The San Diego Zoo has a reputation for being the best in the country. It is what others zoos strive to be. They have created different exhibits and techniques that other zoos will implement across the country. It is this reason that I wanted to make the pilgrimage to this place myself.
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This zoo is massive. Its 100 acres is home to more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals. To get a sense of its size, by the time we got home, I logged over 5 miles of walking. We also missed a quarter of it. If it weren’t for the help of the free transportation, I would not have seen it all.
The San Diego Zoo grows over sixty percent of the food they use to feed the animals and take great efforts to be as eco-friendly as possible. All utensils in the dining areas are made with a potato starch that breaks down quickly in a landfill. It’s the little touches like this that help sustain the zoo.
Tips for Visiting the San Diego Zoo
Get there right away. This tip is usually a no-brainer at all zoos, but it’s especially important at this one. The zoo will start taking tickets a few minutes before the zoo opens and they let you into the front of the zoo. There they have a welcome message presented by the zookeepers. To open the zoo, they have someone from the crowd release macaws! They aren’t really released, but they fly down to a special area for their breakfast. After that, it’s a mad dash to your first choice of the exhibit.
A lot of people will tell you to go to the Bus Tour first. I do not recommend this at all. Instead, decide what animals you want to see first. You can do all this pre-planning with the help of their website. Log in to Facebook and mark off what exhibits and experiences you want to make a priority. Then follow the trails to make it all happen.
For us, we wanted to see the Koala bears and a bit of Africa. By going there first, you’ll see them when they are the most active. They keepers are still feeding them, and the sun hasn’t heated everything up yet. This also gave us the chance to have a private viewing of all these great animals at their most active times. If you plan on going to the San Diego Safari Park too, prioritize the animals you would not see there, just to get a little variety.
The Added Perks of Your Ticket
Skyfari Aerial Tram
The Skyfari Aerial Tram is an air tour of the zoo, similar to a gondola ride. It comes with almost all levels of tickets. After trekking all the way to the back of the zoo, the Skyfari Aerial Tram makes for a great resting spot. It also gives you a view of the zoo canopy and trails you will never forget. The Skyfari Aerial Tram doesn’t open until 10.
Guided Bus Tour
The Bus Tour is a great way to take a break in the middle of your trip. The Guided Bus tour is on a double-decker bus. I recommend sitting on top for some of the best views, and it will give your kids a thrill. The tour guides do a great job of spotting the different animals and frequently stop at the different cages to give you better looks. The tour lasts about 35 minutes and goes through the entire zoo.
Kangaroo Express Bus
The Kangaroo Express bus is what you want to jump on to get around to different parts of the park. This also comes with the basic 1 or 2-day admission prices. After taking the guided bus tour, jump on the nearest Kangaroo Bus stop and find the other animals you want to see. There are four different stops to check out. All of the different buses and the SkyTour as many times as you want. So if you want, just stay on the guided bus all day long!
The Zoo has a lot of different food options, and they have vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options on site. They even carry wines. The smell from the kitchens can be found when you enter each of the different zoos. I found that the food is mediocre, and the price is at a premium. I gotta say that the best thing I ate was their amazing chocolate chips cookies. You have to try them. All the money spent on food goes towards the different conservation efforts they embark on, so I didn’t mind spending the money.
To save money at the San Diego Zoo, I recommend bringing in a few snacks for the kids. Or pack a bag lunch. Also, make sure to bring a water bottle with you to fill up. Or go a step further and bring your hydration backpack with you. I take this with me on most of my day trip, and it’s has paid for itself in the first month. If you do plan on getting lunch at the park, make sure to eat early in the day. By 1 pm, the lines at all the lunch spots were out the door.
Best Time to Visit the San Diego Zoo
Ok, it’s a no-brainer on this one; go in the middle of the week. It will cut down on the local traffic. You may risk being there for school field trips, but it’s worth it. If this isn’t an option, pick a weekend when it’s a little cooler or cloudy. For some reason, the locals don’t like to go out then. I think it’s perfect zoo weather because you are comfy and the animals will be more active.
If you’re thinking about visiting over spring break, remember that in nature, it’s when animals start to think about babies. While this is super cute when you see two antelopes softly kissing, it’s a whole other conversation for you little one’s witness what happens next. Most of the time you’ll be able to divert the questions, so be prepared.
I can’t talk about the San Diego Zoo without mentioning the Pandas at least once. They were my favorite to visit. I think most people in the zoo would agree with this based on the line of people waiting to visit them. The zoo does such a great job of making you feel included in the different worlds that you don’t even realize you are in a line.
A trick they utilize to manage the crowds is to have you stop to take a souvenir photo. This slows down the entry into the exhibit, keeps you engaged and ensures that you don’t have to fight to see over a crowd of people to catch a glimpse of your favorite animal. In my case, the Pandas. They also had a zookeeper standing at the front of the exhibit giving out information about the animals and encouraging the crowd to keep moving along. But they make sure everyone has a chance get their pictures.
Getting the Best Deal on Tickets to the San Diego Zoo
The zoo is a lot of fun. You may even want to spend two days there. There are a few different options for discount tickets. A standard one day ticket that gets you all the perks of the buses and areal tours. They also have a two-day ticket which is an incredible deal. For a few dollars more you can choose to get into either the San Diego Zoo or the Safari Parks both days or both. Groupon also has some incredible deals you can check out too.
The other option is to get a Go City Card. This pass is a great deal. You can purchase a pass for the exact number of days you want to do attractions. The pass includes admission to over 40 different attractions, museums and a lot of California favorites, including both Zoo’s, SeaWorld and the USS Midway. If you plan in outright, you can save yourself a lot of money using this pass. But you may need a few days poolside to recover.
Zoos can sometimes be controversial, only because they are keeping these animals locked up instead of free. In the case of the San Diego Zoo, I think they strike a good balance. They provide some of the best enclosures and animal enrichment opportunities I’ve seen. By having the animals in the zoo, they also bring awareness to kids about how awesome these creatures are and why they are so important to protect. Behind the scenes, they are constantly working to try and release injured animals and keep their populations from reaching extinction levels. If you only go to one zoo, this is the one to visit.
My family had a great time at the San Diego Zoo. We managed to tire out everyone by the end of the day and see some things I’ve never seen before. I hope you have a great time on your trip and I hope these tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo come in handy!