While the occasional wayward sea lion has made an appearance in the Sacramento River, and some backyards in the area have been graced with a hawk sighting, traveling skunk or raccoon, in general, if you want to see wildlife, you need to know where to go. The Sacramento area boasts a zoo filled with exotic animals, a spot perfect for watching birds, a raptor rehabilitation facility, a fish hatchery, wildlife refuges and nature centers, offering more than enough options for those looking to put some wild in their life. Here are the best places to spot wildlife in the Sacramento area.
3930 West Land Park Drive
Hours: Nov to Jan – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Feb to Oct – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Price: General admission $11, $7 for children ages 2-11, kids 1 and under are free.
Reviews, Directions & More Info
Locals looking to see exotic animals know to look no further than the Sacramento Zoo, where observers can see Red pandas, orangutan, chimpanzee, lemur, giraffe, hyena, anteater, kangaroo, emu, lion, tiger, reptiles, parrots, owls, and much more. The Sacramento Zoo is home to over 450 native, rare and endangered animals, and offers all sorts of educational programs, including the ever-popular overnight Safari (during the summer). General admission is $11 for adults, $7 for children ages 2-11, and kids younger than two are free.
Insider tip: Parking is free in the park surrounding the zoo.
Nimbus Fish Hatchery
2001 Nimbus Road
Gold River, CA
Hours: Daily – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Directions & More Info
The American River is home to salmon and steelhead and offers runs that both fish use during their spawning journeys. At the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, observers can watch fish climb ladders installed mid-September for spawning and open when the water temperature dips below 60 degrees (usually early November). The Hatchery’s 20-step ladder sees thousands of salmon and steelhead during this time, and once the fish reach the top of the ladder, they fill a holding pond, where they are then sorted and spawned by hand. Fish are then incubated and reared in the hatchery, then raised in ponds until they are released into the Sacramento River system.
Insider tip: The Nimbus Fish Hatchery sells fish food you can feed the fish, which help them
California Raptor Center
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
One Shields Avenue
Hours: Monday to Friday – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Directions & More Info
Raptors big and small can often be spotted in Sacramento, but you’re probably never going to get as close to one as you can at the California Raptor Center (CRC), where injured and orphaned raptors (about 200 per year) are tended to and, if all goes well, eventually released. Among the raptors treated and/or living at the CRC are hawks, eagles, kites, falcons, vultures, and owls. The facility even boasts a specially-designed enclosure, which allows the raptors to fly before release, ensuring they are strong enough to handle it. CRC’s free self-guided tours allow you to read up on each raptor and its personal story, and the Center offers educational programs covering raptor biology, their role in the ecosystem, how humans are impacting their natural habitats, and how we can help them survive and thrive.
Insider tip: If you’re really into raptors, you can get hands-on training in the care and
management of birds of prey by becoming a CRC volunteer.
Vic Fazio Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
County Road 32A
Hours: Sun up to sun down
Directions & More Info
If you like your birds in flocks, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area fits the bill. Here you might see White Pelicans fly in formation before landing in protected wetlands, or black-necked stilts on the shores. Waterfowl, raptors, and many other birds of a feather pass through or make their home here. Even herons, egrets and ibis—oh my! These wetlands are also home to mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Free, self-guided car and foot tours offer plenty of sights, so be sure to bring your binoculars and a camera.
Insider tip: If you’re not fearful of bats, be sure to check out the bats flying up over the freeway every evening from about June through early September at sunset. It’s amazing, if a little creepy!
Effie Yaw Nature Center
2850 San Lorenzo Way
Hours: Feb to Oct – Wed to Sun 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Nov to Jan – Wed to Sun 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Closed Mon – Tues
Directions and more
Effie Yaw Nature Center has both paved and unpaved trails winding through the 77-acre preserve, where walkers can spot magnificent oaks and beautiful meadows, as well as deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, rabbits, snakes, raptors, waterfowl and more. Picnics are allowed near the Nature Center, which boasts interactive exhibits, native plant and resident animal education, and a gift shop.
CBS Sacramento Note: If you or someone in your party is in a wheelchair, contact the Center ahead of time for additional information about accessible areas.
Still haven’t gotten your fill of nature? Head to Maidu Museum & Historic Site, Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Cache Creek Conservancy, or Bobelaine Audubon Sanctuary.