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.
During its October Fest, Galway Downs transforms some of its 240 acres into a Halloween haven. The month-long celebration is spread across multiple weekends and, much like a magician's assistant, it's split into two parts. During the day, children explore the pumpkin patch and corn maze, take a tractor-pulled hayride, visit the petting zoo, and do other kid-centric activities. Activities for adults include the car and bike show and the market.
Once the sun goes down, though, the atmosphere becomes a bit more spooky. Sporting their costumes, guests explore the festival's haunted village and climb aboard its haunted hayride. They can also participate in costume contests, which will almost certainly be won by anyone who comes as the headless horseman by actually removing their head.
In the quiet, northern end of San Diego County lies the lush, green gem of Wild Wonders, Inc., a multipurpose facility that celebrates California's natural beauty and maintains artificial habitats for more than 150 exotic animals. The staff calls their charges "animal ambassadors," conditioning and training each of them to serve in close, educational encounters with wildlife enthusiasts of all ages. Although the facility is closed to the general public, through their Zoo Camp program educators give kids a chance try their hand at zoo keeping, including rare opportunities to help feed, clean, and care for the animal ambassadors during intimate interactions.
The onsite staff obtained the park's residents?many of which were deemed non-releasable native wildlife?from other educational facilities as well as more dangerous reaches, such as lands riddled by the illegal pet trade. Resident wonders include big-eared foxes, armored armadillos, giant centipedes, and talkative african gray parrots.
Ziddle and Zaddle the zebras, a alpaca named Cletus, and Bengal tigers that eat from a zookeeper's hand all sound like characters from a charming children's book?but these animals are the real-life residents of the Rancho Las Lomas Wildlife Foundation. Home to animals from around the world and myriad plant species, the zoo serves as a educational resource for locals and educational establishments. Visitors can take behind-the-scenes tours or explore the grounds for themselves, chatting with macaws, watching the caracals play, and staring at white Bengal tigers until they can see the 3D picture in their stripes.