The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park encompasses 20 acres of outdoor space in Orange County and is less than one mile from the Santa Ana Metrolink station. The Zoo opened in 1952 and has remained a beloved local destination for over 70 years. Visitors can encounter more than 50 species of animals and plants originating from primarily the Central and South America regions.
This Zoo is affectionately referred to as “The Home of the 50 Monkeys,” because the original founder Joseph Prentice included a nonnegotiable stipulation in the deed to the property requesting that there be at least 50 monkeys always kept on the premises.
In addition to the primates, there’s also a rain forest exhibit, a walk-through aviary, train rides, a “conservation carrousel,” and an educational amphitheater.
The park traditionally hosts special events to engage the community such as “Boo at the Zoo,” around Halloween, and an annual Earth Day “Party for the Planet” event each April. Metrolink spoke with Santa Ana Zoo Manager Ethan Fisher about the Zoo’s history, and for the insider details on the dozens of types of monkeys.
“A favorite part of the Zoo for me is its ability to connect people with nature,” said Fisher. “As Orange County has urbanized so much, we get removed from nature. We’re a little oasis in the middle of the city.”
The Zoo is a welcoming environment for visitors of all ages and backgrounds to learn about nature.
“We’re a great destination for families, especially families with small children,” he said. “We’re a great ‘first zoo’ to take a young child to – but that’s not to say the Zoo isn’t well-suited for everyone else! It’s a beautiful place to come and see all of the animals and learn.”
Fisher’s team is always seeking out new ways to engage the community and create new exhibits for guests to enjoy.
“We have a program called ‘Community Connections’ which is specifically geared toward Santa Ana residents, and it’s designed to provide kids with access to the Zoo and encourage an interest in the sciences.” he said.
Fisher dives deeper into the origins of the Zoo’s most notorious long-time residents – and humans’ closest animal relatives – the lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys and apes.
“The monkeys are an especially large part of the Zoo’s story,” said Fisher. “The original stipulation in the deed for the Zoo said that ‘50 monkeys must be on-site at the Zoo at all times.’ [Therefore,] we have a great variety of primates over here.”
But those who aren’t a fan of monkeys need not fret – there are still plenty of other animals to swing by and visit.
“We have about 250 animals on-site, which includes a variety of monkeys, birds, a farm area, and one of my favorites as a UCI graduate is our giant anteaters,” said Fisher. “We’re [always] working on new exhibits for construction.”
“It’s a beautiful place to come and see all of the animals and learn about nature.”
Catching the “Zoo” Bug(s)
Fisher like many of his colleagues first started working at the Zoo as a volunteer. “I fell in love with the place,” he recalled.
Many of the locals and loyal visitors feel the same way. Fisher is proud to share that the Zoo is normally always boasting a sizable volunteer base of students, retirees, and locals who want to give back to the community.
“There are a lot of kids that come here when they’re little and will often come back every year to Zoo Camp ,” he said. “Even some of the staff started as volunteers, and they’re now pursuing college programs and master’s degrees – so we’re spreading science awareness and encouraging people to go into that field.”
Money See, Monkey Do
Santa Ana Zoo hours are currently 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday, closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Tickets cost $12 per adult, $9 per child and $9 per senior.
When SoCal Explorers take the train to the zoo and show their loyalty card or same day Metrolink ticket, they’ll get a free child’s admission with paid adult admission (up to 8 admissions).