Zoos in the Valley
The Applegate Zoo in Merced is the best place within a 100 mile drive where you are guaranteed to see a broad selection of local wildlife.
Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo is the best place with 100 miles to see a wide range of animals from around the world.
An easy hour drive south from Merced, the zoo has so much to see that you’ll need half a day or more to enjoy all the exhibits. On our recent visit we spent 2 ½ hours and could have easily stayed longer if closing time hadn’t rolled around so quickly. Some highlight exhibits of the zoo include:
- Large mammals: wolves, tigers, giraffes, gazelles, orangutans, zebras, Asian elephants, tapirs, camels, bears, warthogs, sea lions
- Marsupials: kangaroo
- Reptiles: Galapagos tortoises, alligators, a variety of snakes, and dozens of smaller species
- Avian species: Andean condors, eagles, flamingos, emus, ostriches, black swans, and special aviaries devoted to African, Australian, and tropical species
In addition to exhibits you can walk around and enjoy, the zoo is also interactive and includes:
- Small Wonders Animal Encounters: a petting zoo where kids of all ages can enjoy gentle animals face-to-face.
- Giraffe Feeding: For $2 a person, you can hand feed a giraffe. For $3 more you can get a professional quality photo of the feeding to take home.
- Sea Lion Cove: The best recent addition to the zoo is this opportunity to view sea lions at four different levels. My favorite level is the underwater one. Looking into the sea lion pool through a large window, you can be at eye level with the sea lions as they swim towards the glass and interact with their visitors. I’m still not sure if it is more fun to watch the sea lions or to watch small children as they interact with the sea lions!
- Dino Dig: Kids of all ages can participate in a simulated paleontological dig to recover a full-size tyrannosaurs rex.
- Stingray Bay: For $2/person, you can touch cow-nose rays and southern stingrays.
- Winged Wonders Bird Show: daily free-flight bird show presented during good weather from March through October.
- Keeper Chats: Offered several times daily in many sections of the zoo, these presentations are a great way to learn more about the zoo’s animals from the people who take care of them.
- Walk-Through Bird Enclosures: The Tropical Rain Forest, African Aviary, and Australian Aviary are places where you can walk among the birds and see them at extremely close range.
For current schedules for all of these activities, check the zoo’s website.
The zoo is open every day of the year except for December 25th. From April 1 through September 30, it is open from 9AM to 6PM. From October 1 through March 31 it is open from 9AM to 4PM.
On Thanksgiving Day it is open from 9AM to 2PM. Admission is $7 for all visitors aged 12 through 61 and $3.50 for seniors (62+) and children (2-11). Children under 2 are free.
The zoo has clean restrooms, a gift shop, and two food options if you get hungry during your visit (Safari Café and Nosara Grille).
No age limit to fun
No matter what your age, the zoo is a lot of fun. Strollers, wheelchairs, and other mobility devices are welcome. Wagons, strollers, and wheelchairs can also be rented once you arrive at the zoo.
If you’re a photographer, the zoo is a great place to bring your camera. If you hope to take photos for a purpose other than personal use, check with the Zoo’s Marketing Department first.
Sea Lion Cove was the zoo’s latest addition and ongoing work will bring a variety of new exhibits in the months to come. The next two projects will bring African Spotted-necked river otters and king cobras.
Located at 894 West Belmont Avenue in Fresno, it’s easy to find. From Highway 99, exit Belmont and turn left onto Belmont. Look for Roeding Park on your left and turn into the main entrance.
There is a $5 fee to enter the park, which includes your parking. The park can be crowded on weekends, so it’s a wise idea to arrive in the morning or to visit on a weekday.
For more information, go to https://www.fresnochaffeezoo.org/
or call (559) 498-5910.
In addition to regular visitor hours, the zoo offers a Zoo Camp, family and group overnight events, twilight and backstage tours.
The zoo can also accommodate birthday parties and weddings. You can find more information and current schedules on the website.