A rustic Spanish-style farm in the heart of San Juan Capistrano that's been standing since 1890 promises more creatures than just the area's famous swallows. The picturesque estate is part of Zoomars?an all-ages petting zoo that's USDA-approved for cleanliness and the place where more than 200 animals call home. The residents range from the familiar to the exotic: goats, sheep, and kunekune pigs mingle alongside exotic emus, zebus, and zebras that greet visitors for pets and feeding. One of the zoo's most popular areas is the guinea-pig patch, where some of the farm's fuzziest and friendliest creatures reside. Zoomars also features family-friendly attractions ranging from a miniature train and pony rides to the newly installed playground with four slides to the rustic Miner's Gulch, where panning the water reveals rare treasures such as gemstones.
Owner Carolyn Franks started down the path to animal care in college when she created her own line of dog toys. She soon moved from New Jersey to California where her passion snowballed: developing a full line of pet products, hosting an animal show for kids, running a chain of exotic bird stores, and even traveling to Brazil to learn about animal conservation. In 2005, she used her knowledge to take over the Jones Farm petting zoo, expanding its pens and transforming its brand into Zoomars.
Franks is joined by a well-trained staff of zookeepers and wranglers who share her vision in entertaining kids?and teaching them how to interact with the animals?as they are in caring for and shepherding mammals and birds.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center offers its visitors the chance to add a sea lion to their family trees. Through symbolic adoptions, the non-profit organization funds its mission to locate, rehabilitate, and release injured marine mammals?including seals, sea lions, and dolphins?back home in the wild. After admitting one of these animal patients, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center's animal-care director and a veterinary medical director can administer antibiotics, nurse mammals back to health or go through treatment plans for various diseases and illnesses. Aside from adoptions, the center educates the public about these efforts through programs such as field trips and day camps for kids.
At The Living Desert, a dedicated conservation team tends to plants and animals populating more than 1,800 acres of desert—1,000 of which remain in their natural, undisturbed state. In addition to protecting the Colorado Desert's native population of birds, wolves, reptiles, and minotaurs, The Living Desert houses bighorn sheep, cheetahs, striped hyenas, leopards, and parrots from arid regions throughout the globe. Through annual contributions, members of the nonprofit organization help preserve the Colorado Desert and bolster the population of endangered desert species. Members also gain unlimited access to the park, discounts in the gift shop, and invitations to special events, such as the annual member-cheetah race.
The Reptile Zoo is home to more than 100 exotic species of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. Some were rescued and brought here, some were born here, and others hitchhiked here after reading about the zoo's excellent conditions. The zoo invites you to explore and learn about all its many creatures, whether through interactive displays or live presentations. Some hands-on opportunities at the zoo may include wearing an eight-foot Burmese python around your arm or feeding hungry beasts in the hands-on feeding zone. During a visit, you might also meet a celebrity in Frank, a 65-pound lizard better known as Mr. Kipling on The Disney Channel's Jessie.
Pumpkin Stations turn pumpkin shopping and family-park excursions into a one-stop trip. Each of the five Pumpkin Station locations houses a variety of family-fun activities, from giant slides and mini-trains to sky fighter rides and carousels. Mission Valley, for instance, enables visitors to get their sea legs with an on-site boat ride, while the El Cajon game zones gives them a place to rest in between activities. No matter the location, families, friends, and groups can stroll through a pumpkin patch to seek out a large, plump gourd to take home and carve into a jack-o-lantern.
Step into to a bird's house. Get eye-to-eye with a moray eel. Greet a sea turtle as he swims up to say hello. The Living Coast Discovery Center isn't a nature museum?it's a chance to hang out with Southern California's plants and animals on their own turf. The Discovery Center's "living, breathing, flapping, buzzing, and splashing home" sits on the 316-acre Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, the ideal location for exploration of the region's most memorable residents in their native habitats.
A walk-through aviary encompasses the tidal slough habitat of black-crowned night herons, red-breasted mergansers, and endangered clapper rail chicks, freshly hatched from the in-house breeding program. Bald and golden eagles await up-close encounters at the Eagle Mesa, but the rays get even closer: an interactive touch pool puts the aquatic creatures beneath your fingertips. Raptor Row hosts the Center's rescued birds of prey, all of which have injuries or other conditions that prevent them from surviving outside the refuge on their own. Visitors are also free to pursue their own wildlife adventure along the center's 1.5 miles of walking trails.