San Diego Zoo is world-famous and one of the top attractions for families in the Southern California area. It’s conveniently located near downtown San Diego and only a 2 hour drive from LA. It’s 100 acres and has more than 800 species from all over the world. My family and I recently visited San Diego and created a list of tips for visiting San Diego Zoo.
1. Plan Ahead
Visit the San Diego Zoo website and plan your experience. You can download the zoo map to help you decide the best route to take with your family. You most likely will not have time to see every exhibit, ride the buses and the aerial tram, and see the shows. Pick out your most desirable experiences before you go and maximize your fun. Our favorite experiences include pandas, monkeys, polar bears, giraffes, lions, and the aerial tram.
Save time and money by looking for discounts before you leave home and purchasing your tickets online. The basic 1-Day Pass includes the Guided Bus Tour, the Kangaroo Express Bus, the Skyfari Aerial Tram, and all the regularly scheduled programs. If you plan to visit a few Southern California attractions, CityPass can save you money and help you plan. The San Diego Zoo website lists several bundle deals or you can check with your hotel for local offers.
The zoo and many other San Diego attractions have offered kids ages 3-11 free admission with a paying adult during the month of October. Visit www.sandiego.org for details.
2. Go Early
The animals at the zoo and our own little monkeys (children) do best in the morning when the temperature is cooler. It’s worth it to arrive early. The park opens at 9:00 a.m and most of the animals are active and visible in the morning.
3. Transportation at the Zoo
The free Double-Decker Guided Bus Tour is 35 mins and covers a majority of the zoo. It’s a great way to start the day and get familiar with the layout of the zoo. Sitting on the driver’s right hand side of the bus will give you the best exhibit views. Bus tours starts loading at 9:30 AM.
The Kangaroo Express Bus is also free. We used it more in the afternoon to eliminate a lot of walking once everyone got tired.
Our favorite, free transportation option at the zoo is the Skyfari Aerial Tram. After lunch, we rode it to the back of the zoo and worked our way back to the beginning. The lines are shorter near the entrance and it route increases the amount of time walking downhill instead of up.
4. Food and Water
The zoo offers a great variety of food and beverages throughout the park but it can be costly, especially if you’re a large family. You are allowed to bring your own food and drinks but large coolers are not permitted. One option is to keep your cooler in your vehicle. You can get your hands stamped for re-entry then eat your lunch at one of the picnic areas outside the zoo’s main entrance. Another option is to leave the park for an hour to grab a bite at a nearby restaurant and give children a rest period. Athena usually needs an afternoon nap so we use this time for her to sleep in the van while we take a driving tour of the area. Once she wakes up, we grab a bite to eat then head back to the zoo.
If you bring your own water bottle, there are lot of fountains to refill and it will save you loads of money on costly drinks.
Surprisingly, the zoo also serves beer and wine for the adults.
5. Must See
Be sure to see the pandas even if you have to wait. Only four zoos in the US have them. Beat the crowds by visiting the pandas soon after the zoo opens. A member of the zoo staff is on hand at all times to talk about the pandas.
At the Elephant Care Center in Elephant Odyssey, you can watch the keepers doing husbandry training and routine care for the individual elephants. When the elephants are elsewhere, people may be invited to go inside the facility themselves to get an “elephant-eye” perspective and hear talks from the elephant keepers. We watched a keeper clean an elephant’s feet. The entire family was interested and asked loads of questions after the cleaning.
You can buy biscuits for $10 to feed the giraffe at Urban Jungle on Saturday and Sunday. With only a limited number of tickets available, you need at act quickly if this is on your agenda.
6. Hot, Hot, Hot
Unlike a lot of the animals at the zoo, we can’t cool off in the water when the temperatures rise. Don’t forget the sunblock. Although the zoo has a lot of shade, you’ll be spending many hours outside in the sun and it can get hot, hot, hot!
7. Bring Your Own Stroller
Carrying tired children around the zoo can be exhausting. The zoo is huge and even older children can use a break from walking all day. The zoo offers stroller rentals for $12 for a single and $16 for a double but they are well used and most likely a lot less comfortable then the one you currently have. When you bring your own, you’re use to folding it and opening it, which will save you time on the buses. We walked during the morning and grabbed the stroller when we returned after lunch. Athena was grateful to rest during the last hour at the zoo.
Add Your Own
Have you visited San Diego Zoo and have tips to share? Add them below and I’ll include them in the post.
*I was not compensated for this post, however I did receive two complimentary tickets. All opinions, as always, remain my own.