Zoo in Wasco

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At Ostrich Land, visitors quickly learn that ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand—they'd much rather bury them in a bowl of food that you hold out in front of you. They're also not fond of waiting their turn, and at any given moment, you might have four beaks dipping into your supply. The experience is a far cry from throwing bread at ducks or pigeons. These birds are the world's largest: they can reach up to 9 feet in height and weigh 350 pounds. At top speed, they hit 45 miles per hour on their massive, two-toed feet.

Having been raised around people and trained to eat from outstretched bowls, the park's 50 ostriches and emus welcome spectators from their savannah-like enclosure. They're also celebrities in their own right, with bit roles in the film Sideways as well appearances in a Santa Maria Times video feature and a tongue-in-cheek homage in an episode of The Simpsons. Dispensing the animals' supper is only one way in which guests can get close—a stop inside the gift shop reveals shelves of ready-to-cook ostrich and emu eggs, ostrich feather dusters, and savory ostrich meat shipped in from a separate farm not affiliated with Ostrich Land. Also in stock are vials of emu oil, a substance with anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties that can soothe the skin.

610 E Highway 246
Solvang,
CA
US

Like most of the 500-plus other creatures at Santa Barbara Zoo, Duncan runs, blinks, and growls. Unlike his fellow animals, however, Duncan isn't real. The life-like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Lily the Duckbill, and Baby Triceratops Tulip star in a lively 15-minute "cooking show" that reveals how zoo animal diets are created. This compassion is on display throughout the 30-acre zoo, where critters such as female Asian elephants, California condors, and Chilean flamingos roam in open, naturalistic habitats.

Elsewhere on the grounds, guests can ride around the zoo's perimeter in replicas of C.P. Huntington trains from 1863, marvel at stunning Pacific Ocean views or hand-feed domestic sheep. More hands-on experiences are afforded through the zoo's behind-the-scenes packages, such as the Keeper for a Day program, where visitors work alongside pros as they train and clean up after animals. Along with the daily sights available during visiting hours, the zoo hosts events, camps for youngsters, and overnights, where participants can sleep beside the lion exhibit, across the street from the beach.

500 Ninos Dr.
Santa Barbara,
CA
US

During Zoo Lights, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo's annual holiday celebration, families are treated to dazzling illumination displays and holiday activities and crafts. Bask in the complimentary good cheer provided by live entertainers, or satiate holiday hungers with free hot cocoa and Santa-approved cookies. Mr. Claus himself will be making special appearances every night, personally accepting gift requests from good boys and girls. Hardcore yuletide fans can snag a photo-op with Father Christmas.

894 W Belmont Ave
Fresno,
CA
US

Herds of wild horses and burros—about 400 in total—roam the 300-acre Return to Freedom sanctuary, where they're free to exhibit the natural behaviors and social structures they came to know in the wild. However, for many of the horses, it hasn't been an easy journey to their new home. Government roundups displaced these wild steeds from public lands, forcing many into auction, where they were sold off to the highest bidder. Their stories are harrowing, which is why Return to Freedom works tirelessly to help these wild horses resume their natural ways of life. Visitors of the sanctuary can observe these creatures on walking tours and safaris, getting up close and personal with the five herd families that traverse the lands.

PO Box 926
Lompoc,
CA
US

Classified as small apes, the endangered gibbon hails from Asia where it acrobatically launches itself across distances of up to 40 feet, easily leaping through trees or to the front of a long checkout line of holiday shoppers. At Gibbon Conservation Center, visitors can revel in up-close glimpses of more than 40 gibbons representing five different species. As visitors stroll through the grounds, they can listen to the musical mammals?known as the songbirds of the primate family?croon in high-pitched but melodic yawps. They can also learn about the 36-year old center's efforts to conserve the endangered primates through public education and conservation.

19100 Esguerra Rd.
Santa Clarita,
CA
US