When my kids were little and even now, they have always loved animals. They love seeing them in real life and learning more about them. Of course we have gone to the San Francisco Zoo and the Oakland Zoo but we also went to several other smaller places that were unique and fun to visit.
Lindsey Wildlife Museum
(1931 1st Street, Walnut Creek, CA)
The Lindsey Wildlife Museum is a small animal rescue museum in Walnut Creek. There are interactive exhibits to learn more about the animals living all around us but they also have quite a few residents of the museum. They specifically have birds of prey that have been harmed and sadly cannot return to the wild so they are housed in the museum. The Lindsey Wildlife museum is also an active wildlife hospital that provides free veterinary care to all native California wildlife. It is also a drop off center where people can safely drop off native California species they find hurt. The goal of the museum is to rehabilitate these native animals so that they can return back to the wild. At special times, guests can actually watch veterinarians and volunteers treat injured animals through a one-way glass. A great way for kids of all ages to learn about the importance of our native animal species and learn ways we can help protect them.
(1651 Coyote Point Dr, San Mateo, CA)
CuriOdyssey is a science based museum and zoo that is home to nearly 100 rescued animals that can no longer survive in the wild. It was so fun to get up close to these mostly native to California animals and really see the beauty that each one brings to our ecosystem. My kids especially loved the roadrunner which zipped around. The museum also has interactive science exhibits such as the Whoosh - physics in action playground. After your visit to the museum you can have your kids burn off some more energy at the Magic Mountain playground at Coyote Point Recreation area.
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo
(748 Story Road, San Jose, CA)
Happy Hollow zoo and park has it all from animals to amusement park style rides for kids. I recommend starting with the zoo part of the park so that your kids actually see some animals. Some of my kids favorites were the fennic fox, red panda and the ring-tailed lemurs. All the enclosures were clean and there were lots of educational signs that added to the experience. When we were done with the animals we were able to go ride some amusement park rides. All the rides are for smaller kids making this the perfect spot for toddler-elementary school aged kids.
Marine Mammal Center
(2000 Bunker Rd, Sausalito, CA)
The Marine Mammal Center is a non-profit organization working to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured marine mammals. Currently the center is closed for renovations, but I would highly recommend visiting them once they reopen. Guided tours will take you behind the scenes to explore the hospital and learn about the seal and sea lion patients. You will learn how these animals are nursed back to health and the innovative technology used to do it.
(20 miles north of Santa Cruz along Highway 1)
Ano Nuevo is not as far as you think from the bay area. Once you get there you are rewarded with sprawling coastline views of thousands of elephant seals. The tour takes you down to the beach and as you walk in the sand dunes, you get up close to these incredible creatures. The tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable about elephant seals and by the end of the tour you have learned so much about these unique creatures. The elephant seals are quite noisy and seeing them move is so fascinating. Frankly this is one of the coolest experiences in the bay area to do. You can make reservations for these guided tours through Reserve California. Tours run from December 15th - March 31st.