In a city so devoted to taking care of animals, it’s no wonder that Austinites are always seeking new ways to connect with local and exotic critters at petting zoos, animal farms and habitats. Some of the best things to do in Austin involve getting in touch with nature and its inhabitants, whether that’s going on the city’s top hikes or wandering through Austin’s best parks and gardens. Want to pet llamas and longhorns in their natural environment? Or chill with a coterie of cats? These animal havens will do just fine.
Petting zoos, farms and habitats in Austin
Bringing a slice of deep-sea life to North Austin, this aquatic playground offers 35 exhibits in which tropical and cold-water fish swim alongside larger sea creatures. Past the “shipwrecked” boat packed with sea anemones, you’ll see large tanks full of shrimp, nautiluses and a giant jellyfish swirling under color-changing black lights. Kids can touch and feed stingrays, leopard sharks and starfish in three large tanks and encounter land animals like chameleons, lizards, parrots and a giant tortoise.
Escape the urban throng and get up close and personal with botanicals and beasts at this Zilker Park oasis. The center’s zoo provides a permanent home for rescued wildlife and former pets—from small amphibians to hawks and owls to porcupines, coyotes and foxes. At the visitors’ center, taxidermied animals, a working beehive, and various bones, shells, skulls and animal skins lend themselves to closer inspection.
Thanks to a late-night light-bulb moment and a successful Kickstarter campaign, Rebecca Gray channeled her love of furry felines into Austin’s first cat café. The nearly two dozen fur balls in residence are up for adoption through the Austin Humane Society, save for the blue-collared permanent cats. Curious kitties can interact with and experience the residents’ purrsonalities in a laid-back environment, while coffee and vegan bites are served in the outdoor trailer.
The working 100-acre farm in Manor prides itself on a hands-on approach: Visitors are encouraged to feed and groom many of the 250 domestic farm animals; take hayrides to the bison and ostrich pastures; and watch milking demonstrations with Bella the Jersey cow. An outdoor enclosure houses goats, pigs, horses and rare miniature mules, and you can get up close to salamanders, snakes and smaller reptiles in the amphibian house. The ever-popular Saturday Spring Family Tour Days offer front-row seats to the farm’s newest arrivals: baby sheep, goats and llamas.
Set within the lush Walnut Creek Greenbelt, this 90-acre living-history farm shares the pitfalls and pleasures of 19th-century Texas farm life. Visitors won’t find set guides or routines here: Walk freely through period homes, stores and three farms where reenactors tend crops and livestock or perform everyday chores. In addition to local wildlife—bobcats, coyotes and beefy longhorns—you’ll find photo ops with chickens, pigs, cows and bunnies at the big, red Scarborough Barn on the Cotton Planters Farm.