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Santa Ana Zoo is a Zoo to Remember



The Santa Ana Zoo-One of SoCal’s Must-See Attractions

By C. MacDonald



Santa Ana, Calif.--Many decades ago, my family was visiting grandma in Santa Ana, when we happened to eat breakfast in a local restaurant. Sitting next to us was a small, wiry, jovial character, who proudly told us about the monkeys roaming freely in his house. He proposed we come and see. And we did. We followed this captivating chap back to his East First Street abode, which turned out to be a 16-room mansion.


Sure enough, several active monkeys greeted us with mutual curiosity as we entered Judge Joseph Edward Prentice’s home. He called them by name and even had a few do tricks, like somersaults. Being a kid, I thought this was HUGE! It was something I never forgot. Recently, I had the chance to check up on an even bigger attraction the kind old judge helped start.


He gifted the City 16 acres of orange groves across the street from his “monkey house,” thus beginning the sensational Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park. But there was an intriguing catch to this grant: His honor insisted that at least 50 monkeys be on the premises at all times.


Today, the Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park (1801 E. Chestnut Ave., near First St. off I-5) has expanded to 20 acres, focusing on South America, with magnificent monkeys, a take-your-breath-away rain forest, several endangered species, and even a Zoofari Train Ride (pulled by a locomotive that once took me on joyful rides at Santa’s Village in the Santa Cruz Mountains. However, the engine has been refurbished by zoo friends to a more environmentally-friendly electric motor).


Aside from the mobile monkeys, my favorite animals are the swamp wallaby, Bald Eagle and white-handed gibbon. My favorite spot is the Amazon’s Edge, where you’ll be mesmerized by the lush island setting and incredible, refreshing waterfall. It’s like being in the jungles of Brazil. The black-necked swans and howler monkeys add to the faraway ambiance you feel and will never forget, although it does make you temporarily forget you’re in an urban area.


My wife’s favorite spot is the Amazon Aviary, where you’ll see spectacular plants and all sorts of colorful birds, like the Scarlet Ibis and Bluecrowned Not Not. No wonder the zoo’s slogan is “Real World. Real Close.” Indeed!


Every guest becomes a kid again in awe of the clever critters and lovely landscape at what’s turned into one of Southern California’s “must see” attractions. Last year, more than 270,000 folks enjoyed the grandeur of it all. Yet, it’s one of the least expensive entertainment tickets (check it’s exceptional interactive website for pricing info. SAVINGS TIP: By becoming a Friend of the Zoo, you can go back again and again.)


I’d like to pay special tribute to this responsible zoo for its efforts to not only entertain but educate everyone about Endangered Species (ES). Among its “ES” are ring-tailed lemurs, crested capuchins, margay cats and lemur leap frogs.


The zoo also participates in Species Survival Plans (SSP), helping “ES” through captive breeding, habitat preservation, public education and scientific research. Some of the SSP that have homes at the zoo are cotton-top tamarins, black & white colobus and ring-tailed lemurs. The zoo also supports the Brazilian Ocelot Consortium.


One of the most unique rides in America, and my son’s favorite, is the “Endangered Species Carrousel.” Zoo Board Member Steve McGuigan said kids helped select the endangered animals featured  on the very special merry-go-round. Every rider even gets a full color trading card describing a creature and why it is endangered.


Through the wonderful efforts of the caring zoo employees and their many enthusiastic friends, the World is a kinder, more understanding place. Oh, there’s still a lot of monkeying around in this “urban escape paradise,” but Judge Prentice would have it no other way. 


Location: Santa Ana Zoo, 1801 East Chestnut Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92701.

Call for recorded information: (714) 835-7484



Hours: Opens daily at 10 a.m. Closes at 4 p.m. (between Memorial Day & Labor Day zoo closes at 5 p.m. on Saturdays & Sundays).  Closed Dec. 25, Jan. 1, and the 4th Saturday in August.

Cost: $2.50 - $8, kids under 3 free (subject to change)



Craig MacDonald, contributing editor at Sierra Heritage Magazine, is a Pulitzer Prize nominee who has authored many books.








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