🔒Get your kids up close and personal with adorable, extraordinary animals at these wild Houston-area experiences

File image of a sloth (Pixabay)

HOUSTON – There are several animal experiences in the Houston area you can embark on to get your kids up close with extraordinary and adorable critters.

Here are 11 great ones:

🐧 Moody Gardens

Penguins in the Aquarium Pyramid at Moody Gardens (copyright 2017 Robie Capps Photography, Moody Gardens)

At the Aquarium Pyramid at Moody Gardens, a meandering path winds through zones of massive tanks showcasing the biodiversity of various ocean environments. Marvel at the acrobatic feats of the seals, laugh at the playful antics of the penguins, and venture through a clear tunnel that cuts through a gigantic tank filled with several kinds of sharks. Touch tanks scattered throughout the aquarium feature jellyfish, stingrays and crustaceans.

For a look behind the scenes, consider purchasing tickets to the penguin experience. During the 45-minute session you’ll meet a penguin and watch it paint an adorable little masterpiece. Afterwards, catch “Shark: A 4-D Experience” at the 4D Special FX Theater. While the film is underway, you’ll be bombarded by seat sensors, leg ticklers, wind, scent and water splashes.

When you emerge from the theater, head for the Rainforest Pyramid. In the sun-drenched enclosure, you can explore the exotic flora and fauna of the world’s rainforests. Here, several animals roam freely, including the Cotton-Top Tamarin, White-Faced Saki monkeys, sloths and an array of birds. Other animals on display include Giant Amazon River Otters, an ocelot, snakes, Komodo dragons and bats.

📍 One Hope Boulevard, Galveston, TX 77554

📞 (409) 744-4673

💻 www.moodygardens.com/attractions/

🐊 Gator Country Adventure Park

Alligators at Gator Country Adventure Park outside Beaumont. (Photo courtesy of Gator Country)

A sanctuary for “nuisance alligators,” Gator Country Adventure Park outside Beaumont is home to more than 450 alligators, crocodiles and other reptiles, including snakes, lizards, tortoises and caimans. Visitors can gander at hundreds of gators living in and around nine fenced ponds across the facility.

Two creatures at this site are so intimidating, they’re actually assigned their own ponds – Big Al and Big Tex. Big Al measures 13 feet, four inches long. He was the largest gator in captivity in America until the arrival of Big Tex, who measures an inch shy of 14 feet.

In addition to watching alligators, you can snap photos with them, hold them (at least the small ones), wade with them and feed them hot dogs with a cane pole.

📍 21159 FM 365, Beaumont, TX 77705

📞 (409) 794-9453

💻 www.gatorrescue.com/

🐢 Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve

At the Houston Interactive Aquarium and Animal Preserve in Humble, visitors can touch, feed and learn about various mammals, sea life, birds, and exotic and endangered animals.

The aquarium and animal preserve also offers several underwater adventures. You can snorkel with stingrays, sharks, and tropical fish.

*The Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve is not an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium.

📍 5440 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Humble, TX 77396

📞 (281) 442-7000

💻 www.houstonaquariumtx.com/

🦌 Armand Bayou Nature Center

Wildlife seen from the Bayou Ranger II at the Armand Bayou Nature Center. (Image provided by the Armand Bayou Nature Center)

Considered the largest urban wilderness preserve in the country, the 2,500-acre Armand Bayou Nature Center in Pasadena consists of wetlands forest, prairie and marsh habitats. which are home to more than 370 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

ABNC has five miles of hiking trails, exhibits, and offers field trips, scout programs, birding, a bison viewing platform, guided night hikes, bat hikes and kayak and pontoon boat tours.

📍 8500 Bay Area Blvd, Pasadena, TX 77507

📞 (281) 474-2551

💻 https://www.abnc.org/

🐔 Blessington Farms

This farm in Fort Bend County has numerous family-friendly attractions, but its most popular is its adorable animals. The farm offers visitors a chance to interact with its chickens, goats, lambs and barnyard dogs. There’s also an aviary, reptile grotto and a camel viewing area.

Once you’ve had plenty of quality time with all the cute critters, hop aboard the barrel train, traverse slide mountain or go wild on the massive jump pad.

📍 510 Chisolm Trail, Wallis, TX 77485

📞 (832) 444-8717

💻 https://blessingtonfarms.com

🦋 Cockrell Butterfly Center

Cockrell Butterfly Center (Briana Zamora)

Want to watch butterflies? It may seem counterintuitive, but we suggest a trip indoors -- well, sort of. For butterflies galore, flit over to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and breeze through its massive collection of arthropods (members of the arthropoda, the largest phylum in the animal kingdom, which includes butterflies, spiders, centipedes, scorpions, beetles, and cockroaches).

