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 100 animals call home. The residents range from the familiar to the exotic: goats, sheep, and potbelly pigs mingle alongside exotic emus, zebus, and zedonks 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 rustic Miner's Gulch, where panning the water reveals rare treasures such as gemstones and T-shirts from the Led Zeppelin '75 tour.
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.
When Big Bear Alpine Zoo opened in 1959, it wasn't a zoo at all. It was a makeshift rehabilitation center for animals affected by a devastating fire that ripped through the San Bernardino National Forest. Among the facility's first residents were two bobcats and an orphaned 30-pound baby black bear.
Since then, the operation has stood as a safe haven for injured, orphaned, and imprinted wild animals. While the zoo is home to a variety of animals that cannot be released back into the wild as they would not be able to survive, most of the animals that are brought in for rehabilitation can be released. In fact, 90% of the zoo's animals get released back into the wild once they're healthy enough. Today, Big Bear Alpine Zoo is home to more than 85 species, including foxes, eagles, and yes, even bears. Weather permitting, visitors can visit the zoo's residents throughout the year except for Christmas Day. Visitors can get involved in the zoo's efforts by volunteering, becoming a member, or bringing in items from the wish list, saving the animals a trip to the grocery store.
While the rest of the natural world prepares to hibernate for the winter, Enchanted Country Trees & Pumpkins has been at its most active since 1983. Farmers pick the plumpest pumpkins from their patches, displaying them next to bounce houses and trundling John Deere tractors. Barnyard animals deign to be petted in exchange for palmfuls of feed, and ponies accept small riders for afternoon trots. Come winter, the lots fill with Christmas trees.
Thousands of captive-bred exotic animals face abandonment, abuse, and neglect every year. Since readily available homes with trained caretakers are few and far between, euthanasia remains a common recourse for many of these animals. Joel and Chemaine wanted to prevent these deaths, so they founded Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization that rescues and rehabilitates creatures with nowhere else to go. The staff members obtain—but never purchase—animals from private owners as well as facilities that are no longer capable of providing adequate care and attention. The sanctuary then supports these exotic animals for the rest of their natural lives while allowing them to behave as naturally as possible within a protected environment.
Although Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary's primary mission is to save and protect at-risk creatures, educating the public is also a major goal. When staff members lead guided tours throughout the grounds, they not only teach guests about the sanctuary's exotic reptiles, birds, and big cats, but also explain the importance of preserving these species for future generations. Over the course of a visit, groups may have the opportunity to see everything from an African lion and a Canadian lynx to an Egyptian cobra and an Eclectus parrot. Most of the animals are protected in private enclosures, although, under the supervision of the guides, some tour groups may get the opportunity to examine select reptiles and non-exotic creatures.
Under strings of lanterns and the night's canopy of stars, kids scamper through a field filled with thousands of pumpkins, each one searching for the biggest, roundest one. Finding it is one thing; lifting it is another. The bountiful Pumpkin City's Pumpkin Farm began a bit by happenstance—the owners originally began selling pumpkins out of the back of their pickup and steadily added on amusements as more people came each year. More than 30 years later, the one-month harvest festival sets up each October with attractions ranging from pony rides to puppet shows. As they explore the area amid bales of hay, teepees, character cutouts, and other props, kids can feed baby goats and sheep at the petting zoo or sit on an authentic tractor from 1932. Once guests have procured the perfect pumpkin to carve into the likeness of their favorite monster, they can get their picture taken with Pumpkin Jack, hop on rides such as the Goliath Slide or Pumpkin City Express Train, or visit Gone Fishing, Knock 'Em Down, and other game booths.
At The Pumpkin Factory, festive gourds bring an orange glow to the atmosphere, setting the scene for an exciting fall carnival. At three locations, kids leap into the air in inflatable bounce houses, converse with the goats at the petting zoo, and trot around on gentle ponies. In Corona, a special EuroBobble attraction lets guests play buoy, rolling atop a pool in a clear, inflatable bubble. At the Westminster Pumpkin Factory, helicopters take flight for scenic tours of the fairgrounds. At the end of the day, families can take home a pumpkin of their own to create a gruesome jack 'o' lantern doppelganger of their neighbor.