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Who doesn't love animals? The Gilroy region of California is home to some of the best establishments for animal viewing both in their parks and in their zoos and ranches. For the visiting animal-lover, be sure to pay a visit to these fine animal hotspots...

Monterey Bay Aquarium

monterey baycreativecommons.org/Graeme Churchard

Visitors can explore a previously hidden universe in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. From marine life that dwells in shallow tide pools or lush kelp underwater forests to the depths of the vast ocean, visitors can experience it all.

The three million litre indoor ocean at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an experience like no other. They host constantly changing special exhibits that feature marine life from around the world as well as consistent showpieces like octopi, hammerhead sharks and playful sea otters.

Visitors should be sure not to miss their jewel-box exhibits that reveal the delicate beauty of both colourful sea creatures and the bountiful land found beneath the ocean.

Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Centre

owlcreativecommons.org/ USFS Region 5

The Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Centre strives to provide not only an affordable outlet for visitors to learn about the animals that span our planet, but also a sustainable and conservation-centered outdoor adventure for their visitors. They take great pride in trying to educate their visitors on the majesty and fragility of the wild through their interactive exhibits. Inside visitors can view a wide variety of mammals, reptiles and birds, many of which are temporary guests of the zoo until they can return to the wild, such as jaguars, turtles, penguins and a whole army of different monkeys.

Bright Ranch

horsecreativecommons.org/ cjwoolridge

For those who want a more interactive experience with the local animals, they should saddle up and head to Bright Ranch in the small town of San Martin. This working horse ranch is nestled in the foothills and vineyards of the southern Santa Clara Valley and serves as the major outfitter for those looking to explore the kilometres of equestrian trails that run through the massive Henry C Coe State Park.

However, visitors don't have to be horse riding veterans ready to head out on the long trails. Bright Ranch offers horse riding lessons for both beginners and advanced learners. Those who choose to tour the ranch can learn basic horse training and care techniques and even try their hand at rounding up some of the ranch's Texas Longhorn cattle.

Silver Oaks Ostrich Ranch

ostichcreativecommons.org/ Rennett Stowe

At two metres tall and 180 kilograms, the prehistoric-looking ostrich is one of the last creatures one would expect to find on a ranch in Gilroy. However, at Silver Oaks Ostrich Ranch, that is exactly what you'll see.

Their range hosts a whole herd of these fast-running birds, ruling the land with an iron beak. Visitors can come and learn all about this bird. Silver Oaks Ranch also hosts a herd of Belted Galloway cattle from Scotland as well as some pet miniature donkeys from Sicily. Children can enjoy riding the miniature donkeys, petting baby ostriches and holding massive ostrich eggs in the petting zoo, while adults can pick up some USDA-certified beef and ostrich meat inside the gift shop, as well as get tips on how to cook it.

Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch

deercreativecommons.org/ Don DeBold

Those who have an itch to see California's indigenous wildlife out where it belongs - in the wild - should look no further than Gilroy's favourite park.

The Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch spans 1,600 hectares of beautiful rolling foothills and portions of the Diablo Mountain Range. Within there are 23 kilometres of foot, horse and mountain biking trails that wind through the oak-studded canyons, skip across grassy ridge lines and in general provide spectacular views of the southern Santa Clara Valley.

Those on the trail of wildlife in the wild should start their journey at the Coyote Lake Visitor's Centre where they can view the exhibits of local wildlife and get recommendations on where to find them. The wildlife exhibits also detail local fish that call Coyote Lake home and detail good fishing spots, making the Visitor's Centre a must, not just for the animal-lover, but the avid fisherman as well.

Those who avidly hike the park or take the interactive tours led by park rangers can expect to see a variety of different rabbit species, white-tailed deer, beaver, muskrat, several species of fox and wild pig. While a rarity, big cats like mountain lion, puma and bobcats have been known to visit the area. However, visitors should definitely not go seeking them out.

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