San Diego Zoo

Essential Tips For Visiting the San Diego Zoo

The world-renowned San Diego Zoo in southern California has a reputation for being the best in the country. It is what other zoos strive to be.

The zoo is known for its innovative animal habitats, conservation efforts, and research programs, and is a popular destination for visitors of all ages. And it’s one of the top San Diego attractions.

They have created different exhibits and techniques that other zoos will implement across the country. It is for this reason that I wanted to make the pilgrimage to this place myself. Now I’m sharing my best San Diego Zoo Tips so you have a great time.

This post has been sponsored by the San Diego Zoo. As always, my opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the site, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for the support. 

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What is the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park?

The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park is a world-renowned wildlife park that includes two unique locations, the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

The San Diego Zoo is massive. It’s 100 acres and 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 free transportation, I would not have seen it all. While they may not be a traditional theme park, you’ll be having so much fun, you’ll forget there aren’t rides.

The San Diego Zoo grows over sixty percent of the food they use to feed the animals and takes great efforts to be as eco-friendly as possible. All utensils in the dining areas are made with potato starch that breaks down quickly in a landfill. It’s little touches like this that help sustain the zoo.

Where is the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park located?

The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, north of downtown San Diego. The Safari Park is located about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, in the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido.

What kind of wildlife can I see at the San Diego Zoo?

The San Diego Zoo offers a wide variety of animals, from tigers and giraffes to koalas and pandas. You can also see animal ambassadors throughout the park and participate in animal encounters.

What are some essential tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo before going?

Some essential tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo include wearing comfortable shoes, bringing sunscreen and a hat, and bringing snacks and water. The zoo also offers locker and luggage storage rentals for your convenience.

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 your admission ticket 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 exhibit.

What are your priorities?

A lot of people will tell you to go to the San Diego zoo’s guided 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 into the San Diego Zoo App 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 and the Elephant Odyssey. By going there first, you’ll see them when they are the most active. The 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 San Diego Safari Park has extra opportunities to see these animals up close. It’s a smaller zoo, but a lot more intimate of experience. Check it out!
San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tips and Fun Things to do

Mary the Elephant from the San Diego Zoo
Caution, Lions have a Spray range of 7-10 ft. Why Not!

The Added Perks of Your San Diego Zoo Ticket

Skyfari Aerial Tram

The Skyfari Aerial Tram is an air tour of the zoo, similar to a sky tram or 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.

The View Above the San Diego Zoo
The Sky Ride at the San Diego Zoo

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 different cages to give you a better look, including the polar bears, the northern frontier, Africa rocks, the monkey trail, and other popular exhibits.

The tour lasts about 35 minutes and goes through the entire San Diego zoo. The bus is near the zoo entrance.

Kangaroo Express Bus

The Kangaroo 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 tickets. The Zoo provides free admission.

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.

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 fastest way to get around at the San Diego Zoo


The San Diego 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 average, and the price is at a premium.

I gotta say that the best thing I ate was their amazing chocolate chip 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.

My biggest San Diego Zoo tip to save money is to bring in a few snacks for the kids. Or pack a bag lunch. You are welcome to bring food to the San Diego Zoo.

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 trips, 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.

Wine and other dinning options at the San Diego Zoo

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 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 your little ones to witness what happens next. Most of the time you’ll be able to divert the questions, so be prepared.

Get there early. Visitors can easily spend the whole day there, if not longer.

Don't mess with this zoo animal at the San Diego Zoo

Giant Panda’s

I can’t talk about the San Diego Zoo tips without mentioning the giant pandas at least once. The Panda Canyon was 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 to get their pictures.

** In the Spring of 2019, the Panda’s relocated back to China. Now the only place to see them in the United States is at the National Zoo in Washington DC, the Atlanta Zoo in Georga, or the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee.

Everyone needs a Panda Selfie In their Life
Panda Time and other Tips for the San Diego Zoo

Can I find kangaroos at the San Diego Zoo?

