Top 10 Zoos & Aquariums in California, United States

October 27, 2021 Harland Bartelt

California is a fertile, peaceful place where you’ll find a near-equal balance of vineyards and deserts, beaches and mountains, hippies and traditionalists. Catch an epic wave in Big Sur or swirl a glass in Napa Valley. Be dazzled by the Joshua Tree night sky or just star-gaze in Hollywood. Swish down the slopes of a Tahoe ski resort, or cruise across the Golden Gate Bridge with the top down and the music blasting. Above all, don’t forget to soak up some Golden State sunshine.

1. San Diego Zoo

2929 Zoo Drive Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101 +1 619-231-1515 http://zoo.sandiegozoo.org
Excellent
71%
Good
20%
Satisfactory
7%
Poor
2%
Terrible
0%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 27,804 reviews

San Diego Zoo

The world famous San Diego Zoo is a non-profit wildlife sanctuary home to more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies, and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 exotic plants. It is located just north of downtown San Diego in Balboa Park. San Diego Zoo Global is a not-for-profit organization that operates the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. The Zoo was founded on October 2, 1916, by Harry M. Wegeforth, M.D. It currently has an 11-member Board of Trustees headed by Steven G. Tappan; and Paul A. Baribault is the president/CEO.

Reviewed By 333josephd - San Diego, United States

Great place to go for the day there is so much to see and do here lots of animals recommend definitely take the sky tram also take the bus to her first just to see where you want to go there are lots of cool shows to see we will definitely cover 12 miles or more walking around

2. Santa Barbara Zoo

500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93103-3798 +1 805-962-5339 [email protected] http://www.sbzoo.org/
Excellent
57%
Good
33%
Satisfactory
8%
Poor
2%
Terrible
0%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 1,365 reviews

Santa Barbara Zoo

This zoo with a view was once a posh estate owned by a coffee and tea merchant; now it's the lush domain of animals representing 160 species. The pink stucco mansion that once presided over manicured lawns and gardens is gone—replaced by open-air habitats built for the less refined but still exacting tastes of giraffes, gibbons, snow leopards, and gorillas. What hasn't changed is the surrounding scenery; the Pacific and Santa Ynez Mountains are just as spectacular as they were back when this was the setting for civilized galas instead of the wild antics of monkeys and meerkats.

Reviewed By 2makes4 - Santa Barbara, United States

I always enjoy time spent at the S,B. Zoo. Whether I am wandering up and down the beautiful paths to visit all of the marvelous animals in their different homes (particularly love the monkeys, giraffes and gorillas), enjoying the wonderful train ride that travels all around the zoo property, sharing a nice hot lunch or snack with family and friends at any of the food venues or checking out the latest games, stuffed animals, clothes and other great gifts at the store, there is always plenty to see and do at the S.B. Zoo.

3. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027-7017 +1 619-718-3000 http://www.sdzsafaripark.org/
Excellent
67%
Good
21%
Satisfactory
7%
Poor
3%
Terrible
2%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 4,023 reviews

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an expansive, non-profit wildlife sanctuary that is home to more than 3,000 animals representing more than 300 species. Its renowned botanical collection represents 3,500 species and 1.75 million specimens. Over half of the Park’s 1,800 acres (730 hectares) have been set aside as protected native species habitat. It is located 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of downtown San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido, California. he San Diego Zoo is operated by the international non-profit San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) empowers people from around the globe to support their mission to conserve wildlife through innovation and partnerships. The Zoo was founded on October 2, 1916, by Harry M. Wegeforth, M.D. It currently has an 11-member Board of Trustees headed by Steven G. Tappan; and Paul A. Baribault is the president/CEO.

Reviewed By JeanettePenticton_BC - Penticton, Canada

Two 82 year old seniors visited and were very impressed especially with the knowledgable volunteers. We noticed an elevator, rentals for strollers, wheelchairs and scooters. We enjoyed walking among the Australian area, the Californian gardens, Nairobi Walk, through the African Loop to the African Tram for a 30 minute ride to see the huge animals. A keeper shared the Tiger talk and another showed us an ambitious turtle. It is a spacious place, well looked after, and lovely to see the elephants as we walked up the hill. There was a bit of wind and we noticed the hot air balloon was not available for rides. It was a wonderful day especially to see a new baby born among the animals.

