I take a deep breath and look around. To my left is a gator eyeing me up through a 10,000l tank, to my right, floor to ceiling glass cases filled with huge lizards and snakes, in front of me more venomous slithery things, and behind me are some large hairy eight-legged critters. Shudder! I turn to the staff member, who is passing around an Australian bearded dragon, and have to ask the most pressing question on my mind. “What happens in an earthquake?”

We’re in Southern California after all, so this isn’t a silly question. And, I’ll let you know the answer in a minute. But, right now I want to tell you about the prehistoric playground we managed to stop off in, to break up our trip home from Los Angeles last week.

The Reptile Zoo is unlike any other ‘zoo’ I’ve ever explored. From the outside it looks like a pet shop, in the middle of a strip mall, on a non-descript busy road. There’s a sushi place to one side, and a sports store on the other, with nearly every chain of restaurant and fast food nearby.

The premises is actually 10,000 square feet in size. About a third of the complex actually is a pet store – of the reptile variety. You can pick up a pet snake, turtle, lizard or tarantula, along with anything you need to care for such a pet. When you walk in the door of the store, there’s a large monitor hanging out in an enclosure on one side, with a pond of turtles overseen by a model dinosaur, on the other. Larger tortoise also roam around a pen within the store.

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The entrance to the pet store

Now such a store would have been interesting enough for the twin tornados, but this store offers much, much more. Through an internal gate awaits The Reptile Zoo – with over 100 exotic species of reptile, amphibians and arachnids to gaze at and play with. Shudder!jandals and jet planes, reptile zoo

The twin tornados were off! Eyes bulging at each new enclosure they saw (and they barely looked at the 2-3 levels of tanks above their head height). When they turned a corner and saw a group of children holding a snake and petting a lizard, I thought their eyes would actually pop out of their sockets. Shudder.

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No, you can not get a pet snake!

All the while, I’m taking deep breaths, keeping a respectful distance from the tanks and trying to calm the kids (who had been in the car for over 4 hours throughout the day, by this point) the hell down.

I’m not a fan of snakes or spiders, but I’m determined that my adult fears are not transferred to the twin tornados, who at this point in their life are pretty fearless. But even I, at that respectful distance, found our reptile encounter somewhat fascinating. I still hope to never get as close to any of these animals in the wild, however, watching the way they move, is somewhat mesmerising. Maybe that’s how they lure you in before they pounce…

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Not my kind of party thanks! Shudder!


Watching the twin tornados faces as they delicately held a lizard.

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Those eyelashes though!

Hearing their delighted giggles as a bearded dragon tickled their arms (and wisely tried to make a quick getaway).

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Miss H finds a bearded dragon on her lap

Their ‘strong man’ impressions while trying to hold a smallish (still huge by my standards) snake by themselves.

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“Of course I can hold it all by myself” (for about two seconds)…

The beautiful colours of the lizards. One can’t but admire the beauty of these ancient looking majestic creatures up close and personal.

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I love the patterns of the scales, the dragon like head and weird looking hands (are they hands?)

Chortling at the great names that the staff have given to some of these pets. My favourite being ‘Darthgator’, an American Alligator housed in Gator island.

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American Alligator

Listening to the staff member provide us with information on the various species with such love and passion. Plus, he was just as interested in hearing about any experience we had with the Tuatara (the New Zealand native lizard – which is thought to be 200 million years old), although he probably knew more about them than we did, such was his love of reptiles.

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His passion for this job was evident!
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Australian Bearded Dragon – bred to be this yellow colouring

As for the option of getting your photo taken with Sunshine (Sunny) the resident chilled out Albino Burmese Python, which was included in our 4 x admissions with 4 x photos for $30 Groupon Deal? I left that to the twin tornados and hubby. I was happy to help the photographer get them to focus on the camera and take my own snaps. By this stage, I’m not concerned by the thought of a python surrounding all that I love! Should I be?

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The twin tornados cuddling an albino Burmese python

So, what would happen in a major earthquake? Well, apparently I needn’t worry about the frenzy of snakes vs tarantulas vs alligators, because if there was a quake big enough to crack the glass in Darthgator’s tank, we’d have bigger problems to worry about. I’m not sure I’m buying that! I am kind of glad that I don’t live in a surrounding street (just in case).

Am I overly happy to see these creatures housed in such small enclosures inside a building? Not really. However, many of these are rescue animals, some are being bred here, and it also makes for a great educational resource for learning about the reptile species, identifying venomous slithery things in the wild and animal care. I’m torn!

Educational and entertainment, all under one roof. They also have a mobile petting service, do kids parties, and take their animals to many events.

Admission: 0-3yrs free, 4-12yrs $5, Adults usually $10 (but currently $5). To get your photo taken with the Burmese python is an additional $12.

In a nutshell: What an amazing find. An affordable, educational and entertaining destination, that I’m sure the twin tornados would love to visit again. We’ll be adding it to the ‘where to take Kiwi visitors’ list.

The Reptile Zoo, 18818 Brookhurst Street, Fountain Valley, CA 92708


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