How often do city children have an opportunity to feel the gently beating heart of a tiny baby chick, the cool, unexpectedly dry scales of a python or the wiry fur of a mountain goat?
With few exceptions, children delight in a bumpy ride atop a tortoise, a side-by-side swim with a harmless shark or the nuzzling lips of a goat.
Here's a guide to selected places around Southern California where children may come in close contact with creatures domesticated and wild.
Except where noted, there is no additional charge for admission to the petting zoos.
Cabrillo Marine Museum, 3720 Stephen White Drive, San Pedro, (213) 548-7562. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m until Sept. 30. Closed Mondays. Touch tank open 10 a.m.-noon, 2-2:30 p.m., 3:30-4 p.m. in summer. Free admission.
There are 35 aquariums with 3,500 live creatures, where visitors may observe sea life in a natural environment. The touch-tank in the rear of the museum contains 5,000 gallons of sea water pumped into a replica of a California coastal tide pool. Local tide-pool residents that may be gently touched are sea anemones, sea stars with crusty shells and sea hairs that quiver like gelatin.
Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 827-1776. Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m.-midnight, Saturdays 10 a.m-1 a.m. Admission: adults $14.95, children 3-11 $10.95, children under 2 free.
"Pig Pen's Petting Zoo" is in Camp Snoopy, one of four theme areas in the park. More than 150 animals, including mules, fallow deer, goats and calves wander freely in the 16,000-square-foot area. There's also an antique mule-drawn carrousel and pony rides. In the open-air theater there are live animal shows Saturday-Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., 12:30, 2, 3 and 5 p.m. with Colossus, the miniature horse; Horatio, the great horned owl and other animal stars. Here's a chance to touch wild animals under close supervision. Children love riding on Herbie, the 450-pound Galapagos tortoise.
Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Griffith Park, (213) 666-4090. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Admission: adults $4.50, children 5-15 $1.50, children under 5 free.
The children's zoo occupies more than four tree-shaded acres where children may feed and touch the animals wandering around: Barbados sheep, African pygmy goats, geese and tortoises. A handful of feed costs 5 cents. Supervised touching of a burrowing owl, boa constrictor or python and barn owl in the "Discovery Circle" at 11 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Don't forget the penned miniature horses and Southeast Asian pot-bellied pigs.
Magic Mountain, Magic Mountain Parkway and Interstate 5, Valencia, (818) 992-0884. Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m.-midnight. Admission: adults $15.95, children 48 inches tall and under $7.95, under 2 years free, seniors 55 and over $8.50.
The red farmhouse and lake mark the Foghorn Leghorn Animal Farm and Petting Zoo, which has more than 55 species of domestic and exotic animals. Tame goats and sheep, llamas and miniature horses may be petted. Exotics like the leopard, tiger, boa constrictor and ferret are kept penned and brought out for supervised see-and-touch at the Animal Chatter educational shows held in the Valencia Falls Theater at noon, 1, 3, 4, and 4:45 p.m.
Marineland, 6610 Palos Verdes Drive S., Rancho Palos Verdes, (213) 377-1571. Summer hours: daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Admission: adults $10.95, children 3-11 $7.95, children under 3 free, seniors 60 and older $8.
Set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this aquatic theme park offers various animal shows. Children and adults in the audience may take part in the performances by touching bottlenose dolphins or meeting sea lions. Some adults are chosen to "shake hands" or get "kissed" by Orky and Corky at the killer whale shows. Marineland also has a swim-through aquarium, the Baja Reef, which is open from about 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For an additional $4, swimmers (children accompanied by parents must weigh at least 50 pounds, unaccompanied children must weigh more than 70 pounds) are provided with a swimsuit, wet suit, mask, fins and snorkel, and are instructed in their use. You can swish through the filtered ocean water of the 85-yard aquarium, mingling with more than 1,000 tropical and local fish, including Garibaldi, harmless leopard sharks and shovel-headed guitar fish, some more than two feet long.
Moorpark College Exotic Animal Compound, 7075 Campus Drive (west end of California 118), Moorpark, (805) 529-2324. Admission to animal shows: adults $2, children $1. Petting zoo admission: 50 cents. Petting zoo and pony ride hours: Sundays 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Shows Sundays 3 p.m.