SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 10: A two month-old African penguin chick (R) stands with adult penguins in an exhibit on April 10, 2013 at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California. The California Academy of Sciences introduced a new African penguin chick to its African penguin exhibit. The chick is the first to be be hatched since the Academy opened following a complete remodel in 2008.

What’s a bucket list if you’re not going to check things off of it? I’ve been lucky enough to cross many things off of mine, even some of the more difficult ones. And this weekend I checked off another dream of mine- to pet a penguin. Yes, you can meet a penguin at the Georgia Aquarium. And yes, it’s well worth the price of admission.

Penguin Encounter

For $69.99 (plus the price of aquarium admission) you can attend a “Penguin Encounter” which is a 30-minute experience. You’ll get to learn about the African Penguins as well as conservation efforts. Then the best part, you get to meet and interact with a penguin. We got to meet a 5-year-old penguin named Baraci and he was as cute as could be. There were 8 participants in our group and we sat on stools around a square wooden ottoman-type box that Bacari sat on. He was there with a trainer who kept him entertained and bribed him with fish which he swallowed whole.

She told us about him in particular, answered questions, and allowed us to observe him up close. From there we were able to pet him on both his back as well as feel his wings or flippers whatever you want to call them. The feathers were much softer than I ever would have guessed. And then finally we got to take photos with our new friend. It was a wonderful experience that I will remember forever! So if that chance to meet a penguin is on your bucket list, you can accomplish that at the Georgia Aquarium.


Georgia Aquarium

The rest of the aquarium was fantastic as well featuring sharks, beluga whales, a manta ray, turtles, other rays, and countless species of fish. We spent close to 4 hours there are didn’t even take advantage of everything the aquarium has to offer. Highly recommend if you find yourself in Atlanta!

In addition to the penguin encounter, you can participate in one on one time with other animals including dolphins, sea lions, harbor seals, and sharks and rays.

Gallery: Penguins and The Georgia Aquarium

List: 15 Places To Visit Animals In The Charlotte North Carolina Area

An interesting fact that you may not know is that Charlotte is actually the largest city in the country that doesn’t have a zoo. And there is very little chance we will ever get a true one. But don’t let that get you down, there are plenty of places you can visit with all types of animals in the Charlotte area. The biggest reason we will most likely never get a true zoo is that we are just 1.5 hours from both the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro and Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia.

Both of those zoos make our list and while both are large zoos, they offer different animals. For instance, you can see polar bears in North Carolina and Koalas in South Carolina. Is marine life more of your interest? Don’t worry we’ve got a couple of options for you as well. Other animals include bison, alpacas, farm animals, all sorts of birds, goats are more.

All of the places on this list are a short drive from Charlotte. Most are very affordable to visit so a great family trip as the weather gets warmer. I love animals but I’m not a huge fan of encountering them unexpectedly, so this type of thing is right up my alley. I can’t wait to add several of these to my summer bucket list. Where is your favorite place to visit animals in the Charlotte area? Let us know on social media!

  • North Carolina Zoo

    Location: Asheboro, NC

    Ticket Prices: Adults $15, Senior $13, Child $11

    Animals: Lions, elephants, polar bears, giraffes, black bears, and more1


  • Discovery Place

    Location: Uptown Charlotte

    Ticket Prices: Adults $23, Children $18, Seniors $20

    Animals: sea urchins, jellies, and other sea life


  • Cotton Bean Farms

    Location: Mt. Pleasant

    Ticket Prices: $15

    Animals: Goats


  • Carolina Raptor Center

    Location: Huntersville

    Ticket Prices: Student $8, Adult $12, Senior $10

    Animals: 20+ bird species


  • Good Karma Ranch

    Location: Iron Station

    Ticket Prices: $10

    Animals: Alpacas


  • Tiger World

    Location: Rockwell, NC

    Ticket Prices: Adults $15, Children and Seniors $12

    Animals: Multiple tiger species, lions, kangaroos, leopards, jaguars, and more


  • Sealife Aquarium

    Location: Concord

    Ticket Prices: Adults $18, children $15

    Animals: sharks, stingrays, fish, seahorses, turtles, and more


  • Dallas Lavender Lane

    Location: Dallas, NC

    Ticket Prices: Contact for more info

    Animals: ducks, potbelly pigs, pygmy goats, a miniature pony, and a donkey


  • Zootastic Park

    Location: Troutman, NC

    Ticket Prices: Adults $15, Children and Seniors $13

    Animals: tigers, lions, leopards, giraffes, monkeys, lemurs and more


  • Tatanka Bison Ranch

    Location: York, SC

    Ticket Prices: Varies by tour $13-$150

    Animals: Bison


  • Riverbanks Zoo

    Location: Columbia, SC

    Ticket Prices:

    Animals: zebras, koalas, tigers, komodo dragons, and more


  • Darby Acres Farm

    Location: Charlotte

    Ticket Prices: $11

    Animals: emu, water buffalo, goat, pigs, sheep, camel, and more!


  • Sweetwater Farms

    Location: Huntersville, NC

    Ticket Prices: $5

    Animals: horses, cows, pigs, donkey, goats, chickens, and ducks


  • Lazy 5 Ranch

    Location: Mooresville, NC

    Ticket Prices: Adults $15, Children and seniors $11

    Animals: antelope, giraffes, cattle, birds and ducks, cattle, sheep, goats, and more


  • The Farm at The Schiele Museum

    Location: Gastonia, NC

    Ticket Prices: $3

    Animals: chickens, goats, pigs, bunnies, bees, a turkey, and alpacas


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