San Diego Zoo Tips and Tricks

Last week I told you all about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park [] 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!

San Diego Zoo Sign

Plan Ahead

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 [] 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 [] 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.

San Diego Zoo Park Signs and Skyfari

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 []. 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.

San Diego Zoo Koala

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.

San Diego Zoo Guided Bus Tour

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.

San Diego Zoo Panda

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).

San Diego Zoo Foot Massagers


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.

San Diego Zoo Tortoise

For more pictures you can check out our San Diego Zoo 2011 Flicker set.

This post was submitted to Travel Photo Thursday [] and Friday Daydreamin’ [].


25 thoughts on “San Diego Zoo Tips and Tricks

  1. Great tips! After seeing your post from last week, I made Bob take me to the LA Zoo yesterday! It is definitely not the same, but we had a great time anyway!

  2. Great tips, I used to work at a zoo that was far less popular than the San Diego Zoo, but even there planning your visit made a huge difference to the visitor’s experience.

  3. Great tips! We visited the San Diego Zoo about a year and a half ago and had a fabulous time. We were very excited to see the pandas – we arrived at the zoo right at opening and there were no crowds yet at the panda area so we had a great view. My younger daughter, who was 7 at the time, had a LONG discussion about orangutans with a staff member as we watched the animals outside their enclosure. Emma had just finished a school project on orangutans and was very excited to talk about what she had learned and I was very impressed that this friendly staff member was willing to chat with her about the animals for such a long time.

  4. Great hints on a zoo that I do not know yet. The koalas in your photo are looking nice and lazy in your photo here — just like they always have in Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo, where I saw them quite a few times over the years there.

  5. Oh my heart! That koala is soooo sweet. Great tips, too! I remember riding that sky trolley with my two little ones and being so nervous that one of them would jump over. 🙂

  6. Great tips to the best zoo in the world! I’m just a little biased =) I couldn’t agree with you more on the planning and the shoes. it still amazes me what people consider “walking” shoes. Love the koala picture! I’ve always felt the need to cuddle them everytime we visit.

    • If you use the transport you might miss sights along the way. There aren’t many empty spaces in the zoo. The Express Bus is best used when you are trying to get to a specific part of the park or if you don’t feel like walking back up a hill.

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