Fair, and it’s all free with admission. The fair is happening now. When planning your trip, don’t forget to make time for the animals. Find out more here: sdfair.com.
Van Ommering Farm in Lakeside is a working dairy farm that is also open for tours in the spring and special events each holiday season. Known to many as “Oma’s Pumpkin Patch,” it’s a great place to pick a pumpkin, find a Christmas tree and even host a birthday party. Kids love running around the hay bale maze, sliding down the cotton seed hill and, of course, hanging in the petting zoo and seeing the dairy cows. Find out more at OmasPumpkinPatch.com.
City Farmers Nursery is a gardner’s oasis found smack in the middle of a busy Southeast San Diego neighborhood. Celebrating its 45th year, families can wander through the beautiful gardens and encounter creatures large and small including turtles, turkeys, goats and more. Free and open to the public, visit CityFarmersNursery.com for operating hours.
Lions, Tigers & Bears is a large animal sanctuary that takes in abused and abandoned exotic animals. In addition to getting up close with lions, tigers, bears, bobcats and leopards, visitors can actually feed some of the animals and camp out in the park during special events. All visits are by appointment only. The park is located in Alpine. Visit LionsTigersAndBears.org for more information.
Surprise! Your local pet store is a great place to get up close to a variety of animals. Petco even hosted my son’s 2nd grade class for a field trip. But long before he went to school, we would take our own little trip up and down the Petco aisles to see everything from adoptable cats to chinchillas. It’s a free and simple way to get an animal fix, even if you’re not a pet owner! Find out more here: petco.com/kids
Children’s Nature Retreat in Alpine is an animal 20-acre sanctuary that families explore at their leisure. From common farm animals to zebras, camels and giant tortoises, this is the place to go for an interactive adventure. Animal feedings are included in the day pass admission. For more information go to ChildrensNatureRetreat.org.
Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures in Julian is open most weekends with activities like candle dipping, pottery on a real wheel, rope making & lassoing, archery, tomahawk throwing, ghost town slingshot range, u-pick strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes & pumpkins. In their petting zoo kids get hands on with goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, pot bellied pig, chickens, ducks. There’s also a reptile room with bearded dragons, ball python, a variety of turtles, and a chameleon. For more information visit Fortcross.com.
For 30 years, the Living Coast Discovery Center has been serving families and students who learn about coastal resource conservation and interact with local wildlife. Families love to visit the Center for camps, parties, overnight adventures or even just a day with sea creatures, birds of prey and pollinators. Conveniently located in Chula Vista, the center is open everyday except Thanksgiving and Christmas. They provided us an amazing 2-for-1 coupon in the latest issue of the Mom’s Guide Magazine, and we will have those available to attendees of our upcoming group tour.