4. Aquarium of the Pacific

100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802-8126 +1 562-590-3100 [email protected] http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/
Excellent
54%
Good
33%
Satisfactory
10%
Poor
2%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 3,171 reviews

Aquarium of the Pacific

Take a journey of discovery through the world’s largest ocean at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

Reviewed By Banana427 - Clearwater, United States

We went when the outside was open only and weren't disappointed! The jelly fish touch tank was our favorite part! They had a shark aquarium, ray touch tank and birds too!! Worth the visit! Lots of workers Wondering around to answer questions too!

5. Monterey Bay Aquarium

886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940-1085 +1 831-648-4800 http://montereybayaquarium.org
Excellent
71%
Good
20%
Satisfactory
7%
Poor
2%
Terrible
0%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 14,123 reviews

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Located at the ocean's edge, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a window to marine life -- for dive masters and non-swimmers alike. It's home to sea otters, penguins, sharks, jellies and thousands of other marine animals and plants. Its mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.

Reviewed By Healthy94920 - San Francisco, United States

Re-joined this most excellent Aquarium to Capture the evolving array of remarkable sea creatures from the mysterious jellyfish to playful, entertaining sea otters, sharks, crustaceans, scuba diving experience all @ reasonable rates & with well-trainer staff at your service throughout your tour. Give yourself at least 3-4 hours to begin to enjoy this wonderful venue!

6. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

2300 Expedition Way Scripps Institute, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037 +1 858-534-3474 [email protected] http://www.aquarium.ucsd.edu/
Excellent
49%
Good
35%
Satisfactory
13%
Poor
3%
Terrible
0%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 1,899 reviews

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium features more than 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and the Caribbean. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, Earth and ocean science.

Reviewed By brodger - Philadelphia, United States

This is not an aquarium with dancing dolphins and masses of fish--it's an educational and research facility with excellent exhibits for public consumption. One side has a first rate series of well-labeled tanks for the PNW and tropical environments and wonderful seahorses (the aquarium has a successful breeding program with daily tours) and the other side has educational exhibits, primarily for children (my opinion, anyway). In between, outside of the exhibits, there are open tanks and volunteers so kids can feel sea cucumbers and the like. Great views. There's a very good gift shop and a snack truck outside the ticketed area. I got there by public bus -- and it's a steep walk of about 1/3 mile to the aquarium. There is parking if you have a car.

7. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, Greater Palm Springs, CA 92260-6156 +1 760-346-5694 [email protected] http://www.livingdesert.org/
Excellent
67%
Good
24%
Satisfactory
7%
Poor
1%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 3,006 reviews

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a nonprofit, accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, ensuring the highest standards of all aspects of animal care, education, conservation, public service, and operations. The Zoo is active in conservation research, habitat protection, breeding programs and education initiatives around the world, as well as in its own community. The Zoo has been a top attraction in the Palm Springs area for nearly 50 years. The Living Desert is located at 47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

Reviewed By LaurieStory - Santa Monica, United States

Lovely desert gardens, fabulous model train display (huge), lots of interesting animal chats, free tram around the park, and wide selection of animals in large natural enclosures. I could happily spend several days there. Lots of places to sit in the shade and have a snack, good bathroom facilities (and plenty of them), nice combo of sunny and shady pathways. Not to be missed!

8. Seymour Marine Discovery Center

100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060-5794 +1 831-459-3800 http://seymourcenter.ucsc.edu
Excellent
60%
Good
31%
Satisfactory
6%
Poor
1%
Terrible
2%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 253 reviews

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Come touch a friendly shark, see how marine scientists work, and take in the spectacular Monterey Bay. Our exhibit hall offers a deeper dive into the adventure of ocean research here in Santa Cruz and around the world. Visit us and explore the fascinating world of marine science and conservation. We look forward to meeting you! The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a community-supported marine science education center of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Reviewed By mini - Fremont, United States

We went to Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Outside of the center are nice views of the Pacific Ocean. There are also some very interesting whale skeletons, such as the one for the blue whale. There is a small admission fee. There are a variety of exhibits to see. There are some fish and more to see as well. Staff is most willing to answer your questions. There is also a small store.

