10 Best Zoos & Aquariums in California

Updated On October 7, 2023

I have to admit that I’ve never been to California.

However, learning about 10 of the best zoos and aquariums that this state has to offer makes me consider paying this state a visit. 

10 Best California Zoos and Aquariums

I noticed that California has quite a bit of aquatic life in it.

That’s what makes me want to visit.

I always enjoyed the water, and I would enjoy walking through aquariums.

What’s nice is it provides you with a way to see below the water’s surface without snorkeling equipment. 

1. SeaWorld

If you come to Seaworld, it does have its share of animals.

They include dolphins and whales, sea lions and crabs, sharks, and cleaner fish.

See also walruses, penguins, flamingos, and harbor seals. 

SeaWorld features an array of other attractions indirectly or directly about animals.

These include roller coasters, live animal shows, and interactive exhibits.

SeaWorld also allows you to swim with dolphins and you can enjoy snorkeling or kayaking here. 

I think the best part of SeaWorld is probably the up-close view of the animals in the aquarium.

See a variety of bright-colored saltwater fish making their way through coral reefs.

Maybe you’ll even find a Nemo lookalike, or look out for Pacific octopuses, moray eels, and spider crabs. 

2. Monterey Bay Aquarium 

I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of an aquarium in California dedicated to marine life as the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

It’s not limited to water though. 

You can view animals in a variety of habitats, including beaches and dunes, forests, open waters, and the deep sea.

Some creatures you may observe upon your visit include sharks, sea otters, jelly creatures, and the African Penguin. 

See also a variety of starfish, squids, the oystercatcher bird, and the Black Sea Nettle.

You have the chance to witness thousands of marine animals and underwater plant life here. 

There’s also a Splash Zone that features penguins.

This exhibit is in the kelp forest habitat.

It’s also possible to view some of the exhibits right from wherever you are. 

There’s an online tour showing some of the creatures living so below the water’s surface you need robotic imaging to see them.

You also can experience virtual tours of the midwater and ocean floor using state-of-the-art camera technology. 

3. Aquarium of the Pacific 

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach shows you a glimpse of sea life.

It opens you up to a world of sea otters, jelly creatures, frogs, and sharks. 

If I were to visit, I would want to view the spectacular colors of the coral reefs.

Here, the green sea turtle, flashlight fish, and red-footed booby hang out.

You’re sure to see tropical fish, such as tangs and wrasses swimming around here. 

Other ocean life residing here include clownfish and sea anemones.

By the way, the Aquarium of the Pacific has teamed up with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

They rescue illegally traded live corals. 

4. Santa Barbara Zoo

I found the history of where the Santa Barbara Zoo sits as much as the animals on the property.

It’s on a former estate owned by a tea and coffee merchant.

It used to have a stucco mansion on site, but that is gone 

Santa Barbara Zoo is now home to more than 160 creature species.

Some include giraffes, penguins, leopards, and lions.

You’ll also see tortoises, frogs, bugs, and more. 

Santa Barbara Zoo focuses on preserving wildlife.

However, they also make it a point of helping visitors enjoy their stay while they learn more about nature. 

I found it interesting that they host special events such as birthdays or weddings here.

I would have never thought of that. It works for some people. 

At the zoo, you can feed the giraffes and barnyard animals.

If you want, you can also ride the “Zoo Train.”

5. Oakland Zoo

Oakland Zoo has its share of real animals.

They total more than 750, in fact.

Some you would see onsite include lions, wallabies, frogs, boas, alligators, macaws, and rollers. 

Besides the “real” animals, the Oakland Zoo also has special events that expand your imagination.

A January 2023 event taking place is the Glowfari, which features lanterns in the shape of different animals of all colors, glowing in the dark. 

I’m not sure what to think.

I am sure the animal lanterns are “cool.”

However, the vast variety of land and water creatures exhibited here should be enough to see.

Oakland Zoo also takes part in wildlife conservation and the improvement of sustainability. 

6. Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Fresno Chaffee Zoo has more than 200 animal species on its grounds.

Some include the cheetah, California Seal Lion, African Lion, and the African Elephant. 

The Chaffee Zoo is participating in the Species Survival Plan. right now, this affects about 94 creatures housed at the zoo. 

Popular attractions include the African Adventure, Dino Dig, and the Sea Lion Cover.

The Stringray Bay also sounds fun, and they make sure the children stay entertained.

It does have some glowing animal lanterns that light up at night too. 

