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11 Southern California Zoos Worth Visiting
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11 Southern California Zoos Worth Visiting

Admire the majestic creatures in their habitats, learn about conservation, and have an amazing time exploring the best zoos in SoCal.

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5 min read

May 17, 2021

Planning an inexpensive getaway in SoCal? Zoos and aquariums are great destinations to check out on your vacay. Equal parts fun and educational, zoos in Southern California are the perfect excursions to entertain kids of all ages—yes, even those only young at heart. 

Add these California zoos to your next weekend road trip itinerary for a thrilling dose of wildlife. Admire the Golden State’s majestic creatures in their habitats, learn about conservation, and have an amazing time exploring the best zoos in Southern California. 

The Best Zoos in Southern California

The last two giant pandas live at the San Diego Zoo. It's one of only a few zoos where giant pandas can be found in the United States.

1. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Location: 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego

Located in the world-renowned Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park houses over 12,000 animals on 100 acres of property. A pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits, this zoo in Southern California does an amazing job recreating natural habitats. In fact, the San Diego Zoo is one of the only ones in the world which has been able to successfully house and breed the rare giant panda (the pandas have already repatriated to China).

Love the zoo but can’t get to its physical location? Take a virtual tour to check out the animals at the San Diego Zoo by tuning into the live wildlife cams. But we assure you, driving the distance is totally worth it.

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2. Orange County Zoo

Location: 1 Irvine Park Road, Orange

This small zoo in Orange County is mainly home to plants and animals native to the Southwestern U.S. Operated by Orange County, the eight-acre zoo has been housing and preserving animals in Southern California since 1985. Visit the Orange County Zoo to see local black bears, cougars, and many California bird species. If you’d like to get up close with the animals, the on-site barnyard allows you to feed and pet domestic animals like sheep, goats, and pheasants.

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is a 133-acre zoo with a successful breeding program for the rare California condor.

3. Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Location: 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles

No one can deny the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens' role in bringing the California condor back from the edge of extinction. This California zoo has several exhibits and attractions that appeal to people of all ages. The Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountain, Elephants of Asia, and Campo Gorilla Reserve are must-see exhibit complexes at this family-friendly destination. Undoubtedly one of the best zoos in Southern California, the L.A. zoo established itself as an icon in wildlife conservation. 

The Santa Ana Zoo features over 80 species of animals, including some of the smallest monkeys in the world. Photo courtesy of the Santa Ana Zoo.

4. Santa Ana Zoo

Location: 1801 East Chestnut Avenue, Santa Ana

Care to discover more about the animals of Central and South America? Head over to the 20-acre Santa Ana Zoo to do that and more. This zoo in Southern California aims to empower communities to save wildlife and their spaces. Visit to see over 120 species of cool animals and learn about the zoo’s efforts in making the nation a safer space for American animals—it’s a cause we can all get behind.

5. The Reptile Zoo

Location: 18818 Brookhurst Street, Fountain Valley

The Reptile Zoo is another amazing zoo in Orange County, but with a more niche specialty. As the name suggests, this California zoo houses exotic and rare reptiles, some of which you can pet and get up close with. Every animal at the Reptile Zoo has its own story—some are rescues, some were born here, and others are part of private collections. But the best part of the zoo is you get the opportunity to learn about the rare animals first-hand with their interactive displays and presentations.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a 1,200-acre nonprofit specializing in plants and animals found throughout the deserts of the world.

6. The Living Zoo and Gardens

Location: 47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert

You simply can’t go on a getaway to Palm Springs and not check out one of California’s top attractions: the Living Zoo and Gardens. The sprawling exotic learning center provides the ideal environment for adults and kids to experience the majesty of wild animals and exquisite desert gardens. You can easily spend a full day exploring this amazing California zoo. From camps and youth programs to speaker series and field trips, the opportunities to learn here are endless. 

7. Big Bear Alpine Zoo

Location: 747 Club View Drive, Big Bear Lake

There are only two Alpine zoos in the U.S., and one of them is in SoCal’s own Big Bear. This zoo in Southern California is unique in that it has both a permanent and rotating roster of animals. Many animals here are rescued and later released into the wilderness. So, each time you visit Big Bear Alpine Zoo, there's a chance you'll meet a new resident.

The Santa Barbara Zoo is often ranked among the nation's best small zoos with over 500 animals.

8. Santa Barbara Zoo

Location: 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara

Located near the ocean, this zoo has been included on lists of the nation's best zoos several times. Featuring more than 500 animals, the Santa Barbara Zoo is a destination you should definitely check out on your getaway to the American Riviera. Hop on the Zoo Train to view all 30 acres of the attraction and see everything this zoo has to offer.

9. Moorpark Zoo

Location: 075 Campus Road, Moorpark

Officially called America’s Teaching Zoo, this animal sanctuary serves as a living classroom for Moorpark College’s Exotic Animal Training and Management program. With over 200 different animals, the Moorpark Zoo is maintained and run by students of the college. Upon enrolling in the program, students learn to train sea lions, dolphins, and work on conservation efforts. So, whether you’re visiting to explore an animal care career or learn about the featured animals, Moorpark is one the best California zoos to visit.

The Charles Paddock Zoo is home to more than 100 animals representing 45 species, including flamingo, great horned owl, and Mandarin duck.

10. Charles Paddock Zoo

Location: 9100 Morro Road, Atascadero

Located in the picturesque San Luis Obispo county, this small zoo has a more intimate setting than the other sprawling wildlife parks on the list. Charles Paddock has a history that goes back to the mid-20th century and is known today as one of the best zoos in Southern California. While you can easily go on an online tour of the zoo, it certainly doesn’t beat the experience of visiting it in person. When you go, don’t forget to say hi to Menderu the Malayan tiger.

11. California Living Museum

Location: 10500 Alfred Harrell Highway, Bakersfield

More commonly known as CALM, the California Living Museum primarily focuses on animals and plants which are native to the Golden State. This California zoo does an amazing job of promoting education, conservation, and research efforts through on-site programs that involve the community. From acorn woodpeckers and American white pelicans to desert bighorn sheep and island foxes, this zoo houses all kinds of animal species. Visit now to learn about the animals and explore ways you can get involved—you’ll have a blast.

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