Close Encounters With Bay Area Wildlife

Nature centers and aquariums offer quality, hands-on experiences connecting kids of all ages with the flora and fauna of the area. There are some great opportunities for up close encounters with the natural world around us, especially in the Bay Area. Many have camps, volunteers opportunities, sleepovers, events, and more! Here are my favorites.


Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, 376 Greenwood Beach Road, Tiburon

10.5 acres of uplands and 900 acres of subtidal bay. They are part of a nation-wide network of National Audubon Society nature centers, chapters, and programs focused on bird conservation and public engagement. The public is welcome to explore Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm.

Directions: Exit Highway 101 at Tiburon Blvd towards Tiburon. Right at Greenwood Cove Drive.

WildCare, 76 Albert Park Lane, San Rafael

Have you ever seen a cormorant dive for a fish? Or met a Swainson’s Hawk in person? Visit WildCare’s Courtyard for nose-to-beak encounters with their amazing live Wildlife Ambassador animals! WildCare is free to visit, and open to the public 365 days a year. Whether you’re bringing an injured animal to the Wildlife Hospital or just looking for an amazing adventure for your kids, WildCare is the right place, located conveniently in downtown San Rafael.

Directions: Exit Highway 101 at Central San Rafael Exit. Left at 3rd Street. Left at B Street. Left onto Albert Park Lane.

Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito

This free center educates the public about the important connections we all share with marine mammals and the ocean.

Directions: Exit Highway 101 at Alexander Avenue. Left onto Danes Drive which turns into Bunker Road. The center will be on the right.

Point Blue's Palomarin Field Station, Petaluma & Bolinas

Long-term bird and ecological research, renowned training program and vibrant visitor center, in partnership with Point Reyes National Seashore.  Founding field station of Point Blue Conservation Science, a California-based non-profit that works to conserve ecosystems through science, outreach, and partnerships.

Directions to Point Blue’s Palomarin Field Station


Steinhart Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Dive into a breathtaking array of beautiful and critical marine habitats from California's own coastal ecosystem.  

Directions: Exit Highway 101 at Alexander Avenue. Left onto Danes Drive which turns into Bunker Road. The center will be on the right.

Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco

Located on San Francisco’s iconic waterfront, Aquarium of the Bay provides unforgettable encounters with local marine life that inspire both wonder and conservation. Dedicated to the diverse marine life and ecosystems of the Bay, Aquarium of the Bay is home to approximately 30,000 animals found in the San Francisco Bay and along the California coast. 

Directions to Aquarium of the Bay

Randall Museum, San Francisco

In an effort to teach visitors about local wildlife and conservation, the Randall Museum offers a live animal exhibit. Inside the animal exhibit you will be visiting several of California’s diverse habitats. From rich riverlands to sparse, dry deserts to towering redwoods, each habitat has its unique set of animals and plants that are especially adapted to living in these distinct places. We invite you to look deeply into nature by watching the animals in an intimate setting, enjoying our study station activities, and conversing with our animal keepers. We hope that by learning about California’s wildlife and flora you’ll be inspired to visit these places yourself.

Directions to the Randall Museum.


Oakland Zoo

Oakland Zoo's massive expansion "California Trail" opened July 12th. This exciting new addition to the zoo doubles the zoo's acreage and features black bears, grizzly bears, American buffalo, mountain lions, California condor, gray wolves, and bald eagles.

Directions to the Oakland Zoo.

Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave, Walnut Creek

Education programs and interactive exhibit hall create meaningful opportunities to learn about the natural world and live in harmony with wildlife. Listen to the cry of a red tailed hawk, go eye-to-eye with a opossum and watch a great horned owl eat lunch. More than 50 species of live, non-releasable, native California animals are on exhibit. Free every 3rd Friday of the month.

Directions: Exit Highway 24 to Pleasant Hill Rd in Lafayette. Take exit 14 from CA-24 E, veer right onto Geary Road, right onto Coralie Drive, left onto 1st Avenue.


CuriOdyssey, Coyote Point, San Mateo

Kids learn about science and animals best out in the world, not behind a desk or in front of a screen. CuriOdyssey lets kids loose to observe what is, think about what could be and let the natural world answer their questions. Young people can explore interactive science exhibits and have up-close encounters with native California animals that are rescued or non-releasable.

Directions to CuriOdyssey

Monterey Bay Aquarium886 Cannery Row, Monterey

Located at the ocean's edge on historic Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is your window to marine life. Visit sea otters, octopi, penguins, sharks, jellies and a host of other ocean dwelling local wildlife.

Directions to Monterey Bay Aquarium