If petting a downy-soft fennec fox with towering ears isn't on your bucket list, it should be. You can satisfy this and other fauna-related desires at the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, a bucolic alternative to the lines, crowds and steep entry fees of big zoos. Tucked behind a rustic wooden fence in a residential neighborhood, the center offers a quiet, intimate experience among rescued animals being nursed back to health by the center's devoted staff. For $7 (less for children), you can wander among the enclosures of more than 70 species, including monkeys, lynxes, alligators, tortoises and a bald eagle. An extra charge gets you a personal “animal encounter” — feed a porcupine, hold a tawny owl or chill out with Lola, the two-toed sloth. Summer and winter zoology camps guarantee that your kids won't want to leave. 16027 Yarnell St., Sylmar. (818) 362-8711, wildlifelearningcenter.com. —Rachel Heller

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