Go Wild! Fun Vacations for Animal Lovers

Spend the day at one of these animal centers, and let the kids hang out with their favorite creatures.

Farm Fun

Slide Ranch child program

Courtesy of Slide Ranch

Old MacDonald, look out! While many farms let kids pet or feed animals, these locations offer more barnyard activities and family events. E-I-E-I-go!

1. Slide Ranch
Muir Beach, California
This former dairy ranch turned nonprofit teaching farm in Golden Gate National Recreation Area near San Francisco puts together many super-cool, half-day family programs on weekends year-round. Activities often include milking a goat, cooking from the organic garden, collecting eggs from chickens, and spinning wool from sheep. On May 25, there's even a special program for families with toddlers that emphasizes using your senses to explore the farm. In addition, several times a year the ranch offers overnight family campouts focused on farm activities and nature exploration. Programs typically cost $25 and up per person, with discounts for families and free admission for babies; slideranch.org.

2. Lake Metroparks Farmpark
Kirtland, Ohio
About a half hour from downtown Cleveland, this 235-acre farm has more than 100 animals, including llamas, baby goats, horses, lambs, and pigs. Kids can help milk a cow, watch a cheese-making demonstration, and, on certain weekends, help make ice cream by hand. After you finish at the barn, you can take a wagon ride to the Plant Science Center (with gardens and interactive exhibits) and the Woodland Center (to learn about maple sugaring, which requires 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup). Time your visit with one of the farm's many special events -- such as HorseFest, on May 18 and 19, when kids can groom miniature horses and make a lasso. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for kids ages 2 to 11, free for younger kids; lakemetroparks.com.

3. Green Meadows Farm
Eight locations in the U.S.
During a two-hour guided tour, families can learn about pigs, cows, horses, sheep, goats, llamas, and more. Everyone can milk a cow, touch a chicken, pet a duck, hold a rabbit, and hug a donkey -- all Green Meadows locations focus on close contact with the animals. Some locations also have train and tractor rides. Farms are in Hazlet, New Jersey; Grand Prairie, Texas; Kissimmee, Florida; Floral Park, New York; Waterford and Sherwood, Wisconsin; Jessup and Frederick, Maryland; admission varies, starting at $12 per person, kids 2 and under are free; greenmeadowsfarmnj.com.

4. Children's Farm at the Center
Palos Park, Illinois
This nonprofit farm in the Chicago area hosts "family time" on weekend afternoons, when kids can brush a sheep, hold a baby chick, and become buddies with bunnies. Hayrides are one of the highlights of the Summer Farm Festival, on June 1. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for kids ages 2 to 17, children under 2 are free; thecenterpalos.org.

5. Underwood Family Farms
Moorpark, California
Animal shows are the highlight for kids at this farm about 45 minutes north of LA. Set in a hand-painted amphitheater, the shows take place three times a day on weekends and holidays from March to November. Kids in the audience can volunteer to find chickens hiding behind the doors built into the backdrop or call Bingo, a black Lab, to come out from backstage. At the end of the show, kids can pet the animals. Save time to pick your own produce -- strawberries, oranges, avocados, and lettuce are in season in May. Entrance fee is $3 to $6 per person, depending on the day, free for kids 2 and under; underwoodfamilyfarms.com.

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