Touching animals, whether farm animals or ocean creatures, is an experience all children should have the opportunity to enjoy. Watch the faces of the children around you at a petting zoo, and you’ll see joy, amazement, intense focus, or wonder. A child may giggle when an animal licks their hands, or may jump back in disgust. Either way, they are learning about animals through their sense of touch instead of only from sight. And how about the scent of a barn yard? It can’t be described. A child can only know it through first hand experience. Here in the Bay Area, we have a variety of places where we can take our children to experience the touch of animals. Here I’ve included our favorites.
- Oakland Zoo: The Children’s Zoo here is a highlight. This is a four-acre exhibit, built within the last ten years, gives children a place where they can run, climb, and explore. In the petting zoo, children have the opportunity to pet and brush the sheep and goats. Very cool.
- San Francisco Zoo: This zoo has so many wonderful animals to check out (the bears are a favorite of ours, and what an amazing primate section!) that it might be easy to overlook the children’s zoo. After looking so long at the animals in the zoo, what a joy for the child to actually touch and feed the animals (in this case, goats and chickens), as well as run around and play on the play structures. In order to feed the goats here, you must purchase pellets from a machine, so remember to bring along a bunch of quarters.
- Happy Hollow Park and Zoo , San Jose: OK, we haven’t actually been to this one yet, so it can’t be a “favorite.” But it’s on our to-do list. Every one who’s been here loves it, so I couldn’t leave it off the list. I hear the zoo has a great domestic farm animal petting zoo section. If anyone has any tips about it, let us know.
- The Little Farm, Tilden Nature Area, Berkeley: This cute little farm provides children with the opportunity to feed cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and ducks. It’s more of a feeding zoo than a petting zoo, but as your child feeds the animals (especially the cows), it’s inevitable that little fingers will be licked. How else would my son know what a cow tongue feels like? When you visit, remember to bring a bag or two full of celery and lettuce.
- Ardenwood Historic Farm, Fremont: Head back to the Animal Farms section of the farm to see sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and, sometimes, cows. In order to touch and/or feed the animals here, attend one of the many naturalist-led events here. A favorite for children four and under is the Tuesday morning Toddler Time program, which teaches about what the animals eat, how to prepare food for the animals, and allows the children to actually feed the animals the food they just prepared. The Barnyard Buddies program held on the weekends provides a similar program for all ages.
- Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Santa Cruz: This is a gem of a little aquarium located on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, on the north end of Santa Cruz. They have a nice touch tank, where children can touch starfish, hermit crabs, sea anemone, and kelp. Better yet, the center has a special tank where visitors can pet a shark (my son was too frightened to do so, but what a great opportunity for those who dare!). Don’t miss the whale skeleton on display here… it’s the world’s largest!
- California Academy of Sciences / Steinhart Aquarium, San Francisco: All the exhibits at the academy are incredible, but leave a few minutes for your child to experience the touch tank located in the aquarium. It’s another great opportunity to feel sea stars, sea slugs, abalone, sea anemone and other ocean plants.
I’ll discuss great places to touch wild animals another day. Enjoy!