Location: Santa Ana: 1801 East Chestnut Ave.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (with some special evening events, such as “Sunset at the Zoo,” in the spring and summer months)
Cost: $10 adults (13 and older); $7 for children (3 – 12) and seniors; children under 3 enter free.
For ages: All
Although the mega-San Diego Zoo is just to the south, and the LA Zoo to the north, Orange County has its own little gem in Santa Ana.
And this little zoo just keeps getting better and better.
With beautiful foliage, nicely shaded walkways, impressive habitats for the animals, engaging signage to explain the exhibits, and an always-interesting roster of animals, this little zoo is a wonderful place for families and kids to spend an afternoon.
FUN FACT: When James Prentice loaned the land to Orange County to build this park, he mandated that at least 50 monkeys be kept there at all times.
Just past the entrance plaza — which hosts a gift shop, a food stand (food is prepared by Knowlwood hamburgers, an Orange County staple), plus a playground for kids — you can choose to begin walking through two main regions of the park: the “main” zoo to the right, or “the farm” to the left.
We always head to the main zoo first, where a pleasant path begins past stalks of bamboo, and a rising platform lets kids gaze past a waterfall and bougainvillea in the Amazon’s Edge area.
Beyond, the path continues through other “regions” such as an Australian yard, a South American yard, a tropical rainforest and colorful aviaries, with foliage matching the region. Kids can get very close to view the animals, and “fast facts” on signs make the animals even more interesting.
Sometimes presentations are being given under the trees in a small amphitheater to acquaint children with snakes, roosters, ostriches, what a mammal is, how eggs are lain, etc. It’s very hands-on, with plenty of petting – you’ll need your wipies and antibacterial gel afterward!
Near the amphitheater are the elephant rides, offered in all seasons except summer.
The primates section — or “Monkey Row” — is always a highlight: When James Prentice loaned the land to Orange County to build this park, he mandated that at least 50 monkeys be kept there at all times, and counting them was always a fun part of the day for my children.
Once you make the loop all the way around the main zoo, you come back out to the entrance plaza and can then head to the Crean Family Farm. Here, pigs, cows, sheep, barn owls and ducks offer quite another pet adventure. A large barn has a scale where children can weigh themselves and compare their weights to turkeys, pigs and other barn animals.
This area also has a train ($3 per person) that loops back behind the main zoo area and a carousel ($3 per person) of endangered species.
After spending time petting the barn animals and chatting with the associates who tend to them, we usually ended the day with a few minutes playing on the playground in the entrance plaza and wandering through the great little gift shop near the main entrance.
The whole zoo takes about 3 hours to tour at a leisurely pace.
Remember not to bring snacks inside – it’s against the rules to carry food near the animals (bottled water or other bottled drinks are okay, but no drink “pouches” with detachable straws).
If you want to bring your own picnic, there is a little picnic area outside the main entrance where you can enjoy your own food if you wish and then bring your basket back to the car before entering.
Santa Ana Zoo also hosts children’s parties in various areas.
Where to park: A free parking lot is located off Chestnut Ave. There is extended parking in a dirt lot on weekends, also free.
What to bring: Hat, sunscreen, bottled water. Please don’t bring snacks – they are not allowed in the park, although there is a picnic area outside the front entrance if you’d like to bring your own picnic lunch before entering. There is a snack stand inside. You might want to bring extra cash for the $3 train/carousel rides. Definitely bring wipies and antibacterial gel for kids’ hands after they visit the petting zoo.
Best time to go: Any time, but during spring through fall you get the advantage of elephant rides, which are closed in the summer.
For more information: 714-836-4000, or visit the Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park website.
Have you been to the Santa Ana Zoo? Do you have any special tips or memories to share?