13 Unique Animal Encounters in San Diego
For those that have a soft spot for animals on top enjoying unique animal encounters, this is the list for you! Most of the places in this article are animal rescues of some sort which offer tours to the public which helps fund their missions. It's a wonderful trade-off that benefits everyone included!
These spots are all family-friendly and guaranteed to light up your day. With that said, here is our list of Unique Animal Encounters in San Diego!
1. JAB Canid Conservation Center
At the JAB center you will get to meet Russian domesticated foxes, a wolf and the enthusiastic New Guinea singing dogs. JAB is largely using their facility as a healing center for people dealing with a whole slew of issues, whether it be PTSD, depression, autism, etc. There is much evidence of the healing power of animals, and canids are no exception. The owners, Amy and David, believe that through understanding comes appreciation and through appreciation comes conservation.
2. Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Farm grows and studies dozens of plants that are important to the ecosystems of butterflies. Beyond the immediate grounds of Butterfly Farms, the staff engages in field work monitoring, tagging and tracking Monarchs.
For a small charge that helps support the mission of the farms, the organization offers guided workshops that provide an overview of the farms, as well as critical information on the plight of the pollinators. The workshop was developed in concert with local educators and complies with Next Generation Science Standards.
3. Children's Nature Retreat
The Children’s Nature Retreat is an amazing animal sanctuary located out in Alpine. This ranch-style retreat has over 20 acres of land and is home to over 190 animals, both domesticated livestock and exotic animals from all over the world.
Each animal comes with its own story and all are either rescues or born on the property. The retreat is specifically designed to help children develop a sense of wonder for nature and its inhabitants through unstructured exploration and learning.
TIP: If you're enjoying this post, make sure to check out our list of Hidden Gems in Los Angeles County next!
4. Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures
Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures offers a ton of fun activities for all ages! Navigate through their (literal) lilac maze and go from station to station learning about San Diego’s colonial days and different needed skills.
The owners have done a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the old times with a variety of booths that will satisfy people of all ages. We learned how to make homemade apple cider & candles, throw tomahawks, shoot arrows & slingshots, vegetable gardening & composting. They have an adorable petting zoo too!
5. Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary
Flight is a sanctuary for exotic companion birds that provides a special and unique environment to raise community awareness and to encourage positive interaction with these birds.
Their goals are to re-socialize and rehome companion parrots and to educate the public about their complex mental, physical and emotional needs. They offer permanent sanctuary or re-homing depending upon what is in the best interest of each bird.
6. Grazin' Acres Pig Rescue
Grazin’ Pig Acres, Inc. is a non-profit organization which functions as an animal rescue and sanctuary. They are dedicated to providing a permanent home in a nurturing, safe environment for abused, neglected, abandoned, or unwanted animals, especially pot-bellied pigs.
Although they have a variety of animals at the sanctuary including dogs, cats, rabbits, goats, sheep, horses, and donkeys, they specialize in the physical rescue and care of the pot-bellied pig.
7. Leo Carrillo Ranch
The 27-acre ranchero lies in a canyon near the intersection of Poinsettia Land and Melrose Drive, and contains beautifully restored adobe buildings, antique windmills, a reflecting pool and other structures that call up memories of California history.
We spent an hour and a half here exploring the nooks and crannies and finding many fun surprised. I loved that it was not crowded and we were given free rein to explore on our own. We saw were lucky to spot the white peacock and a ton of babies which definitely added to the experience.
8. Julian Farm & Orchard
Julian Farm and Orchard is a wonderful spot to stop by during your visit to Julian. Sitting on 25 acres, this sustainable farm has plenty of family-friendly activities to choose from.
To kick off the spring season, make sure to grab some of their U-Pick daffodils from their beautiful orchard . They also have a petting zoo with goats, sheep, chickens, donkeys and other sweet animals! Enjoy a hayride on their vintage tractor along with other seasonal activities
9. Lions, Tigers & Bears
Lions, Tigers and Bears is definitely one of the most unique animal rescues we have in San Diego. Located off a dusty road in Alpine, you would never even realize all these exotic creatures were hidden back there!
Owner Bobbi Brink has been working with and advocating for large, exotic animals since the early 90’s. After personally witnessing the abuse these magnificent creatures were enduring, she took it upon herself to be their voice and work towards giving them a better life, one creature at a time.
10. The Living Coast Discovery Center
The Living Coast Discovery Center is definitely one of Chula Vista’s hidden gems. Not only do the grounds come with a unique history but you also get up-close experiences with wildlife! They are an environmental education center with marine animals, bird exhibits and other wildlife located in the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Permanent displays at the Living Coast focus on native animals and plants found in Southern California and San Diego Bay.
11. Oasis Camel Dairy
This is a very unique farm, especially considering it is located in Ramona! The most surprising creatures that I saw were obviously the camels but also a toucan! So cool!
They offer group tours of their farm which gets you a camel ride if you desire and meet and greets with a bunch of other sweet animals. They also sell camel milk and products from the milk.
12. Bates Nut Farm
Bates Nut Farm is a 5 generation family farm located in Valley Center. Gilbert and Beatrice Bates originally purchased the walnut farm in 1921 where they raised 5 boys along with geese, ducks, goats, horses, rabbits and sheep.
13. Saving Animals Healing Hearts Rescue
Saving Animals & Healing Hearts, Inc. is a non profit 501(c)3 organization located in Ramona, giving a second chance to neglected and abused animals. They rescue horses, donkeys, mini horses, ponies, pigs, goats, alpacas, emus, turkeys, ducks, geese, chickens, dogs, and other domesticated animals.
Each animal at the farm has a heart-breaking story. Many of the animals you will see are still in the healing process as they learn what love and stability feels like each day. The goal is always to re-home the animals, but if for whatever reason that is not possible, they become permanent residents of the facility. No animal will ever be euthanized due to re-homing issues.