7. Birch Aquarium at Scripps 

My first thought is “what an ocean lover’s dream.”

I personally like being up close to large tanks, where sharks, seahorses, schools of fish, and more swim about. 

I discovered that the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, CA has more than 60 habitats.

This provides you with more than enough chances to witness fish, invertebrates, and sea creatures of all kinds. 

It’s not a newly opened zoo either.

It first opened more than 100 years ago, first opening in 1905.

UC Berkeley’s Zoologist William E. Ritter became one of its most influential members starting in 1903 when preparing for the opening. 

As of 2023, I learned that more than 470,000 people visit the Scripps location every year.

There must be something to it, and I think it’s worth at least one visit. 

8. San Francisco Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo has more than 1,000 animals living on it, 250 of which are rescued and endangered creatures.

I noticed the zebras and flamingoes right away when looking at photos of the wildlife that resides here. 

The San Francisco Zoo also has habitats for penguins, the white pelican, green-winged macaws, and more.

The zoo also has at least a few species of frogs, bugs, and reptiles living onsite. 

One of its popular exhibits called Eagle Island also features a female bald eagle.

I found it she couldn’t fly when she first showed up here. 

9. Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

More than 270 animal species, totaling at least 2,200 animals, live at the Los Angeles Zoo.

This includes the Australian Red-Eyed Tree Frog, the Chinese Giant Salamander, and the Armored Catfish and Banded Archerfish. 

Mammals and birds here include the African Painted Dog, African Hedgehog, Asian Elephant, Bald Eagle, and African Spoonbill.

I don’t know what animals I’d want to see first. 

What’s nice is the variety.

You can enjoy the presence of both land and water animals.

I also like the idea of having a garden setting, which adds beauty to the natural landscape.

The Los Angeles Zoo provides that balance while providing habitats the animals need.

This park also encourages the community to become involved in saving animals and nature conservation. 

10. Sea Life Aquarium

The Sea Life Aquarium in Carlsbad, CA is a part of the Legoland California Resort.

It’s designed to engage children in the learning of what happens underwater. 

It doesn’t have to be just for children though. I would enjoy it just as much.

It provides close-up views of sharks, rays, octopuses, jellyfish, starfish, and more. 

A total of 6,000 animals representing about 350 species live at the Sea Life Aquarium.

You probably could spend your entire day in this aquatic area, but you don’t have to.

Legoland California Resort also has roller coasters and kid rides. 

10 Best Zoos & Aquariums in California – Summary Table

Zoos & AquariumsAddress
SeaWorld500 Sea World Dr., San Diego, CA 92109, USA
Monterey Bay Aquarium 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, USA
Aquarium of the Pacific 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802, USA
Santa Barbara Zoo500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, USA
Oakland Zoo9777 Golf Links Rd, Oakland, CA 94605, United States
Fresno Chaffee Zoo894 W Belmont Ave, Fresno, CA 93728, USA
Birch Aquarium at Scripps 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
San Francisco ZooSloat Blvd &, Upper Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94132, USA
Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens5333 Zoo Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA
Sea Life AquariumLEGOLAND California Resort, 1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008, USA

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do California zoos save animals? 

Most zoos in California have a rescue or adoption plan.

Some of them will host a space for animals permanently.

Others will nurse creatures back to health and prepare them for release back into the wild.

What California Zoo has the most unique animals? 

Most of them have at least a few endangered species.

I would say one of the most unique animals is the Giant Panda, which lives at the San Diego Zoo.

I was surprised that a panda could live in this warm location.

On the other hand, zoos usually control the climate where animals live.

What is the biggest California zoo?

The San Diego Zoo is one that has the most animals.

They have 800 species, totaling more than 4,000 creatures.

Most zoos in larger cities, such as Santa Barbara or Los Angeles, have large zoos.

Are California zoos good for children?

California zoos make it a point to catch children’s attention, so I think they’re absolutely good for children.

They also provide safe ways to view animals, such as through aquarium glass or guided land animal tours.

Even the animal encounter sessions for private viewing provide safety protocols for families.

Zoos also provide hands-on education for all ages, including young ones.

It’s easier to remember what you learned when you recall the time you spend interacting at the zoo.

Can you feel animals at California zoos?

You should only feed the animals at California zoos if you’re told it’s allowed.

Otherwise, you could bring danger to yourself and your loved ones.

What’s more, they only offer food to animals at specific times when feedings are scheduled.

That’s usually during VIP viewing sessions or taking turns during group tours – no random feedings if the signs onsite tell you not to do it.

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