Wild Animals Up Close in the San Francisco East Bay

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Red Tailed Hawk
Red Tailed Hawk (Photo credit: mythlady/Elise Wormuth)

We all know that it’s not OK to approach a wild animal out in nature, so how can we provide opportunities to nurture our children’s curiosity about these animals and provide the hands-on learning our children love? We’re fortunate to have many programs in the San Francisco East Bay which allow our children to experience and touch wild creatures in a safe environment. Here I’ve included a list of our favorite places for getting up close and personal with wild animals.

  • Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley: Open weekend afternoons throughout the year and also daily during school breaks, the Animal Discovery Room is a great place for the kids to learn about animals. A new animal is introduced at fifteen minute intervals, which children are usually allowed to touch and/or hold. Check out the chalk board for a list of the animals that will be part of the program that day and for the schedule of when they will be introduced. Just a few of the animals your child may have the opportunity to meet include a turtle, a tarantula, a gecko, an iguana, a frog or toad, a guinea pig, a rabbit, a mouse, or even a cockroach.
  • Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Walnut Creek: This is a beautiful natural history and environmental education facility, with excellent displays of local wildlife. Check their daily activities listings to determine the current schedule of events. During open hours, the museum offers a “petting circle” several times a day, offering visitors a chance to touch the animals, such as a rabbit, guinea pig, or a mouse. Interested in raptors? You won’t be able to touch them, but the museum offers a daily program to meet an owl, a hawk, or an eagle much closer than you would otherwise. Throughout the day, at unannounced times, “live animal encounters” are offered, providing children with yet another opportunity to get up close and maybe touch an animal. The museum also offers a wide variety of classes, providing hands-on activities and an excellent introduction to wild animals.
  • Sulphur Creek Nature Center, Hayward: A favorite of ours, this wildlife education and rehabilitation facility is tucked away in a Hayward neighborhood. For free, you can wander around the outdoor enclosures and check out the coyotes, the raptors and other birds, and many other animals on display, and enter the Discovery Center to view even more animals. The center offers classes that not only educate, but allow the children to pet three animals per class. For children age 1-3, check out their Toddler Time programs, and for older children, age 3-10, the Youth Nature Classes. Interested in bringing an animal into your home for a short time? Look into the center’s Animal Lending Library.
  • The East Bay Regional Parks also host programs throughout the year that may provide children with a chance to meet a wild animal up close. Over the past two years, we’ve had the opportunity to have a tarantula crawl up our arm at the Old Green Barn Visitor Center in Sunol Regional Wilderness, meet a turtle at the Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda, and hold a garter snake at the Coyote Hills Visitor Center in Fremont. To view upcoming programs, go to the East Bay Regional Parks website (www.ebparks.org).



  1. Hi Karin – I agree. It does feel like a privilege to be within 25 feet of such huge (massive, really) wild animals. Very cool! I hope others will take advantage of getting out to check them out while they are here for the season. Thanks for passing along the tip!


  2. Great post. I would add the elephant seals (not on the East bay though). We just saw them at the Año Nuevo State Reserve. There are guided tours at the moment to see them and a lot of seals (mostly babies) there. It is a 2,5 hour walk. it was great for my four year old son (even though he did get a bit tired), but my 19 months old daughter was a bit too young to appreciate it fully. You cannot take any snacks on the 1,5 hour portion of the walk, which might be a problem visiting with kids, but we did ok.


    1. The elephant seals are amazing, aren’t they? We’ve seen them at San Simeon (Piedras Blancas). I’ve also heard that they are at Point Reyes. But we can’t take our kids up close to these animals. No touching.


      1. yes, you are right, there is no touching and you have to stay 25 feet away, but I feel privileged that I am even allowed to be so close to them, of course Oliver would prefer to go closer, but i am not sure if he would gather enough courage to touch even if allowed. 🙂


    1. I love CuriOdyssey! I haven’t personally experienced any animal touch type programs there, though. I’m sure they do offer them! I thought I’d write about it and the Randall Museum in San Francisco another day.


  3. Hi Nature Mom! I like your blog and look forward to further exploration…..brings back good memories of when I was fortunate to be able to live there many years ago! I enjoy living in the mountains, far away from the world now…but I do miss the city where there were so many interesting places to go – especially for kids!


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