Unforgettable Animal Encounters in the San Diego Backcountry


A wild deer in the San Diego Mountain town of Julian, CA - Jennifer Gutierrez
A wild deer in Julian, CA - Jennifer Gutierrez

The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are two of San Diego’s most well-known animal attractions. They are not the only way one can learn about animals, though. I’ve rounded up a few one-of-a-kind animal attractions in the San Diego backcountry. Some of them are even free!


The Judith A Bassett (JAB) Canid Education and Conservation Center

In memory of Judith A Bassett, David and Amy Bassett founded the JAB Canid Education and Conservation Center in Santa Ysabel, CA. The center is focused on both wolf and dog-like animals (canines) and fox-like animals (vulpines). Here you can find Russian domesticated foxes and many other gorgeous animals. Visitors can schedule appointments for close encounters.


Lions, Tigers, and Bears

Lions, Tigers, and bears is a 93-acre animal sanctuary for rescued big cats, bears, and other exotic animals. The San Diego County community of Alpine offers a spectacular landscape that just happens to offer the perfect habitat for the more than 60 animals that now reside here. They offer a variety of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Reservations are required.


California Wolf Center

California Wolf Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping wild wolves return to their natural habitat. The center offers a variety of public and private tours (reservations required for all tours).


Barn Vintage Marketplace

This is a popular antique shop. They just also happen to have emus! You can find Daisy and Duke just to the right of the barn near the parking lot.


Oasis Camel Dairy

Camels in San Diego? Yes, that's right! Once a month, the Oasis Camel Dairy holds Open Farm Days. You can feed, pet, and ride the camels. How cool is that? The camels even have their own skincare line made right on the farm. You can buy Milk Soap, Camel Milk Lotion, Camel Milk Bath Bombs, Camel Milk Lip Balms, and Camel Milk Serum. Check their website for more details.


Integrity Stables

What better way to see the backcountry than from the back of a horse? I can't think of one. Integrity Stables is owned and operated by Jennifer Smith. Jennifer offers riding lessons for all ages and abilities. For more information, call (760) 484-2929.


Children’s Nature Retreat Foundation

This is a local educational sanctuary that is home to over 120 different animals. Encounters allow visitors to learn how to care for animals in an up-close experience. The facility allows a maximum of 100 visitors per day, so reservations are necessary.


Wildlife Watching

The San Diego Backcountry is home to many wonderful native animals. Bighorn sheep can be spotted in the Borrego State Park. Lake Cuyamaca has frequent bald eagle, duck, deer, and fish sightings. Coyotes, mountain lions, raccoons, skunks, and other wildlife are frequently seen by backcountry locals. If you know where and when to look, you are sure to have a wonderful experience.