Last week I told you all about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park [averagetraveller.com] which is a little more laid back and easy to take in than the Zoo. This week I thought it might be best to share some tips and tricks required to tackle one of the most famous Zoos in the world!
Don’t try to see the zoo in a day. The zoo has 9 different animal zones and covers 100 acres in Balboa Park. If you only have one day to spend there you won’t be able to see everything, especially if you have kids in tow. To make sure that you don’t leave disappointed, check out the San Diego Zoo website [sandiegozoo.org] before you show up and come up with a list of must-see attractions. Once you know what you want to see check out the online Park Map [sandiegozoo.org] to come up with a rough plan of attack. This will help to minimize having to zig zag unnecessarily across the huge park. Keep in mind that popular exhibits such as the pandas, koalas, and polar bears can get quite crowded so you’ll want to allow lots of time.
As you make your plan remember that animals are less active and much more likely to be hiding in the shade when it is hot out. Try to schedule any shows or indoor attractions for the hottest parts of the day. Even better, if you have some flexibility try to see the zoo on a cloudy or overcast day.
Buy Tickets Ahead of Time
Depending on how many days you are planning and whether you expect to go to Sea World and the Safari Park, there are many different ways that you can buy your tickets [sandiegozoo.org]. The zoo offers single day tickets and two-day tickets (which can be split with one day at the Zoo and one day at the Safari Park). There is also a 3 for 1 pass which allows unlimited visits to the Zoo, Safari Park, and Sea World for 7 days after first use of the ticket. Sometimes you can even get a discounted 3 for 1 pass from Costco. If you live neaby you are probably best off getting a membership; however, they limit most memberships to people who live in the 91900-92899 zip code range.
Use Zoo Transit Early and Often
There is a double-decker bus tour that covers most of the park and it is usually a good idea to try to do this when you first arrive at the park. The guided tour will give you a good feel for the layout of the zoo and may inspire you to add some attractions to your park plan. The line-up for the bus tour can get pretty long so if you can get there early you might be able to avoid some of the late comer crowd.
In addition to the guided bus tour, there is an Express Bus system in the Zoo that will take you from place to place. Express bus stops are marked on the park maps and are especially handy for getting up hills. You can also use the Skyfari tram to cross from near the park entrance all the way to the back of the park.
Bring Good Walking Shoes
Despite all the transportation in place you will still be walking a lot. The size of the Zoo and the hills make things tough even for the more fit visitors, and despite the best laid plans it’s likely that you will end up having to do a bit of circling back to take advantage of show times and special exhibits.
Thankfully they know that you are probably going to have sore feet so they have placed these cool animal print painted foot massage stations around the park. Be sure to bring lots of quarters for these if you like foot massages or if you think your kids might get a kick out of them (they will).
The zoo has decent food offerings including healthier choices; however, if you want to save a few dollars the zoo allows you to bring your own food in with you. Note that they don’t allow you to bring large coolers into the park so you’re limited to small insulated bags that will fit in a backpack or under a stroller.
For more pictures you can check out our San Diego Zoo 2011 Flicker set.