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8 Bay Area Animal Adventures to Make Your Summer More Wild

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A black and grey seal lies in the sun on a floating dock in peaceful water, with ships in the background.
A seal suns itself on Sea Trek's dock in Sausalito. (Courtesy of Laura Zulliger, Sea Trek)

When it comes to the great outdoors, there are two kinds of humans: those who can get lost in the scenery, and those that are there purely to catch a glimpse of the beautiful animals in our midst.

For those in the latter camp, here are the best Bay Area activities to get outdoors and see something a little wild this summer.

The front half of a whale's body emerges from water as a boat carrying passengers watches from a short distance.
Humpback whales are very active in San Francisco Bay during the summer months. (Photo by Michael Pierson; Courtesy of San Francisco Whale Tours)

Whale watching

San Francisco Whale Tours
Pier 39, San Francisco

After spending the winter mating and calving off the coast of Mexico, humpback whales spend their summers in the San Francisco Bay. A great way to see these majestic mammals is to catch a ride with San Francisco Whale Tours. Every day, at noon and 3 p.m., the catamaran Kitty Kat sets sail from Pier 39 for a 2.5-hour tour that might also include sightings of harbor seals, dolphins and porpoises, plus a wide variety of sea bird colonies.

“Every tour is a unique experience,” Kat Nazar, owner of San Francisco Whale Tours, told KQED Arts. “Many times we have intel from vessel traffic control that will tell us where other boaters have reported sightings around the bay so we head to that area. Other times we head out blind, generally towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We find whales on about 90% of our tours.”

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And if you don’t see a whale on your tour? San Francisco Whale Tours will take you back out on the water for free. You can’t lose!

Three rabbit lie snuggled close together in a pen.
Who wouldn’t want a ‘Rabbit Rendezvous’? (Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/ Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Learning about farmyard friends

Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont

Throughout the summer, kids (and their adults) can get up close to rabbits, poultry and goats at the visitor center of Ardenwood Historic Farm. Dedicated weekend events include “Rabbit Rendezvous,” “Meet the Chickens” and “Farmyard Story Time.” On select Sunday mornings, “Wake Up the Farm” gives kids the opportunity to meet sheep and goats and take part in feeding them. Plus, for children fascinated by creepy crawlies, “Garden Bug Safari” is a must-try, getting kids to look closer at the miniature worlds at their feet.

Ardenwood is dedicated to education, so short classes about bees, cows and other living things are also on offer. They offer a wholesome day that’s great for animal lovers of all ages — even if you’re pretending it’s just for the little ones.

An adult giraffe leans down and licks the ear of its smaller offspring.
Two of Safari West’s resident giraffes. (Sarah Jane Tarr/ Safari West)

Going on safari

Safari West
3115 Porter Creek Rd., Santa Rosa

If you’ve always wanted to go on safari, the destination you have in mind is probably very much not Santa Rosa. However, Safari West’s 400 acres and 900 animals work hard to bring the Serengeti to Sonoma County. Here, you can see giraffes, gazelles, hyenas, zebras and a variety of other fascinating creatures from the back or top of customized open-sided vehicles under the guidance of the park’s researchers and conservationists.

Even better? The wildlife park offers a range of special events and behind the scenes experiences to get you in touch with your own wild side. The truly committed can stay in a luxury tent overnight on the property, but day-trippers can sign up for special small-group experiences with the on-site rhinos, cheetahs and other animals. Hot tip for those visiting in adults-only groups: Safari West also hosts safari experiences that double as wine and beer tastings.

A line of riders on horses walk down a beach in line.
Ocean View Stables offers horseback riding for beginners. (Courtesy of Ocean View Stables)

Horseback riding

Ocean View Stables
2152 Olympic Way, Daly City

If you’ve recently lapsed into fullblown, Beyoncé-inspired Cowboy Carter fantasies, Ocean View Stables is here to make all your horsey, trail-riding dreams come true.  Whether you’re a beginner or already have some horseback experience, this Daly City stable has multiple options to make sure you get to ride ’em (cowboy) this summer. Probably the greatest summer option is an introductory lesson followed by a relaxing one-hour group ride on the beach.

If horses aren’t for you, but you’d like to turn the kids into young equestrians, there are also quick pony rides for the littles and a week-long horseback summer camp for children aged eight to 17.

