Guide to the San Diego Zoo
Summer is quickly approaching, and if you’re beginning to think about fun family outings, be sure to add the San Diego Zoo to your list. There is so much to see from giant pandas to African penguins to Galápagos Tortoises. You’ll find everything you need to know in our Guide to the San Diego Zoo — from parking to dining to everything you must see.
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San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Dr. (in Balboa Park), San Diego, CA
The Zoo is open every day of the year, including holidays. Generally, the Zoo opens at 9:00 am. Check the website for details when you have a specific date in mind.
The San Diego Zoo may be regarded as the most famous zoo in the world. You’ll find “100 acres of lush, naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters” here. The Zoo is “home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals (including pandas, koalas, tigers, polar bears, and more) representing approximately 660 species and subspecies and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 plants.”
Families may find the best thing to do upon arriving at the Zoo is to take the 35-minute Guided Bus Tour which gives an overview of the Zoo while also providing families with the opportunity to view quite a number of animals. This way you can make a plan regarding which areas of the Zoo you’d like to come back to and spend more time at.
The Zoo is divided into several different zones including Africa Rocks, Lost Forest, Panda Canyon, and Elephant Odyssey to name just a few. Africa Rocks, one of the newest Zoo attractions gives families the chance to wander through and discover the “amazing biodiversity found on the African continent.” (Who knew there were African penguins?)
Special Activities and Events:
The San Diego Zoo offers families many special activities and experiences to enhance their time at the Zoo. Families may opt to watch a 4-D Show, enjoy up-close visits with animals (including “Early Morning with Pandas”), take a Discovery Cart Tour, and more. The Zoo also serves as an extra-special venue for children’s birthday parties.
Each month throughout the year, the Zoo also hosts “Plant Day and Orchid Odyssey” featuring a special Botanical Bus Tour and Orchid House open house.
Several different ticket options are available depending on what you want to see and how long you plan on being in the San Diego area. Families may opt for a one-day Zoo visit or purchase a multi-day/multi-park option allowing them to also experience other popular San Diego-area sites.
A one day pass includes admission to the Zoo, the Guided Bus Tour, Skyfari Aerial Tram, the Kangaroo Express Bus, and all regularly scheduled shows. (Cost is $54 for those 12 and older; $44 for children 3-11). (Tip: Be sure to check with AAA; our family visited our local branch and purchased one-day pass tickets at quite a savings!)
Special experiences require additional tickets. Be sure to check the website for fees and details.
Membership opportunities allow families to receive unlimited admission to both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. In addition, members receive shopping and dining discounts, invitations to members-only events, and more. Check the website for details; some restrictions apply with certain prices only available to families residing in certain zip codes.
Parking at the Zoo is free!
Families will find many dining options throughout the Zoo. Different eateries are scattered throughout the Zoo, so it may be a good idea to look at the menus beforehand (all available online) to get a sense of what your family would like to eat and then make sure you’re in that area of the Zoo at meal time. Menus range from hamburgers and chicken fingers to wraps and salads to orange chicken and egg rolls, and much more.
Albert’s, defined as a “Restaurant in a Treehouse,” is located in Lost Forest and offers full-service dining while families sit outside overlooking a private waterfall. Albert’s menu includes beef and chicken entrees, seafood specialties, salads, and a children’s menu. (Albert’s also allows families to make online reservations).
The San Diego Zoo is located within popular Balboa Park. Balboa Park is “home to more than 16 museums, multiple performing arts venues, lovely gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions.” You’ll find 1,200 acres to explore, though, after a day at the Zoo, your family may opt to explore other areas of Balboa Park on another day.
Additionally, many visitors to the San Diego Zoo also wish to explore the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (previously known as the Wild Animal Park). The Safari Park is located about 35 miles away from the Zoo in the city of Escondido. “The 1,800-acre Safari Park is home to more than 2,600 animals representing more than 300 species, many living in wide, open field enclosures.” Families will observe “herd-style animals from the plains and savannas of Africa and Asia that normally roam together in the wild, such as rhinos, giraffes, and antelope.” When our family visited a few years ago, we truly felt as if we were on a mini-safari! It is recommended that families not try to visit both the Zoo and the Safari Park on the same day. Read Sarah’s Review of the Roar and Snore sleepover at Safari Park.
Legoland, in nearby Carlsbad, is also only about 35 miles away. Click here to read our Guide to Legoland California.
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