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Our Favorite Animal Exhibits at San Diego Zoo

Panda at San Diego Zoo, California, USA

San Diego Zoo is unquestionably my favorite zoo. It’s home to over 3,700 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies. When we walk in through the gates, we have a mapped out our favorite animal exhibits so we can cover as much as possible. It’s always a full day of adventure at San Diego Zoo and we have lots of tips for visiting the zoo. It’s impossible to choose a favorite animal or exhibit when there are so many unique animals to see, but these our top 5 animal exhibits at the San Diego Zoo.

Top 5 Animal Exhibits at the San Diego Zoo

Number 5: Gorillas

Gorilla at San Diego Zoo

A few months ago, I went gorilla trekking in Uganda and it was one of the greatest wildlife encounters available for tourists. Standing near a community of gorillas in the wild was intimidating, but magical at the same time. I couldn’t get enough of their human-like behavior and the playful nature of the infants. Since I can’t make the long journey back to Uganda right now, I was happy to watch these beautiful animals at the zoo. In the very heart of the San Diego Zoo, are western lowland gorillas in a natural landscape of cascading waterfalls, an open meadow and climbing areas. I could spend the entire day watching them and I’d be completely happy.

 Number 4: Pandas
Panda Eating at San Diego Zoo

Who can resist the fluffy face of a giant panda? These animals are so popular at the zoo that there was a line to see them but it was worth it. Such a playful, lovable creature, Athena instantly fell in love. She asked me so many questions about the pandas that it was easy to see they were one of her favorites. First, she wondered about the black on their eyes and if they were robbers. Then, she asked me why he was eating grass and if he ate anything else. She asked why his teeth and nails weren’t the same color and if he walked like a dog or a person. I felt like I was being interrogated, but it was interesting to hear her thought process. I couldn’t believe how much she put together to ask the questions. It was one of my proudest mom moments.

Number 3: Polar Bears
Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo, California

Polar bears were another wildlife encounter on this year’s bucketlist. I watched them in their natural environment in Churchill, Manitoba but unlike the gorillas, I couldn’t walk or stand among them in the wild. At the zoo, I stood safely on the other side of the glass and watched two massive bears playing in the water and on the rocks. I’m still amazed at how large they can get and how easily they move for their size.

Number 2: Elephants
Elephant at san Diego Zoo, California

One of the highlights of our day was hanging out at Elephant Odyssey. Athena loved playing on the rocks next to the elephants and when an elephant sprayed us with water, she couldn’t stop giggling. She talked to him like she was talking to a human. It’s beautiful to experience animal encounters from a child’s perspective.

Number 1: Hippos
Hippo at San Diego Zoo

I don’t particularly like hippos. I think that they are repulsive animals, but our hippo encounter was the funniest situation of the day. We got close to the glass and Athena had an inquisitive look on her face. When I asked her what she was looking at, she said, “Look at the big hippo poopies.” (It was actually the hippo’s tale but it was so funny that I didn’t tell her the difference.) We laughed which only encouraged her more and she spent the rest of the day saying, “Big hippo poopies.” I don’t think I’ll ever look at hippos the same again; they will always make me laugh.


Going to the zoo with Athena is like experiencing it for the first time. I see things differently and gain a different appreciation for the animals. She asks questions that I wouldn’t think about and she looks at and talks to the animals like they can understand her. Watching the animals at the San Diego Zoo inspires passion which leads to conservation. I’d love to get her more actively involved with animal conservation as she gets older and developing a connection with animals at a young age is a great start.

What are your favorite animal exhibits at the San Diego Zoo?

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