For over one hundred years, the world-famous San Diego Zoo has delighted guests of all ages. A leader when it comes to animal care and conservation, the San Diego Zoo is a must-visit attraction for locals and visitors alike. It currently holds the distinction of being the most-visited zoo in the country! Located on the edge of San Diego’s gorgeous and historic Balboa Park, many consider a day at the zoo to be the perfect way to enjoy life in San Diego. To help you have an outstanding experience on your next visit, we put together this Insider’s Guide to Visiting the San Diego Zoo.
For over one hundred years, the world-famous San Diego Zoo has delighted guests of all ages. A leader when it comes to animal care and conservation, the San Diego Zoo is a must-visit attraction for locals and visitors alike. It currently holds the distinction of being the most-visited zoo in the country! Located on the edge of San Diego’s gorgeous and historic Balboa Park, many consider a day at the zoo to be the perfect way to enjoy life in San Diego. To help you have an outstanding experience on your next visit, we put together this Insider’s Guide to Visiting the San Diego Zoo.Message Bern
The San Diego Zoo opened in 1916, just after the Panama-California Exposition which was held at Balboa Park. Back then, membership to the zoo was just $5! Today, the zoo encompasses more than 100 acres and cares for more than 12,000 animals. The San Diego Zoo is also an accredited botanical garden. Strolling the zoo’s grounds, you’ll be treated to lush jungle landscaping and stunning flowers from around the world.
The San Diego Zoo offers outstanding interactive experiences for kids along with the ability to have personal experiences with thousands of animals and reptiles. Signage, pictures, diagrams, and keeper talks help enrich the educational experience and deepen every visitor’s appreciation for the variety of species that call our planet home. It’s no wonder our local zoo is world-famous!
The San Diego Zoo is located close to downtown, on the edge of Balboa Park. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an entirely separate park located in northeast Escondido. The San Diego Zoo offers the traditional “zoo” experience, albeit on a massive scale. The Safari Park combines the best of the zoo experience with an African-style safari tour that takes you inside the animal habitats and across the sprawling park grounds. Both parks are a must-visit!
1-day tickets for adults are available for $65. Tickets for kids aged 3-11 are available for $55 except during the month of October when kids get in free! Children under 3 are free year-round. Parking is also free, which is a nice change from some of the other amusement parks in the San Diego area.
In addition, here are a few insider tips to help you save on your trip to the San Diego Zoo.
-Plan your visit in advance on one of the zoo’s “Value Days” to save on tickets for both adults and kids.
-Planning to visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, too? You can purchase a 2-visit pass to see both parks, or plan repeat visits to either park.
-Hit the San Diego Amusement Park Trifecta with the 3-for-1 Pass that gets you into the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for one great price. Note: this pass is valid for seven consecutive days from your first visit.
-If you’re a local and love the zoo, memberships offer great savings on repeat visits to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park in a single calendar year.
-If you’re visiting America’s Finest City, the Go San Diego Pass allows you to visit as many San Diego attractions as you wish over a period of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7 consecutive days. Choose from more than 55+ participating attractions including the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park! This is also a great choice for local families on summer or spring break when the kids are out of school.
-Military, Student, and Senior Discounts are also available.
Located just a short drive from both Downtown and Mission Valley, you have no shortage of hotel options near the San Diego Zoo. The closest hotels to the zoo include the Inn at the Park, Urban Boutique Hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton San Diego Downtown Little Italy, and La Pensione Hotel. However, the zoo is very conveniently located so it pays to shop around to compare prices and deals. If you have points with any major hotel chain, you’ll likely find one of their properties in the area.
You can also check out the zoo’s website to find special deals and packages from their preferred hotel partners.
Be sure to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, a light jacket, a hat, a reusable (non glass) water bottle, a backpack, and comfortable walking shoes for each person. Be sure to bring an external battery pack to keep your phone charged so you can take all the pictures and videos of the animals you want!
Although no outside food or beverages are allowed into the zoo, you might want to pack a cooler in the car for a mid-day lunch break. The parking lot is conveniently located close to the entrance, though with all the walking you’re already doing at the zoo, you might decide to just eat inside the park.
With thousands of plants, animals, and reptiles on display, the San Diego Zoo provides hours of fun and memories. Popular exhibits include the koalas, elephants, polar bears, and apes. Since some animals at the zoo are active at night or at dawn/dusk, repeat visits to the zoo will provide you with new experiences and new opportunities to see the animals. In addition, signing up for paid experiences like Animals in Action, Inside Look, or the Discovery Cart Tour will add new dimensions to your visit.
For young visitors, new at the zoo is Wildlife Explorers Basecamp. This 3-acre wildlife adventure encourage kids to play, climb, and interact with nature in fascinating ways. There’s even a greenhouse where guests can meet butterflies, bees, and other insects. Water features make this a great stop on a hot day, while full body dryers at the exit ensure your kids won’t need a towel. You can also meet some wildlife ambassadors at Basecamp!
In addition, the zoo hosts great seasonal events including HalGLOWeen, Jungle Bells, and Nighttime Zoo during the summer. For parents, Food, Wine, and Brew is an annual event in the fall that allows you to taste and sip while enjoying the animals and world-class entertainment.
If possible, plan your visit for a weekday or a day with cooler weather. You will walk A LOT and some of that walking includes steep hills. For smaller children and adults with mobility issues, strollers and wheelchairs are strongly advised. Even if you don’t plan to use them the whole time, they can help make sure everyone has a fun time.
We recommend starting your day at the San Diego Zoo early. Not only will you secure a great parking spot, you can catch some of the animals who are active only in the morning or around dusk. Be sure to grab a paper map or download the zoo app. The zoo is huge –over 100 acres— which means the opportunities for exploration are endless. Some people like to take the Kangaroo Bus or Aerial Tram to the far side of the park (near the polar bears) and work their way back. Others take a more circular route, heading left or right from the entrance. However you choose to explore the zoo, make sure you’re wearing comfortable walking shoes and have everything you need to enjoy a great day!
One of our biggest tips is to pace yourself with frequent stops for rest and water. Be sure to keep reapplying sunscreen as much of the zoo will have you out in the sun. Some exhibits are enclosed or otherwise offer shade so don’t miss those opportunities to enjoy the animals and cool off. The aviary and polar bear exhibits are two examples of stops where you can enjoy cooler temperatures while still experiencing the animals.
From 12-2pm, you can find different wildlife presentations on the zoo’s many stages. This is a great way to learn more about the animals while resting up for the second half of your visit. Click here to view the schedule and locations of the presentations. The 35-minute Guided Bus Tour on a double-decker bus is another fun way to view the zoo while getting off your feet for a bit. You can find the bus near the zoo entrance. And don’t forget about the free Kangaroo Bus which will let you hop on and off throughout the park.
Above all, make sure to have fun and enjoy your day at the world-famous San Diego Zoo!