The Biggest and Most Impressive Zoos in California

Biggest and Most Impressive Zoos in California

Are you thinking about visiting a zoo while you vacation in California? If you are like most people, one particular zoo comes to mind. The San Diego Zoo is known around the world for both its size and innovation in recreating natural habitats for the resident animals. However, the San Diego Zoo is just one of many beautiful and impressive zoos in the Golden State. Keep reading to learn about the biggest and best California zoos.

Biggest and Most Impressive Zoos in California

1. San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is not just the best zoo in California, but arguably in the world. It is the most visited zoo in the United States, drawing more than 4 million patrons per year. Visitors will see over 650 species in their distinctive, cageless environments. A popular feature is the gondola ride, which provides an aerial view of the zoo. Look for San Diego Zoo Discount Tickets to get a great deal on this must-see attraction.

  • Zoo Hours: 9 AM to 8 PM
  • Admission: Adults: $62, Children (3-11): $52
  • Parking: Free

2. SeaWorld San Diego

If you prefer to see creatures from the sea, look no further. SeaWorld San Diego. The massive ocean-themed zoo has areas like the Orca Encounter, where you can see live killer whales; the Sea Lion Amphitheater, where these playful creatures show off their skills; and Turtle Reef, which puts you face-to-face with sea turtles. 

  • Zoo Hours: Hours vary. SeaWorld San Diego opens at 10 AM daily and closes between 6 PM to 8 PM. Check the SeaWorld website for details.
  • Admission: $65.99 if purchased in advance
  • Parking: $20 for general parking

3. Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the oldest aquariums in the United States. Established in 1903, Birch Aquarium offers more than 64,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor displays. Don’t forget to check out the comic-book-inspired “Hall of Oddities” and the touch pools where you can get friendly with anemones, sea cucumbers, urchins, manta rays, and even sharks!

  • Zoo Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM, closed on some major holidays
  • Admission: Adults: $19.50, Children (3-17): $15, Seniors (60+): $16.50
  • Parking: Free for up to three hours

4. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is 1,800 acres of free-range enclosures that feature animals like giraffes, antelopes, rhinos, buffalo, and elephants. Visitors can take balloon safaris, climb aboard the Africa Tram or watch a wildlife show. Private group safaris incur an additional charge but provide thrilling, up-close encounters with exotic animals from around the world.

  • Zoo Hours: 9 AM to 6 PM
  • Admission: Adults: $62, Children (3-11): $52
  • Parking: $15
Biggest and Most Impressive Zoos in California

5. Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Do you prefer primates? The L.A. Zoo and Botanical Gardens is the ideal place to visit. The zoo, located in Griffith Park, offers a chimpanzee complex, a gorilla reserve, and a Red Ape Rain Forest, which is home to Bornean orangutans. The zoo also has an indoor/outdoor amphibian and reptile exhibit called The LAIR. Guests who wish to see more flora than fauna will enjoy the 15 gardens that are spread throughout the zoo.

  • Zoo Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Admission: Adults: $22, Children (2-12): $17, Seniors (62+) $19
  • Parking: Free

6. Aquarium of the Pacific

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach has more than 500 species and over 11,000 animals. Among the exhibits are the Coral Reef, Shark Lagoon, Sea Otter Habitat, the June Keyes Penguin Habitat, and the Lorikeet Forest. Visitors can book personal encounters with sharks, seals, and penguins. They can also take a harbor cruise in order to spot sea lions and the great Gray Whale.

  • Zoo Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM
  • Admission: Adults: $36.95, Children (3-11): $26.95, Senior (62+) $33.95
  • Parking: $8

7. Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium delivers a pristine look at Africa penguins, jellies, sea otters, sharks, whales, corals, eels, and many other marine animals. The aquarium is known for its three-story-high, 320,000-gallon kelp forest exhibit that uses unfiltered, raw seawater from the bay. Rescued sea otters live at the aquarium as well.

  • Zoo Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Admission: Adults: $49.95, Youth (13-17) and Seniors (65+): $39.95, Children (5-12): $34.95
  • Parking: Public parking is $2.25 per hour

8. Oakland Zoo

You can travel the world without leaving California when you visit Oakland Zoo. Head to the tropical rain forest, stop by Australia and explore Africa before returning to the California Trail. The animals you will see along the way include the Cotton-Top Tamarin, the Wallaroo, the African Elephant, and the American Bison. Don’t forget to visit the Children’s Zoo as well! The petting yard, wildlife theatre, and life-sized fossils are for the young and young at heart!

  • Zoo Hours: 10 AM to 4 PM
  • Admission: Adults: $24, Children (2-14): $20. Seniors aged 65-75 are $20, while seniors over the age of 75 are free.
  • Parking: $10

9. San Francisco Zoo & Gardens

A trip to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to the San Francisco Zoo. One of the best zoos in the state, the San Francisco Zoo, is known around the country as the birthplace of the famous Koko the Gorilla. The zoo has more than 250 species of animals and a three-acre, mixed-species habitat.

  • Zoo Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Admission: Adults: $25, Children (2-11): $18, Seniors (65+): $20
  • Parking: $11 on weekdays and $13 on weekends

10. Safari West

Safari West, located in the Wine Country region of Sonoma County, is a 400-acre nature preserve that is a must-see on your trip to Northern California. More than a zoo, this preserve puts you on an African safari without leaving the continent. There are more than 1,000 animals at Safari West. You may see a Cape Buffalo, a Fennec Fox, a Scarlet Ibis, and a Ring-Tailed Lemur, among many others.

  • Zoo Hours: Safaris times vary throughout the year. Guests can also book overnight lodging and/or private safaris.
  • Admission: Admission prices vary depending on age and time of year. Fees range between $45 and $128.
  • Parking: Included
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