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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.