The Orange County Zoo is small but mighty. Featuring animals local to the area, visitors can come away with a deeper understanding of what exists around them… as well as having tons of fun doing it. The 8-acre zoo (formerly known as Irvine Park Zoo) sits among the 477 acres of wildness that makes up Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California. It opened in 1985 and is owned as well as staffed and operated by Orange County.
However, the history of the zoo can be traced back to 1905 and J.A. Turner’s red fox breeding program. A large collection of animals was initiated in the 1920 by Sam Nau, a rancher from Tustin, with a few mule deer that turned into a larger enclosure. That eventually grew into an alligator and bird exhibits (1935).
There is a small admission fee for entrance to the zoo, as well as a fee for all vehicles entering into the park (slightly more on weekends and major holidays). They are open weekdays from 10:00am to 3:30pm and on weekends from 10:00am to 4:30pm.
The zoo focuses on the animals and plants that are native to the southwestern region of the United States. A few of the favorites are the black beans, island foxes, coyotes, and coati. The majority of the zoo animals actually come to the zoo as abandoned, confiscated, injured, or orphaned and are used to help teach guests about the animals they may actually encounter in their own backyards.
There is also a barnyard at the zoo where guests can come in and get hands on with some of the more domesticated animals like goats, sheep, pigs, and more. Visitors can purchase feed and hand feed some of the animals as well. There are also doves and pheasants, although these are off limits for interaction.
Audio Tours - A newer feature at the zoo is the ability for guests to take a guided audio tour of the grounds. Guests can call (714) 481-0355 with their cell phone while at the zoo to start the audio tour. Using the guide provided both at the zoo or on the website, guests will enter in the number for the animal exhibit they are currently viewing followed by the pound (#) sign. The audio tour will then give interesting facts about the animal from their veterinarian, zoo keepers, the education coordinator, the zoo curator, and the zoo manager! The tour is free for all guests.
Story Time - A favorite of the younger visits to the zoo is the story time, offered free of charge. Come sit under the oak trees and listen to a staff member read stories related to some of the animals they will later encounter while at the zoo!
Discovery Cart - Visitors to the zoo should keep an eye out for the discovery cart, which is located inside the zoo grounds whenever there are volunteers available to staff them! The cart has plenty of educational and fun hands on items for visitors to see as well as touch to help them learn about the zoo in an even more hands-on way!
At a small cost per student, the zoo offers field trips and educational opportunities. Tours typically last around an hour and a half and are led by one of the knowledgeable zoo tour guides. The subjects covered include adaptations, habitat information, feeding habits, and other general information. They also include a short animal presentation and a visit to the nature center. They can also include plant information if requested. Students should make sure to dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Field trips must be reserved in advance and payment will be expected at that time. Field trips can also include a train ride at the railroad for an additional fee per student.
Contact the education coordinator in advance for more information or to schedule a field trip. Be aware that tours are not available on Mondays. One adult chaperone is required for every ten students.
Toddler programs are also available.
Although there are no restaurants available on zoo grounds, guests who visit the zoo are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy! Picnic areas are located just adjacent to the zoo in the park area. Visitors will need to leave their food in their vehicles, however, as no food is allowed on zoo grounds for the safety of the animals.
Orange County Zoo, 1 Irvine Park Road, Orange, CA, 92869, Phone: 714-973-6847