5 great places to get close to farm animals and marine life in the Bay Area

How complex are the personalities of donkeys? Find out by going to Palo Alto’s Cornelis Bol Park and visiting Perry, a miniature Jerusalem donkey who – true story – was the model for Eddie Murphy’s “Donkey” character in “Shrek.”

“He is very feisty, quite opinionated and holds grudges, if he gets mad at you. It will be a while before he pays attention to you again,” says Jenny Kiratli, lead handler for the Barron Park Donkey Project. “But then he’ll get over it – he’s very sweet and lets me pet him now.”

Those who value this kind of exclusive animal insight are lucky to live in the Bay Area, where close-up interactions abound from sheep to bunnies to goats to, uh, crabs. Here are five such places to get personal with animals.

Perry and Buddy graze in a corral at Cornelis Bol Park in Palo Alto.
Perry and Buddy graze in a corral at Cornelis Bol Park in Palo Alto. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Cornelis Bol Park

The donkeys at this small park reside in a pasture along the bike path. Visitors can’t enter the pasture but the donkeys are “very pet-able, if they are at the gate,” says Kiratli.

Aside from Perry, there’s Buddy. The two have a sort of “Odd Couple” rivalry going on, with challenges to alpha-maleness that occasionally get physical. But in their hearts they’re good eggs. Buddy is “very sweet” and “pretty easygoing,” Kiratli says.

On Sundays between 10 and 11 am, handlers walk the donkeys around the park and stop at the play structure. And at 5 pm on those days, the donkeys are fed at their gate, and you can hear donkey facts and stories about their lives and help hold their food bowl. (Visitors themselves should never feed the donkeys, though, as they are on a special diet and even carrots and apples can harm them.)

Details: 3590 Laguna Ave., Palo Alto; barronparkdonkeys.org

A young girl picks up one of the ducklings in the pen at the Tilden Little Farm in Berkeley.
A young girl picks up one of the ducklings in the pen at Berkeley’s Tilden Little Farm. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Tilden Little Farm

Children and animal-loving adults are encouraged to interact with the denizens of this working farm, which is devoted to the preservation of rare crops and livestock. Depending on the time of year, visitors can watch shorthorn cattle getting milked or a sow tending to piglets. Or they can channel Lennie from “Of Mice and Men” and pet fluffy Dutch rabbits, while learning surprising facts like rabbits eat their own poop for nutrients and have digestive systems that make up 40 percent of their body.

The farm holds a variety of kid-friendly activities, such as tending to the chickens and story time with classic barnyard tales. Best of all, you can feed most of the animals with celery and lettuce, if you bring it yourself.

Details: Inside Tilden Regional Park at the north end of Central Park Drive, Berkeley; 510-544-2233, ebparks.org/parks/tilden-nature-area

A barred surfperch swims in the Open Bay aquarium during the Crab Cove Visitor Center's Holiday Traditions Open House in Alameda.
A barred surfperch swims by an aquarium window during the Crab Cove Visitor Center’s Holiday Traditions Open House in Alameda. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Crab Cove Visitor Center

Who says people don’t deserve love, too? At this small but charming establishment, visitors can ogle marine creatures in an 800-gallon aquarium and engage in activities like building a “crab from the inside out” or getting a “lug worm’s view of the mudflats.” There are feeding times on weekends to watch crabs and fish scrabble for goodies, and educational programs with themes like “Amazing Jellies” and “Tern Time.”

The fun continues outside at the Crab Cove Marine Protected Area where, if the tide is right, you can observe a variety of shoreline critters going about their important duties. No disturbing or collecting them, though.

Details: 1252 McKay Ave., Alameda; 510-544-3187, ebparks.org/parks/visitor-centers/crab-cove

Ardenwood Historic Farm

Want to know what East Bay farming was like 100-plus years ago? Ardenwood satisfies with a simulacrum of life from that time, including a blacksmith shop, volunteers in historic costumes and tons of farm animals. The composition of the menagerie regularly changes but has included goats, cows, sheep, rabbits, turkeys and free-roaming peacocks.

On certain days, visitors can feed the animals and check the chickens for eggs. Parents looking to drain their kids’ energy for an easy bedtime might enroll them in a physical activity like hand-cracking corn for animal feed, say, or harvesting fresh hay to pile into a giant stack. (Note there is a small fee for entry.)

Details: 34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont; 510-544-2797, ebparks.org/parks/ardenwood

Owner Dee Harley pets her goats at Harley Farms in Pescadero.  Harley raises a herd of American Alpine goats which produce award-winning cheeses, goat-milk products and the farm offers tours and classes.
Owner Dee Harley pets her goats at Harley Farms in Pescadero. Harley raises a herd of American Alpine goats which produce award-winning cheeses, goat-milk products and the farm offers tours and classes. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

Harley Farms Goat Dairy

goats. goats. More goats. Folks who love these mischievous, rectangular-pupiled animals will thoroughly enjoy Pescadero’s Harley Farms, where you can drop by any day to observe them chowing down in their pasture.

Enthusiasts might consider paying $55 for a longer tour that goes deep into the farm with its milking goats, Anatolian-shepherd guardian dogs and an alpaca named “Gentleman Jim.” During the spring, you’re sure to see bounding baby kids – both of the goat and human variety. And at the end, there’s the farm shop with its abundance of goat-derived products, from body lotions and soap to cheesecake and chevre.

Details: 205 North St., Pescadero; harleyfarms.com

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