June is National Zoo & Aquarium Month and therefore the perfect time to visit California’s zoos and aquariums—both to see a planet’s worth of creatures and to better understand their dynamics within our world.
The beginning of summer season also brings us World Oceans Day on June 8—observed at locations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and Monterey Bay Aquarium—along with extra offerings all summer long, including new family-friendly exhibits and cool after-hours experiences. Here are some good reasons to plan your visit to a zoo or aquarium today.
Birch Aquarium, San Diego
This aquarium, affiliated with the University of California, San Diego, provides epic ocean views from its perch in La Jolla. But its newest permanent exhibit celebrates tiny creatures: the Seadragons & Seahorses exhibit is the largest of its kind in the world. The 18-foot-wide, 5,375-gallons exhibit features Weedy and Leafy Seadragons, as well as several species of seahorses and pipefish, with a goal of expanding these species through a breeding program.
From June 16–Sept. 2, the famed zoo in San Diego will stay open until 8 p.m. as part of its Nighttime Zoo program, offering unique animal experiences like Tasmanian devil and raccoon feedings. The evenings also include live performances, such as the strolling Chameleons brass band, the African puppetry of Jambo, and the New Friends Rock show, featuring trampoline acrobats dressed as zoo animals. The zoo’s Escondido sister property, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, has its own evening program: the weekend Summer Safari and the Sundown Summer Safari (Mondays and Tuesdays) feature live music and dinner options.
Living Desert, Palm Desert
This exotic zoo in the Greater Palm Springs area is home to African meerkats, desert foxes, giraffes, and camels. And while summer means earlier hours (8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), it’s still a good time to see the newest babies: Some African wild dog puppies were born in May and sand cat kittens joined the family in April.
Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach
Check out the coastal L.A. County aquarium’s new wing, Pacific Visions, which houses a theater, an art gallery, and live marine animals that represent how the ocean could be made more sustainable—with delta smelt, California yellowtail, and Pacific oysters. As part of the aquarium’s 20th anniversary, the Tentacles and Ink exhibit shows off cephalopods including squid, octopuses, and cuttlefish.
This summer families can bring sleeping bags and a sense of adventure to the zoo in L.A.’s Griffith Park. Creature Camp Outs let you sleep in tents and embark on behind-the-scenes tours (breakfast included). Or come without kids to Roaring Nights (select dates starting June 28), a 21-and-up summer series with up-close animal encounters, live bands, food trucks, cocktails, and a silent disco.
Summer brings later hours at this acclaimed Monterey County aquarium. Saturday Evenings by the Bay (June 29–Aug. 31) include wine, small bites, live music, and more room to wander the aquarium galleries and to take in the sunset views from outside. Don’t forget to say hi to the 1,500 anchovies who have recently taken up residence in the Kelp Forest exhibit.
Starting June 8 you can get tickets for Zoorassic Park, a new exhibit (though Oct. 31) showcasing how dinosaurs ate, moved, roared, and battled. While you’re here, don’t miss the still-new African Adventure, a 13-acre, savannah-like zone for cheetahs, white rhinos, and a giraffe.
June at this longtime zoo near San Francisco’s Ocean Beach means the return of two popular summer series: The Wildlife Theater (daily from June 8-–Aug. 16 then weekends until Sept. 2) features conservation talks and “animal ambassador” guests such as a golden eagle, boa, porcupine, or kinkajou (rainforest critters also known as “honey bears”). Or take a walk on the wooded Nature Trail, which is lined with youth volunteers during the summer who can show kids various small mammals and reptiles.
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
This crowd-pleasing spot in Golden Gate Park is equal parts aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum—and part evening hotspot, when its NightLife Live music-and-nosh series runs on Thursday nights in July. All summer, check out its new Passport to the Universe show in the planetarium or its Giants of the Land and Sea exhibit that has a fog room, an earthquake simulator, and a cool redwood exhibit.
Not too long ago this Bay Area zoo opened the California Trail with a range of native species, including grizzlies, California condors, and mountain lions. This summer check out the new wolf pups, who were born in May but should be visible to the public by mid-to-late June.
Safari West, Sonoma
This “Sonoma Serengeti,” located about 90 minutes from San Francisco, is a sprawling home for African wildlife—giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, and more. To get an up-close look, book one of the overnight stays in a tent cabin, or sign up for one of the behind-the-scenes Wild Encounters, now including the massive resident white rhinos.