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The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is a great family friend destination in Central California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's an easy stop before or after Yosemite or Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

Reese loves animals. He wanted to be a zookeeper when he grew up. (He’s still growing.) We both enjoy sharing that passion with Declan. Today, I’m sharing a hidden gem in Central California: the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. The zoo is a good place to stop on your way to or from Yosemite or Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Or if you’re driving between Los Angeles or San Francisco. They’ve made vast improvements over the past few years that truly make this a great, family friendly destination.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Rhino Exhibit

Two Greater Horned Rhinoceros in their new exhibit.

Location

Fresno, California is located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Although, you must take the 99 freeway rather than the I-5 or you’ll miss Fresno entirely. It’s just west of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is right off the 99 freeway so it’s easy to stop by and get right back on the freeway.

History

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo has existed in one form or another since the early 1900’s. It started as a location to drop off unwanted pets. In 1965, Paul Chaffee was hired as the zoo’s first director and the zoo grew considerably under his supervision. It later took on his name. In 2005, an influx of tax dollars allowed the zoo to further expand into the wonderful facility that exists today.

The zoo is accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums which requires high standards in animal care, conservation, and safety. They are also part of the Saving Animals from Extinction Initiative that focuses on saving the most endangered species of animals.

Exhibits

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo has over 190 species of animals including elephants, lions, cheetahs, tigers, orangutans, giraffes, bears, and rhinoceroses. They also have California favorites like sea lions, harbor seals, and river otters. Plus, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

Tax funds have allowed the zoo to create several new experiences including African Adventure, Sea Lion Cove, Valley Farm, Stingray Bay, Dino Dig, Twiga Terrace, and Roo Walkabout. They also have a reptile house and several walk thru bird exhibits.

The African Adventure experience is phenomenal. The animals roam in a large open area of land and you can see them from nearly every angle. They’ve also significantly improved the food options at the African Adventure food court. It’s a lovely place to eat lunch while you watch the rhinoceroses graze.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo African Adventure

Southern White Rhinoceroses on the African Adventure plain.

Twiga Terrace is part of the African Adventure where you can feed giraffes. They built a platform so you stand eye level with the giraffes as they eat lettuce out of your hand. Kids will love this experience! There is a small fee for a feeding.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Twiga Terrace

Feeding Giraffe’s at Twiga Terrace.

Sea Lion Cove is also a recently revamped area where you can view sea lions and seals on multiple levels. Declan loves it when the seals swim right up to him in the underwater viewing area. They also have feeding shows so check the schedule when you arrive.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Sea Lion Cove

Sea Lion catching a fish at Sea Lion Cove.

Valley Farm and Stingray Bay give your kids a chance to touch and pet various animals. Declan loves chasing around the goats. They are very patient with children. He’s a little too young to reach the stingrays, but I’m sure he’ll love it when he’s older. There is also a small fee for Stingray Bay.

Special Events

Throughout the year, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo holds several events that are worth a special visit.

Breakfast with the Animals

In April, the zoo holds its annual Breakfast with the Animals. This event commemorates Earth Day. They serve a delicious breakfast and you can enjoy live entertainment like the Winged Wonders Bird Show.

Ice Cream Zoofari

In August, the zoo holds its annual Ice Cream Zoofari. We’ve gone to this event for many years until it just became too hot. (Like 113 degrees Fahrenheit last time we went!) The event takes place in the evening, but it’s in one of the hottest months of the year. There are numerous ice cream stations throughout the zoo where you can get free ice cream to cool off which is delicious. But, the animals can be hard to see during this event as they hide due to the heat. Personally, I think they should move it to December. The weather in Fresno never really gets too cold for ice cream.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Ice Cream Zoofari

My nephew Donovan enjoying the Ice Cream Zoofari several years ago.

Zoo Boo

In October, the zoo holds its annual Zoo Boo. Kids can wear costumes and go trick-or-treating at the zoo. They have live entertainment, carnival games, a pumpkin walk, and a hay maze. The event runs on weekend nights. We haven’t attended this event yet, but my Dad goes as a Stormtrooper every year. He says it’s a lot of fun.

Zoo Lights

In November and December, they hold Zoo Lights. This is our favorite special event at the zoo since we decided the Ice Cream Zoofari is too hot. This event occurs on certain weekends starting right after Thanksgiving. The entire zoo is decked out in holiday lights. They recently upgraded to LED lights so it’s even more spectacular. They have live entertainment, festive treats like hot chocolate and cookies, and Santa! Santa is only there before Christmas, but it’s a good way to get your photos with Santa if you go early.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Zoo Lights

Holiday lights around the zoo during Zoo Lights.

Final Thoughts

While the Fresno Chaffee Zoo may be small compared to zoos in larger cities, it’s well worth a visit. They have taken great care to improve the zoo for both the animals and the human visitors. If you’re looking for a pit stop in Central California, I highly recommend you check it out. It’s small enough to see in just a few hours, but big enough to leave a lasting impression on you and your kids.

For more information and tickets, visit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo website

See more of our photos from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo by following us on Instagram.

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is a hidden gem in Central California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's a great, family friendly place to stop on your way to or from Yosemite or Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.