In our urban jungle, there is plenty of wildlife of a more natural variety. If you and the kids are ready for a safari, check out these rescue and conservation centers for creatures both wet and dry.
The mission of The Gentle Barn (15825 Sierra Hwy., Santa Clarita; 661-252-2440; www.gentlebarn.org) is “teaching people kindness and compassion to animals, each other and our planet” – a noble goal, to be sure. You can support their efforts by visiting during the organization’s public hours from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays and making a donation of $10 per person. Kids will delight in visiting the horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, llamas, dogs and cats that live in the barnyard. All have been rescued from abuse, neglect or abandonment and cared for and rehabilitated thanks to the folks at the Gentle Barn.
For those of us who are always trying to remember the difference between a seal and a sea lion, the Marine Mammal Care Center (3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro; 310-548-5677; www.marinemammalcare.org) is definitely worth a visit. Located just a short drive up the hill from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the center rescues and rehabilitates injured sea mammals. It’s free to visit and observe the animals in their outdoor pools and pens, although donations are gratefully accepted.
The Gibbon Conservation Center (19100 Esguerra Rd., Santa Clarita; 661-296-2737; www.gibboncenter.org) is dedicated to the conservation of what may be the cutest species of ape. The center has successfully reproduced seven species of gibbon, offering scientists and students the opportunity to observe these fascinating and playful creatures up close and help them to survive for generations to come. They are open to the public from 9:30 a.m.-noon weekends, offering guided tours at 10 a.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for teens, $5 for ages 6-12 and free for ages 5 and younger.
It’s easy to miss Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (1600 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica; 310-393-6149; www.healthebay.org), tucked as it is down below the many diversions of the pier’s Pacific Park. But the aquarium makes a great destination in its own right, offering aquariums and touch tanks to explore, along with a brand-new interactive watershed exhibit that skillfully illustrates urban development’s impact on the ocean environment. The aquarium is open most afternoons, and admission is just $5 for adults and free for ages 12 and under.
Star Eco Station (10101 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City; 310-842-8060; www.ecostation.org) serves as both an environmental science museum and a rescue center for exotic wildlife. Visitors can get (safely) up close and personal with the creatures during hourly guided tours every Saturday and Sunday. They’ll meet exotic birds, reptiles, mammals and sea creatures and learn the stories behind each resident. Admission includes a tour and is $8 for adults, $6 for children and free for children under 2.