Thursday, March 17, 2011

Travel Tips and Tricks: Navigating the San Diego Zoo With Young Kids!

I grew up going to the San Diego Zoo, and believe me when I say it is a completely amazing zoo! Here's my guide for taking young kids to this zoo and maximizing your time there!

*The first thing you'll see when you enter the Zoo's gates. . . the flamingos!

~1~ If you live in the San Diego area and plan to visit the zoo at least once, it's totally worth it to buy the annual membership. The Koala Kid's Club is especially cute (kids get a newsletter every month in the mail full of zoo news and fun pictures) and very affordable.
If you don't live in the area and are planning to visit the Zoo, scout around for the best ticket prices. We bought the Southern California City Pass, which was the very best deal for Sea World, Universal Studios, 3-day Disney Hopper passes, and the San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park.

~2~ YES, the San Diego Zoo is better than the Wild Animal Park. If you're only going to see one, definitely pick the Zoo. There is a lot more variety and a LOT more to see.

~3~ My favorite days to visit the San Diego Zoo are slightly overcast or cool days, because the animals tend to be more active. If you go on a very hot summer day, the animals will all be asleep or lazing around in the shade. It's usually pretty pleasant in the Zoo because of nice ocean breezes and lots of shade trees, but I still like cooler days best.

~4~ Absolutely bring a stroller or rent one! The Zoo is HUGE and there are tons of hills and you will get incredibly tired from all the walking you'll be doing. Even if your child normally walks, they will be exhausted without being able to ride in the stroller when they want to. It's also great to have the stroller basket for storing your bags, snacks, drinks, and whatever else you choose to bring with you. Since they don't rent out strollers for adults to ride in (darn!), just wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for LOTS of walking and lots of steep hills.

~5~ One of the great things about the Zoo is that ALL ages can enjoy it. Of course very young babies aren't going to care, but young toddlers who have a hard time sitting through shows at Sea World or lines at Disneyland will love seeing the animals at the Zoo.

~6~ Do NOT miss the Children's Zoo! It's adorable! I had actually never been to it until a couple of years ago, and it's really enjoyable for both kids and adults. They actually have animals in the Children's Zoo that you can't see anywhere else in the Zoo, like a Fossa (yes, like on Madagascar. I had never seen a Fossa before, and it was really cool!) It's a section of the Zoo very close to the entrance, and there are lots of animal exhibits featuring:
*Pygmy marmosets (the tiniest, cutest monkeys EVER!)
*Really noisy macaws
*Spider monkeys
*Naked mole-rats (ugly and fascinating!)

*Don't miss the cute photo opps in the Children's Zoo, like this one!

*River otters in the Children's Zoo were SO frisky and fun to watch!

*There's a petting area inside the Children's Zoo where kids can pet the goats!

*If your kids have even more energy to burn after all the walking, the Children's Zoo even has a really great playground!
~7~ My very favorite thing to do at the Zoo is to ride the Double-Decker Guided Bus Tour! It's a great way to start your day at the Zoo, because it's 35 minutes long and covers about 70 percent of the Zoo, so you can get an idea for the layout and pick out animals that you want to return to spend more time seeing. It saves you a TON of walking and gets really great views of a lot of the animals, plus the guides have all kinds of interesting facts about the Zoo and the animals. The bus tour is included with most admission passes to the Zoo.

*For the very best views, of course, sit on the top level of the double-decker bus. I took this shot of the giraffes from the bus!

~8~ The map of the Zoo can be overwhelming, because it's SO large and includes so many animals. It's impossible to see it all in one day, so make a list beforehand of all the animals you and your kids REALLY want to see. You'll be able to see many other animals, but if you have a list of the animals you can't possibly miss, it will be easier to plan your routes around the Zoo accordingly, since there are many different options.

~9~ Really don't waste your money on the Zoo's meals. Overpriced and not yummy. I like to pack a lunch and snacks with us, and then plan on eating somewhere really delicious in San Diego for dinner after leaving the Zoo, like my very favorite Mexican food in Old Town!

~10~ You'll have to miss some animals, but don't miss the pandas! One of my favorite exhibits is definitely the pandas eating their bamboo (constantly!), and the pandas are one of the reasons the San Diego Zoo is world famous.

~11~ My kids absolutely love riding the Skyfari Aerial Tram. And it is pretty amazing! You get to ride up in the sky with gorgeous views of the entire San Diego Zoo and neighboring Balboa Park, and it's included with your Zoo admission! Plus it's a great way to save yourself walking up the steepest hills in the park. If you ride the Skyfari from the bottom (near the Zoo's entrance) to the very top, it lets you off at the Polar Bear Plunge, which is pretty much at the very top of the Zoo. I love to ride it up there, go see the polar bears, and then walk back down through various exhibits. When you walk down the super steep hills you'll be glad you didn't have to walk UP them to get to the polar bears!
~12~ Take a fully loaded camera with you, and snap away to your heart's content!

~13~ Don't miss all the FUN photo opps they have at Polar Bear Plunge. We always get some of my favorite photos of the entire day by the polar bears!

(This one was new. . . SO cute!)

~14~ Elephant Odyssey is a really great exhibit. Besides elephants, they also feature the lions and jaguars and really cool playgrounds and statues!

~15~ The gorillas are always fascinating. The huge glass viewing windows make it really easy to watch them!

~16~ Zoo parking is actually free! This is really nice in a town where parking is pretty much never free.

~17~ San Diego often has beautiful sunsets as you're leaving the Zoo, just like this one!

Please share your favorite San Diego Zoo tips with me by leaving a comment!


  1. That was a fun day at the zoo with everyone. Also, any post with the word "frisky" is a post worth reading :)

    That sunset photo is really cool too.

  2. Another I wish I'd read before going! We saved the zoo for the last out of our City Pass and were totally exhausted and didn't enjoy it as much. The hills killed us all. But the kid's area was definitely the BEST part!

  3. I always love your photos! Especially the seal one, daughter watching the apes, and the sunset!

  4. Happy Monday!!!
    Thanks for linking up to Happy Monday Blog Hop. I'm happy to follow you, please follow me back it you have not already. Please join us next week!

  5. Thanks for sharing all of your highlights from visiting the San Diego. My family and are planning a trip to the San Diego Zoo real soon. For anyone looking for transportation to and from the San Diego Zoo with a car seat, they can check out the company I work for which is Seal Transportation!

  6. Discover how to book free flights with Travel Hacking.


Comments make me happy :)