The Orange County Zoo is found within Irvine Regional Park in the city of Orange. While some might criticize the entire concept of a zoo, the Orange County Zoo has a preservation mission; the animals here include those who are or were hurt, abandoned, illegally owned, and/or unable to fend for themselves if they were to be released back into the wilderness. Some of these animals include:
- Black bears
- Mountain lions
- Bald eagles
- Kit foxes
- Great horned owls
- Turkey vultures
The most recent additions to the OC Zoo are an adult Jaguar and new mountain lions. These new big cats will enjoy their new home in the brand new large mammal exhibit featuring expanded enclosures, a waterfall, climbing platforms, and even a bridge for the big cats to cross over the public walkway.
Four legged friends, reptiles, and birds aren’t the only living things preserved; the Orange County Zoo also focuses on regional plantlife.
Visiting The Orange County Zoo
Orange County Zoo is located at:
OC Zoo Tickets: $2 per person ages 3 years and over; Ages 2 years and under are free
Irvine Regional Park Parking/Entry Fee: $3 per vehicle weekdays and $5 per vehicle weekends (Major Holidays: $7 to $10 per entry as posted)
Leashed dogs are allowed at Irvine Regional Park but dogs are not allowed inside the OC Zoo.
OC Zoo Hours:
Monday – Friday: 10:00 am – 3:30 pm
Saturday/Sunday: 10:00 am – 4:30 pm
O.C. Zoo Attractions & Events
The Zoo, like many such facilities, typically offers tours and preschool programs. Many of those were suspended for long periods of time due to public health emergency issues, so it may be best to call ahead when planning a visit.
OC Zoo Annual Events
School Groups & Tours
When school and group tours of the zoo are running, they typically last about 90 minutes and feature a guide who will discuss animal habits, habitats, feeding, and other information about the exhibits.
There is an “animal presentation” plus a visit to the Irvine Park Nature Center, and the option (for an extra fee per person) to book a train ride at the Irvine Park Railroad. One adult chaperone is required for every 10 underage visitors for tours. You must book in advance by calling (714) 973-6846. Tours cannot be booked on Sundays or Mondays as per O.C. Zoo policy.
Regularly scheduled programs at the OC Zoo include preschool programs for kids ages 3 and 4 and school age programs for kids ages 7-11. There are usually about two of each program every month. Check the calendar to see what’s currently scheduled.
Each program is themed — think under the sea, out on the farm, ancient giants, etc. The programs require registration by phone and cost $5 per child. The fee includes one adult chaperone, hands on learning activities, a craft, and an up close introduction to a zoo resident.
The OC Zoo also hosts seasonally-themed events around major holidays like Halloween and Christmas so keep an eye on the calendar for extra fun opportunities.
The petting zoo is always one of the favorite spots for kids (and adults). The OC Zoo has coin-operated machines to dispense food that you can collect in your hand and feed the goats.
Then, if you want to get more hands on, there is an enclosure where you can go in with the goats, pet them, and even grab a mitt at the door to brush/groom them. If you have small children, keep an eye on them — goats can be feisty and they like to run into things, even kids. Also, keep an eye on your kids to be sure they are being gentle with our goat friends. It works both ways.
Do not bring food into the walk-in enclosure where you will interact with the goats. Goat feeding is only allowed with the goats that are in pens near the feeder.
The rules for the O.C. Zoo include a prohibition on “intoxicants” of any kind, there is a 10mph speed limit in all areas, and you may only park in designated areas. Parking at the zoo may be limited depending on demand, time of year, events in the area, and other variables.
There is a separate entry fee for Irvine Regional Park (charged per vehicle) and an entry fee for the zoo itself. Generally, park admission per vehicle is $3 on weekdays and $5 on weekends, and zoo admission is an unheard of $2 per person for everyone age 3 and over. Really, that’s a steal. We usually make a small donation in addition to paying admission.
You can take an audio tour of the zoo without buying or renting special equipment; call (714) 481-0355 and you will be given access to the O.C. Zoo audio tour. Cell phone tours are free and playing the tour over your cell phone speakers for others in your party to hear is encouraged.
Family friendly zoo options include a storytime area, an Interpretive Program Center, plus a children’s zoo.
The Orange County Zoo has deep roots. In 1905, a breeder named J.A. Turner began breeding red foxes in the area. A decade and a half later more people were contributing to a “small collection” of wildlife, a corral was built, and more animals were added to the group. By 1935 alligators, mule deer, and birds were added; enclosures for these animals were also added.
The Orange County Zoo as it is known today would open in 1985; it was branded as the Irvine Park Zoo then, and the zoo is now staffed and operated by county employees.
Back in 2013, a development program was introduced to enhance the zoo’s features. One result of that planning was the creation of a modular zoo system that could be adjusted to create multiple displays with natural features and fencing to protect animals and zoo attendees alike.
It wasn’t all display-based; the very first improvements under that plan debuted in 2019; a restroom, entry plaza, and emergency backup power system were all rolled out as the initial upgrades. Also included in the plan; larger habitats for the animals living in the facility.
Today, the O.C. Zoo includes the ability to view many of the animals listed above, plus a barnyard/petting zoo.
About Irvine Regional Park
The zoo is located in Irvine Regional Park which has many amenities to make for a fun trip to the zoo. Features include BBQ and picnic areas, a lake, concessions stands, bike and paddle boats, walking paths, pony rides, horse rentals, nature center and much more. Seasonal events like the Easter Eggstravaganza, Pumpkin Patch and Christmas Train make for a fun filled time in addition to the zoo.
Best Petting Zoos Best Family Friendly Farms To Visit Irvine Regional Park Best Regional Parks in Orange County Orange County Wilderness Preserves Irvine Lake
Joe Wallace has been covering real estate, mortgage and financial topics since 1995. His work has appeared on ABC, The Pentagon Channel, Veteran.com plus a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.