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Wildlife Wonders in California

From dolphin and whale watching to safaris and conservation centers, California abounds with opportunities to see wildlife and participate in volunteer conservation work. Full of family-friendly experiences, kids are immersed in the beauty of nature and learn the importance of saving these special places so wildlife has a home and the next generation can enjoy the natural wonders of California.

Unique Animal Destinations

Siskiyou Sightings
With over 445 named mountains, including the iconic Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County’s natural wonders attract a wide array of wildlife. Visitors might spot wolves, coyotes, northern spotted owls and many varieties of birds.

Small but Mighty
Travelers to the North Coast can see California’s official state amphibian, the Red Legged Frog. This threatened species was immortalized in Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The best places to find the frogs are Sequoia Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Another rare and endangered species to search for is the cute Humboldt Marten, a shy member of the weasel family that lives in old-growth forests. 

The Devil’s in the Details
For climbers, Concord’s Mount Diablo is a challenge. For wildlife, it’s a sanctuary to call home. Visitors might see black-tailed deer, gray foxes, mountain lions or bobcats, depending on the day and season. Each fall tarantulas arrive, inspiring the fearless to go on tarantula hikes. Recently, the California Condor was seen soaring over the mountain for the first time in a century, inspiring hope that the area will become its first nesting area in the East Bay. 

Humming Along
In Vacaville, vacationers have the rare chance to see the Allen’s Hummingbird. This species only breeds along a narrow strip of coastal California and southern Oregon and primarily nests in California. The small bird packs a big dose of color with orange, green, blue and black feathers.

Beloved Black Bear
Black bears are majestic and beloved residents of North Lake Tahoe, and although they can be seen hiking, they are best enjoyed from a distance. The bears range in color from tan to black and have a highly developed sense of smell ten times greater than that of a bloodhound. 

Butterfly Effect
From late October to February, Pismo Beach on California’s Central Coast turns into a sanctuary for monarch butterflies. After migrating south, the butterflies rest in the limbs of the eucalyptus trees at the Monarch Butterfly Grove on the beach. Last year, nearly 25,000 butterflies called the area home. Visitors can see the butterflies on the beach and the nearby Meadow Creek Trail. 

World Class Viewings
As the world's dolphin and whale-watching capital, Dana Point is a must for marine mammal lovers. Late fall and winter serve up daily sightings of Blue Whales, Humpback Whales, California Gray Whales and Fin Whales. A Dolphin Stampede, sightings of a pod of hundreds or even thousands of dolphins can occur at any time in Dana Point.

Interactive and Educational Experiences

Birding Hotspot
With over 50,000 acres, The Cosumnes River Preserve in Elk Grove is a gem for bird lovers. The Preserve is a critical destination on the Pacific Flyway for migrating and wintering waterfalls; at times, more than 58,000 birds are seen on a single winter day! Yearly, birders can find over 250 species that call the Preserve home, including the Swainson’s Hawk, Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged Crows, Canada Geese and numerous ducks. 

Safari West
Santa Rosa’s Safari West is the closest you can come to Africa in the U.S. The 400-acre wilderness boasts 900 animals of more than 90 different species. Visitors can go on game drives or even spend the night in one of their charming cabins at Sonoma’s Serengeti

Marine Mammal Center
A trip to Sausalito's Marine Mammal Center is a must for anyone who wants to protect the ocean and the marine life that lives there. The newly remodeled center shines a light on endangered species and the work to rescue hundreds of animals a year. Visitors can enjoy a self-guided visit, take a guided tour or book the Behind-the-Scenes Experience. 

North America’s Nature Islands
Known as the “Galapagos of North America,” California’s Channel Islands, an hour off the coast of Ventura, are a nature lovers paradise. The island is home to several species that can only be found in the Channel Islands National Park. The island is the only major breeding site in the western U.S. for California brown pelicans and is home to a special breed of foxes. Ninety-nine percent of all Southern California seabirds hatch on the Channel Islands before departing to different beaches along the SoCal coast. 

Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
Travelers rate Palm Springs’ Living Desert Zoo & Gardens as one of the top 10 zoos in the country. It’s no surprise with 140 species of animals and 1,600 different plants from around the globe on display. With a new Rhino Savanna exhibit and Australian Adventures habitat joining existing family-friendly activities like a giraffe feeding area, the zoo is a great way to start a lifelong love and respect for animals and the planet.

Big Bear Discovery Center
Located in the San Bernardino National Forest, the Big Bear Discovery Center is an educational center to start learning about and exploring the Inland Empire’s diverse ecosystems and beautiful landscapes. In addition to nature and wildlife exhibits and a junior ranger program for kids, it’s the jumping-off point for the Woodland Interpretive Trail and the Discovery Center Nature Trail.

Unique Conservation Center
The Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita is the only organization in the world devoted to the study, preservation and public education of the gibbon. A gibbon is a primate from the dwindling rainforests of Asia. The center offers tours and a chance for visitors to become a caretaker for a day, allowing travelers to assist the staff with the Center’s 40 gibbons. 

Coastal Bird Sanctuary
Huntington Beach’s Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve sees over 200 bird species, many rare and endangered, pass through the area throughout the year. Sightings of Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, and Brown Pelicans are common; lucky visitors can even spot a rare White Pelican at the right time of the year. Bring your binoculars, layered warm clothing and a camera with a telephoto lens. Depending on the season, observers report multiple varieties of finches, grebes, hummingbirds, kinglets, loons, owls, swallows and terns, as well as other coastal birds.

Lagoon Life
The Discovery Center, operated by The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation in Carlsbad, offers hands-on exhibits, gardens and live animal ambassadors that allow visitors to learn about life in the lagoon. The Discovery Center is a family-friendly activity that gives kids direct access to nature, interactive educational experiences and hands-on learning that teaches the importance of how people and wildlife interact.