10 Places to Have A Close Encounter 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 ten of 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.

Ways to enjoy the center:

  • Join a drawing class with John Muir Laws or join in on a monthly bird walk.
  • Volunteer, education programs, youth camps, and high school internships are available.
  • Bird watch, hike, picnic, and explore the beaches. In January, herring spawn and millions of egg wash to the shore. This also means an increase in sea lions and birds, all filling up on mass-spawning herring.

Upcoming Events: Waterbird Festival, January 27th, naturalist-led bird walks, exclusive field trips, and fun bird-themed activities.

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.

Ways to enjoy the center:

Upcoming Events: This walk is for the Birds! Join us at Rush Creek, Saturday, December 16, 10am-1pm, look for winter-active waterfowl and other birds from the White Pelican, to the Red-tailed Hawk.

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.

Ways to enjoy the center:

  • Volunteer
  • Education programs, youth camps, and high school internships are available.

Upcoming Events: Marine Science Sunday, 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month is a FREE engaging ocean-inspired classroom series from education experts.

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, 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.

Ways to enjoy the center:

  • Join biologists-in-training to check the mist nets for wild, native songbirds.
  • Watch as birds are banded and measured in the lab.
  • Learn about climate-smart conservation science with biologists and through interactive displays.
  • Take a walk on the wild side on the nature trail.
  • Meet passionate science interns from around the world and other conservation professionals.

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.  

Ways to enjoy the aquarium:

Upcoming Events: 

Tis' the Season for Science

Penguins+Pajamas Sleepovers (A Ronnie's Awesome List Favorite!)

  • Saturday, January 27 (Girl Scout Exclusive)
  • Friday, February 9
  • Saturday, February 24
  • Saturday, March 10 (Boy Scout Exclusive)
  • Saturday, March 24 (Boy Scout Exclusive)
  • Friday, April 13 (Girl Scout Exclusive)
  • Friday, May 18
  • Saturday, June 9

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‚Äôs 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. 

Ways to enjoy the aquarium:

  • Behind the Tours
  • Interactive touch pools
  • Group overnights available 

Directions to Aquarium of the Bay

Randall Museum, San Francisco

A one-of-a-kind interactive community learning center that celebrates art, science, and nature ‚Äď is undergoing a great revitalization! The Randall Museum building at Corona Heights is now closed to daily drop-in visitors. The grand re-opening is scheduled for early 2017. The Randall Museum has moved the Live Animal Exhibit and some of the public programs to Mission Art Center, located at 745 Treat Avenue.

Ways to enjoy the center:

  • Live animal presentations include rodents and amphibians, a Barn Owl, and maybe even touch a tortoise, while learning about California's diverse and disappearing wildlife.
  • Monthly Birding Walks with Audubon experts continue at Corona Heights.

Upcoming Events: San Francisco Middle School Science FairFebruary 25 ‚Äď March 3.

Directions: Temporary location during renovation.


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.

Ways to enjoy the center:

  • Live animal encounters and educational tours available.
  • Camps and volunteer opportunities.

Upcoming Events: Santa Brings a Sloth 2.0! Saturday, December 9, 10-11am. Find more great events on the website.

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.

Ways to enjoy the center:

  • Live animal encounters and educational tours available.
  • Camps and volunteer opportunities.

Upcoming Events: Find more great events on the website.

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.

Ways to enjoy the center:

  • Live animal encounters and educational tours available.
  • Camps and volunteer opportunities.

Upcoming Events: New Year's Eve Sleepover

Directions to Monterey Bay Aquarium

Do you know any other great wildlife centers in the Bay Area?