The Zookeeper’s Guide for Visiting San Diego Zoo

People think they take kids to the Zoo. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Strolling through San Diego Zoo, you can see parents and adults having as much fun as kids, if not more. There’s a child in each one of us, and places like San Diego Zoo bring out that child, regardless of whether you are 8 or 80. If you want to enjoy a complete San Diego trip with your family, you’ll need to venture out of the comfort of your furnished apartment in San Diego and spend a day at the Zoo.

Spread over a sprawling 100 acres and home to over 4,000 animals from 600 different species, the Zoo can be perplexing to explore, and exhausting. You might wind up with aching legs because of a poor route plan through the Zoo, and might be forced to return to your furnished apartment in San Diego to rest, missing out on some of the must-see attractions. Here are some tips from none other than the zookeeper that will take you around the Zoo smoothly, without missing any must-see exhibit or getting exhausted.

Knowing San Diego Zoo

The Zoo is a symbol of San Diego city, and has been around for almost 100 years. Located in Balboa Park next to downtown San Diego, it offers a fascinating walking experience through an endless variety of animals in a very natural environment. The Zoo also contains the Safari Park, where animals roam freely in their natural habitats; and the SeaWorld, where you come face to face with sharks and octopus. The Zoo offers multiple tours including the Backstage Pass, Inside Look Tour, and Discovery Tour that let you get close to the animals, touch some of them, and help the zookeepers feed them. Apart from wildlife and behind-the-scenes tours, the San Diego Zoo also offers sleepovers, twilight treks, education programs, and camping for kids. You should familiarize yourself with the services and features of the Zoo for making your trip more entertaining.

Best Time to Go

The ideal time to reach the Zoo is early in the morning. By taking an early start, you’ll beat the crowds at the ticketing booths and observe the wildlife in a serener environment. As the temperature rises during the summer months, the animals take shelter in their hideouts at noon. Cool and cloudy days are great for a trip to the Zoo.

Buying the Tickets

“3-for-1” is the most popular Pass and admits you into the Zoo, the Safari Park and SeaWorld. Other than that, the “1-Day Pass” is valid for a day and grants you a single visit to the San Diego Zoo, apart from unlimited free rides on Guided Bus Tour, Kangaroo Express Bus, Skyfari Aerial Tram, and entry into all the scheduled shows. Chip in 5 more dollars and get a “1-Day Plus” Pass and add one 4-D Theater experience to your itinerary. Check out the latest ticket prices on the San Diego Zoo website.

Discounts and Special Offers

While the tickets offer a rich experience, the price may appear a bit steep if you have a big family with you. Check out the following discounts and avail them if they apply to you.

  • Children ages 3–11 go FREE for the whole of October each year
  • Seniors can get 10% off 1-Day Passes
  • If you are AAA member, you can get 10% off 1-Day Passes for up to 6 people
  • Serving military personnel get 10% off 1-Day Passes
  • Airline and cruise-line employees, travel agents and Zoo employees are entitled to special discounts

Getting Ready

The Zoo spans out over a hilly terrain and requires you to walk a lot from exhibit to exhibit, so you should wear comfortable walking shoes with socks. Walking in the sun means hats, sunglasses, drinking water, and sun-block cream are must for all family members, particularly if you are visiting San Diego in the summers. Before you leave your cozy furnished apartments in San Diego, make sure you have a bag or basket for carrying your snacks, drinks, and other tidbits. If you are with kids, rest assured that they’d be exhausted by midday. Strollers for the little ones are available for rent at the Zoo.

Planning Your Trip

When you enter the Zoo, you’ll be given a colorful route map that highlights the topography and walkways. By paying attention to it, you can avoid scaling steep slopes and save your legs from giving way too early in the day. It would be great if you could look at the online map of the Zoo before leaving the comfort of your furnished apartments in San Diego, as there wouldn’t be enough time for map reading when you’re already in the Zoo. Do not plan to see everything in a single day, as you probably wouldn’t be able to. Shortlist the animals and exhibits that you and your kids absolutely want to see, and plan your route accordingly. You can always see more animals if you have time left over.

Zookeeper’s Tip: Hop on the Guided Bus Tour and sit on the upper level to enjoy the most amazing wildlife views. The sun can be harsh during the summers, so bring an umbrella and sunglasses.

Top Attractions

The famous Panda Enclosure is the most popular exhibit that attracts millions of tourist each year. You can see more giant pandas here than in any other park in the world. Other must-visit exhibits include the underwater view of the Hippo pond, the surreptitious reptile house, and the entertaining otter enclosure. A newly opened “Elephant Odyssey” features the living descendants of the now-extinct California beasts. Another worth-visiting exhibit is the polar bear enclosure, but only if you have strong legs, as you’ll need to climb a steep hill to get there. You can take the Skyfari Aerial Tram to the polar bear exhibit if you reach early in the day, as the ride might be too crowded for the rest of the day. The park has a dedicated “Children’s Zoo” where they showcase celebrity species made famous by animated movies, such as a fossa from the movie Madagascar, spider monkeys, mole rats, meerkats, and many more. You’ll not be able to resist walking on and on until you realize that you are too tired, and need to return to your snug San Diego furnished apartment.