9. Fresno Chaffee Zoo

894 W Belmont Ave, Fresno, CA 93728-2807 +1 559-498-5910 [email protected] http://www.fresnochaffeezoo.org
Excellent
69%
Good
26%
Satisfactory
4%
Poor
1%
Terrible
0%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 1,055 reviews

Fresno Chaffee Zoo

The Zoo is now open. Please pre-purchase timed entry tickets on our website before you arrive. See all of our health and safety updates before planning your visit.

Reviewed By DonnaC631

I know. Area surrounding is not the best but the park is such a gem. Very clean and friendly helpful staff. Could sit for hours and watch the elephants. We all loved feeding the giraffes. Snacks are not cheap however pretzel and cheese dip was a hit. And after a lot more walking had lunch outside of the "safari". Must must must have the garlic fries. I kid you not. Looking forward to the Christmas lights.

10. Oakland Zoo

9777 Golf Links Rd, Oakland, CA 94605-4925 +1 510-632-9525 [email protected] http://www.oaklandzoo.org/
Excellent
48%
Good
39%
Satisfactory
9%
Poor
2%
Terrible
2%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 703 reviews

Oakland Zoo

Oakland Zoo was established in 1922 and is managed by the Conservation Society of California, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of wildlife both locally and globally. The Zoo is home to over 850 native and exotic animals. We're recognized for our outstanding animal care, particularly our elephant care program, and for our Leed-certified, 17,000 square foot, state-of-the-art veterinary hospital—the largest wild animal veterinary facility in Northern California. June 2018 introduced Oakland Zoo guests to an entirely new experience, California Trail, a monumental expansion furthering our commitment to animal care, education, and conservation with a focus on this state’s remarkable native wildlife—both past and present.

Reviewed By Mister-Markie - San Rafael, United States

Is it so very hard to believe we were last here just 9 months ago. Seems like yesterday, yet so much has changed. The family needed a safe, fun place to spend some Thanksgiving calories, so our first choice was the zoo. Luckily, they are open (as of this writing!) and of course using whatever limitations and health routines they can to ensure our safety, the safety of the animals and stay open as much as possible to keep money coming in to this great place. We made an on-line reservation (required - no walk up admission purchases) as they are spacing entrance admissions. We were also limited to members of our household. And, of course, masks for all 3 years of age and older. Parking was easy, and we had no stroller so got in quickly - let the fun begin! As I mentioned, much has changed. Some changes and closures we knew of ahead of time, but others we learned as we went. The main closures we expected were the Adventure Landing (rides and train), the bug house and amphibian house, playgrounds, and the petting area. Surprisingly, the food services (Landing Café, Tuskers Grill, Giraffe Ridge, and food carts) were open, but no indoor seating. We didn't know this so took plenty of drinks and snacks. There is outdoor tables available, and the ones outside the Landing Cafe were being actively cleaned while we rested there, even if no one had been sitting there. The gondola up the hilltop to California Trail was open as well, with cabins being sprayed down between trips (and I saw a commercial fogger at the landing as well) and everybody getting a shot of hand sanitizer before boarding, both up and down. Most animals were accessible, other than those mentioned and areas like the kangaroo area usually accessible by the train. Indoor exhibits were closed as well. There was a good group of people out today, and it was good to see families and energetic kids getting a day of fresh air and animals. Most of the time it was easy to distance, and a few areas were crowded, due to the in-and-out design, such as the elephants, the lions, the warthogs and such, but people did well in general and most of the time we were not even near people! The animals were likewise distancing, and it was elusive time for coyotes, jaguars, mountain lions and black bears - did see a lone grizzly though! I guess I'd sleep in on a cold November morning too - yet here we were! One unexpected pleasure was all the sculptures set up for the zoo's "night lights" offering. TONS of animals and plants all around the zoo, colorful and ready for a dusk display - but they were amazingly beautiful in the daytime as well! A really cool extra treat this visit. Overall we enjoyed the zoo for a little over 2 hours. We visited all that was open, but without rides, playgrounds, petting zoo, indoor exhibits and sit down snack times, it was well under our average four hour visit. But a great day for getting back to a semi-normal day at the zoo. Hope there will be more in coming months - maybe a night visit!

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