Yes, you can find kangaroos at the San Diego Zoo. They are located in the Australian Outback exhibit. They are a fun group of animals in action throughout the zoo.

What are the top San Diego Zoo exhibits to visit?

There are so many great exhibits to visit at the San Diego Zoo, but some of the top exhibits include the Tiger Trail, the Elephant Odyssey, and the Ituri Forest.

Get Up Close

The San Diego Zoo does not have a traditional petting zoo, but they do have an area called the Petting Paddock where visitors can interact with and feed domestic animals like goats and sheep.

The Petting Paddock is located in the Children’s Zoo section of the park, which also features interactive exhibits and activities for kids.

Inside Look Tours

You can now get a Guided Tour of the San Diego Zoo.

They offer a few different ones, like the Inside Look Tour where you get to see what happens behind the scenes of the animal care facilities.

The Discovery Tour where you get a good overview of all the cool exhibits and conservation work, they’re doing, and the Early Morning with Pandas Tour where you can see those adorable pandas before everyone else.

There are other tours you can do too, for groups and stuff, but those might cost extra. So if you’re interested, check out the options and pick the one that sounds best for you!

How to Get 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 if you want to see multiple things in a day. 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 the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, San Diego SeaWorld, and the USS Midway.

If you plan it outright, you can save yourself a lot of money using this pass. But you may need a few days poolside to recover.

Get your ticket for the San Diego Zoo before you leave. It will save you time waiting in line and get you to rope drop faster!
San Diego Zoo Tickets
Bundled Go City Card

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Where to find the best deal on ticketst to the San Diego Zoo

How do I get the most out of the San Diego Zoo?

To get the most out of your visit to the San Diego Zoo, plan your trip ahead of time by checking the zoo’s website for exhibit and show times, and consider purchasing tickets in advance to avoid lines.

Wear comfortable shoes, bring sunscreen, and don’t forget to hydrate. Lastly, make sure to grab a map at the entrance and prioritize the exhibits you’re most interested in seeing.

How long does it take to walk through the San Diego Zoo?

The length of time it takes to walk through the San Diego Zoo depends on various factors, such as the number of exhibits you wish to visit and the time of day you arrive.

On average, it can take between 3 to 5 hours to walk through the entire zoo. That doesn’t include time for shows, activities, dining or crowds. It’s recommended to plan for a full day at the zoo to ensure you have enough time to see everything you want to see.

What is the best day to visit the San Diego Zoo?

The best day to visit the San Diego Zoo can vary depending on your personal preferences. Generally, weekdays are less crowded than weekends, so if you prefer a quieter experience, aim for a visit on a weekday.

Additionally, visiting during the cooler months (September through May) can be more comfortable, as the weather is milder and the crowds are smaller.

However, if you’re looking to catch a specific show or event, check the zoo’s calendar beforehand and plan accordingly.

Can I find kangaroos at the San Diego Zoo?

Yes, you can find kangaroos at the San Diego Zoo. They are located in the Australian Outback exhibit. They are a fun group of animals in action throughout the zoo.

Is there free parking available at the San Diego Zoo?

Yes, parking is free. However, parking can fill up quickly, so it’s best to arrive early.

What education programs does the San Diego Zoo offer?

The San Diego Zoo offers a variety of education programs, including guided tours, school programs, and summer camps. They also have a Wildlife Explorers program for kids.

Can I become a member of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance?

Yes, you can become a member of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Membership includes unlimited admission to both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, as well as other perks and discounts.

Is there rental equipment available at the San Diego Zoo?

Yes, the San Diego Zoo offers rentals for strollers, wheelchairs, and electric scooters to make your visit more comfortable.

Final Thoughts

Visiting zoos can sometimes be controversial, only because they are keeping these animals locked up instead of roaming 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 San Diego Zoo tips come in handy!


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