A shorn sheep stands on a yoga mat with humans sat on the ground next to her.
Sheep meditation and goat yoga are both on offer from Charlie’s Acres this summer. (Courtesy of Charlie's Acres)

Meditating with sheep

Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary
3201 Napa Rd., Sonoma

Meeting farm animals is fantastic, but have you ever tried meditating with sheep? The animal lovers of Charlie’s Acres want to give you the opportunity to try both this summer. And, if you love those activities, why not sign up for some goat yoga while you’re at it?

Since 2016, Charlie’s Acres founder Tracy Vogt has been introducing the public to her menagerie of rescued farm animals in ever more creative ways. All year round, the non-profit offers farm tours, photoshoot opportunities, plant-based picnics and yes, sheep meditation and goat yoga. On June 21, 2024 though, everything is combining into one very special retreat to coincide with the summer solstice.

“Sheep meditation is a really lovely experience,” Sanctuary director Kaleigh Rhoads told KQED Arts. “We work with instructors who use a collection of crystal singing bowls along with their meditation. It’s a great opportunity to have a peaceful experience with typically shy animals.”

As for the yoga, Charlie’s Acres goats are adults, so they don’t jump on class participants. “They just love having visitors,” Rhoads explained. “It’s pretty silly and definitely more about the goats than yoga.”

A black seal pup and a white seal pup nap on a floating platform.
Two young seals sun themselves on Sea Trek’s dock in Sausalito. (Courtesy of Laura Zulliger, Sea Trek)

Kayaking with seals

Sea Trek
1120 Ballena Blvd., Suite 200, Alameda
2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito

Sea Trek, a kayak rental and excursion company, is so perfectly positioned to see Bay Area wildlife, it’s not unusual for employees to show up to work and find newborns on their Sausalito dock.

“The seal pups are not only super cute, but you can see them learning with their moms how to do basic things, like wiggle up on the dock and nurse,” Sea Trek kayaking instructor Laura Zulliger noted. “You can see the baby seals being cute and curious all throughout the summer.”

Sea Trek offers guided scenic tours from its Sausalito and Alameda locations, both of which explore local sea and wildlife along the 2.5-hour paddle. During June, July and August, however, there are additional, summer-specific tours from both locations. Special Sausalito outings include monthly Angel Island Crossing tours and bi-monthly Golden Gate Tours. Both take kayakers in search of sea lions, porpoises, whales, birds and other wildlife. From Alameda, a kid-friendly outing is paired with a fun and interactive trip to Crab Cove’s Visitor Center, while adult-specific scenic tours end in a visit to a Spirits Alley brewery.

Sea Trek is dedicated to treating all wildlife and ecologies in the Bay with respect, while making their guided tours as fun and educational as possible. “We want to instill in paddlers that we need to give these animals space for their survival,” Zulliger emphasized.

A group of people in beekeeping suits gather around a hive, as one beekeeper holds up part of a hive.
Students get a beekeeping 101 from the owner of San Francisco Honey & Pollen Company. (Courtesy of San Francisco Honey & Pollen Company)

Beekeeping

San Francisco Honey & Pollen Company
1176 Shafter Ave., San Francisco

San Francisco’s Bayview is probably not the first destination folks have in mind when they think about getting in touch with wildlife. But on select weekends this summer, lifelong beekeeper Christina McDonald will be teaching beginners how to start beekeeping in their own backyards.

McDonald’s dad started beekeeping in the city 20 years ago, teaching her how to build and maintain hive boxes throughout her childhood. Her Introduction to Beekeeping class gives visitors an insight into the importance of bees in our local environment and then assists them in exploring some of SF Honey & Pollen Co.’s apiaries. After hands-on training, each course culminates in a honey and pollen tasting session.

If the beginner class gives you the bug, you can return for McDonald’s advanced class, where students learn how to extract honey from the hive and bottle it.

Birdwatching

A medium sized blue and white bird sits on a bare tree branch.
A California Scrub-Jay — just one of the 414 species of birds spotted in Santa Clara County. (Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society
22221 McClellan Rd., Cupertino

The members of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society just want you to love birds as much as they do, so they offer a huge range of free resources to make that happen. The SCVAS website walks you through self-guided birding outings, categorized by area and season, but also offers regular (and frequently free) group excursions.

This summer, SCVAS outings are planned in Saratoga, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Stanford and even the Farallon Islands.

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On June 15, in a special celebration for Pride Month, the bird-lovers are also hosting a Queers of a Feather field trip: a bird outing specifically for LGBTQ+ folks. Queers of a Feather will be co-hosted by the Peninsula Open Space Trust. That’s fitting, given that POST is hosting an online event on June 5 titled Queer Is Natural, which will explore queerness in nature. Clearly everyone involved heartily believes in flocking together.

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