See preserved and living specimens in the museum’s Entomology Hall before taking a trip through the walk-through butterfly habitat. The spectacular, three-story structure has a 50-foot waterfall, several trees, tropical flowers, leafy bushes, a pool, some tortoises and even an iguana named Charro -- oh, and obviously, hundreds and hundreds of butterflies.

At any given time, about 1,500 to 2,000 winged beauties representing some 50 to 60 of the world’s largest butterfly species call the rain forest conservatory home. Here, they live out their brief lives among their favorite plants, unthreatened by predators. Butterfly enthusiasts can stroll through the glass greenhouse and observe them swooping, sunbathing, fluttering on fruit trays and feasting on soggy bananas. If you’re lucky (and you stand still long enough) a resident butterfly might even land on your shoulder -- Just remember to keep that swat reflex under control.

📍 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, TX 77030

📞 (713) 639-4629

💻 www.hmns.org/cockrell-butterfly-center/

🦒 Houston Zoo

New Giraffe - Zawadi (Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo)

The Houston Zoo got its start in Hermann Park in 1922. Fast-forward a century and the zoo, now a popular 55-acre tourist attraction, cares for some 6,000 animals and draws an estimated two million visitors annually. The zoo has seen several incredible upgrades in recent years, including the Texas Wetlands habitat and the Pantanal habitat. In 2023, the newest habitat - The Galapagos Islands - is slated to open.

Zoo guests have the opportunity to feed the zoo’s Masai giraffe family at the Giraffe Feeding Platform. Giraffe Feedings happen daily at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

The zoo offers several additional animal encounters. For a fee, visitors can feed and interact with the zoo animals. Notable experiences include sea lion painting, elephant bathing and a cheetah walk.

📍 6200 Hermann Park Dr, Houston, TX 77030

📞 (713) 533-6500

💻 www.houstonzoo.org/

🦘TGR Exotics Wildlife Park

This wildlife park in Spring, Texas, leads guided tours offering close encounters with exotic animals, including sloths, snakes, and a bear. Aside from the general tour, there’s a toddler tour, and reptile and sloth encounters, among other offerings.

📍 510 Chisolm Trail, Wallis, TX 77485

📞 (832) 350-8807

💻 https://www.tgrexotics.com

🦓 Bayou Wildlife Zoo

Children feeding a zebra at Bayou Wildlife Zoo (Photo courtesy of Bayou Wildlife Zoo)

At the Bayou Wildlife Zoo in Alvin, Texas, a tram takes visitors on an 80-acre, guided tour. During the ride, you’ll see several types of deer, antelopes, buffalos, camels, zebras and other exotic animals. Grab a feed bucket and you’re sure to attract quite a few animals along the way.

After your tour, stop by the zoo’s barnyards to view a wallaby, pygmy goats, lemurs, giraffes and more.

*The Bayou Wildlife Zoo is not an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium.

📍 5050 FM517, Alvin, TX 77511

📞 (409) 904-2525

💻 www.bayouwildlifezoo.com

🐓 Old MacDonald’s Farm

Image of goats at Old MacDonald's Farm (Courtesy of Old MacDonald's Farm)

This 15-acre, family-operated farm in Humble, Texas has a petting zoo with an array of farm animals. Expect to see and/or interact with sheep, pigs, horses, llamas, alpacas, goats, rabbits, chickens, Texas Longhorn, donkeys and more.

When you’re done meandering through the petting zoo, head to the OK Corral for a pony ride or hop aboard Old MacDonald’s Express and ride the rails.

📍 3203 Farm to Market 1960 Rd E, Humble, TX 77338

📞 (281) 446-4001

💻 www.oldmacdonaldsfarmtexas.com/

🐊 Crocodile Encounter

Crocodile Encounter is a fully licensed and insured USDA zoological facility with a focus on science and wildlife education. Marketed as “Houston’s only reptile zoo,” Crocodile Encounter boasts that it houses the largest group of crocodiles on display in the state of Texas.

Here, you will see crocodiles and alligators swimming and sunning. During the 90-minute tour, guides will bring crocs right to you for a feeding demonstration.

In addition to crocodiles many other animals call Crocodile Encounter home, including numerous species of snakes, lizards, and turtles and even a few mammals, including lemurs, nutria, pigs, goats, antelope, kangaroos, and bison.

📍 23231 County Rd 48, Angleton, TX 77515

📞 (281) 595-2232

💻 https://crocodileencounter.com

Parents, have you taken your kiddos to any of these animal excursions? What did your kids love the most? Share your experiences and recommendations in the comment section.

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.