The San Diego Zoo

May 2021

The San Diego Zoo

Typically, Kevin and I are not huge zoo fans. In our travels, we have enjoyed visiting animals in their natural habitat or at facilities that are rehabbing and researching. The San Diego Zoo – while providing tons of entertainment for guests – is actually one of the best zoos in the world for wildlife conservation. The zoo is home to over 3,500 animals covering 650 species in an environment that pioneered open air, cage free exhibits – so much so that there have been a number of animal escapes over the years (search “Ken Allen the hairy Houdini” – you will not be disappointed).  

The zoo is enormous, covering over 100 acres. The night before, our friends inquired about our favorite species to see so we could prioritize since the zoo was just that big. I figured we had all day dedicated so I was not worried about missing much. 

We arrived shortly after 10AM to a bit of a crowd but since we were traveling with zoo members – true VIP status – we zoomed into the zoo. After grabbing maps, we were on our way! 

There are way too many animals to list all the ones we saw so I will highlight some of our favorites from the day:

  • Koalas – I cannot recall a zoo I have visited that has koalas and San Diego Zoo has the largest colony to live outside of Australia. Since we have yet to check a visit down under off our travel list, this was a fun treat to see them so up close. 
  • Southern ground hornbill – we found this guy early in our visit and it took us right back to our stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. These guys have such a big personality, often seen enjoying flaunting in front of people, displaying or presenting items such as twigs or leaves. 
  • Monkeys of all sorts – the monkey population here is extensive! 
  • Aviaries – there are multiple walk in aviaries and these were so fun
  • Grizzly bears – well, I take back all the things I have said brushing off a potential bear encounter on our trip to Alaska. These adolescent grizzlies were enormous – I cannot imagine what it must be like to have seen them in the wild. I am happy we did not and hope that luck continues.
  • Orangutans – these guys were in full entertainment mode. Two adults were literally rolling on the ground like barrels. Another was demonstrating familiar dexterity with a stick into an ant hole to extract a yummy treat. The baby of the group was extremely playful, even wrapping itself up in a potato sack to put itself to bed (though unfortunately had what appeared to be a paper recipe which was only mildly infuriating).
  • Pygmy hippo – We had never seen these before and dang they were cute! Just wanted to bring the baby home – we completely understand why these guys were on our friends’ favorite list. 
  • And so many more!

There is so much to do in this zoo aside from strolling between animal exhibits.

  • Up close and personal experiences with the animals are available throughout the zoo.
    • Guests have the opportunity to participate in various animal feedings and listening to keeper talks. 
    • There is a VIP tour that allows for five hours of behind the scene operations as well as other VIP encounter options – if you have a group of six, the price is not much more than the general admission!
  • Take advantage of the volunteers throughout the zoo – they are incredible! They are so knowledgeable about everything in the park so take advantage when you see them around to listen and ask questions. We were watching the rhino when a volunteer came over and started telling us all about the rhino, his story, and their habits – we learned so much in a short period. It is amazing how much they know about each animal. 
  • Yes, there are more options to get around than simply walking – remember, this zoo is enormous. 
    • Guided Bus Tour – as the name implies, there is a guided bus tour that takes visitors around the perimeter of the zoo. It takes about 35 minutes and is included with regular admission – very cool! While this was not operational during our visit, I would have loved to have started the day with this to get to see a large portion of the park and learn about the animals as well. For those with a few extra dollars, you can upgrade to the Discovery Cart Tour for you and up to five additional people for a private guided tour.
    • Kangaroo Bus – a hop on-hop off model to take you throughout the park at four designated stops. 
    • Skyfari Aerial Tram – what a unique view of the park! The tram takes visitors from the front to the back of the park and vice versa – a great short cut especially once you made it all the way to the back of the park. This is also included with regular admission and unfortunately when we went to ride this it was unavailable – a real bummer for our feet!

Here are a few tips for your visit:

  • You will walk a lot so wear comfortable shoes- we clocked over 15,000 steps that day! 
  • Pack your lunch – while there are plenty of spots to purchase food, the crowd can be excessive around lunchtime and it is theme park food pricing. We ate in the canopy above the trees and it took three of us stalking tables to find us a place to sit. 
  • The back right corner of the park is very hilly with some steep ones so be prepared or plan on taking one of the motorized modes of transport around the zoo.
  • Plant life in this zoo is pretty epic – do not forget to look around and enjoy the built in botanical garden and be grateful for the shade. 
  • Animals are most active in the morning hours – beat the crowd that slept in and arrive for opening if possible. 
  • In searching online, there seem to be circulating discounts on tickets so make sure to check before paying full price.

When visiting San Diego, definitely consider a trip out to this zoo!

Read about the full details of this trip here!

Read about the rest of our adventures in San Diego here!

3 Comments

  1. It appears that you visited the San Diego Zoo in downtown San Diego. It is a wonderful place. I have been fortunate enough to visit it twice. Are you aware that there is another, even larger park associated with the San Diego Zoo? It is now known as the Safari Park, I believe. When I visited it, it was known as the Wild Animal Park. It is located about 25 miles north and slightly east of San Diego. Whichever name it goes by, it is spectacular. It is the closest you will probably be able to come to an actual African safari as you can get here in the U.S. It covers over 1800 acres and you are able to see herds of animals, not just a few at a time, coexisting with each other, not just in their own separate areas (except for a few, of course :-).).

    1. Wow! That sounds amazing – luckily I have friends in San Diego so I will definitely add this to our next trip there. Thank you for sharing!

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